In a normal year, this column in the middle of December would be talking about how to deal with wildlife in the yard that damage our valuable landscape plants from feeding damage. It's a little different this year.
As we continue to enjoy the milder weather, so are the field mice. Starting late summer, Extension has gotten many calls, as would be expected, about mice in the home. These calls have not tapered off as they usually do this time of year. The soil has not frozen, allowing the mice to continue to roam and forage for food. Not until we get a lot colder will the mice entering the home lessen. Often mice will get in the home by way of the garage, if it attached to the house, and other points of access would be any openings as small as 3/8 of inch in size.
Check for failed caulk around plumbing pipe or electrical conduit on the outside of the home. Weatherizing the home can be good for mouse control and energy conservation at the same time. Traps and baits can be effective in controlling the populations inside the home, yet as long as the weather remains moderate, others will take the place of any mice killed. If you find holes, pack them with steel wool.
Eliminating easy food sources inside the home is a critical part of what needs to be done. Pet and bird food should be in metal containers with tightly sealing lids. Do not leave pet food in dishes overnight. Provide your pet with fresh food each day and clean the area after feeding. In the pantry and cupboards, vacuum or clean up the crumbs. Do all you can to make your home uninviting and hope for some good cold weather.
Outside, the ground is open and lawns are still green with no frost in the soil at all. Another set of animals – rabbits – also are enjoying the mild temperatures and they will feed on the diversity of plant material in the home landscape, lessening damage to any one plant. Rabbits will feed on grass, clover and other lawn weeds as long as the ground is open. Rabbits also will continue to feed on plants well outside of our landscape, further limiting damage around the home.
It would be wise to do a "walk about" in your yard and scout for early feeding damage on both your favorite plants and the ones favored by wildlife. Rabbits turn to young twigs and branches of plants and tender bark on thin-barked trees. Examples would be fruit trees, crabapples and burning bush for winter feeding. In the spring, lots of emerging tender perennials make a great meal for the rabbits.
There are several methods that can be utilized to prevent feeding damage to valuable landscape plants. If you are already seeing feeding damage, it is bound to continue and get worse. Take advantage of the weather and address it now. For rabbits, feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire or a more specific type of fencing designed to keep the younger rabbits from getting into your plantings. This fencing has the wire at a much smaller spacing near the bottom where a baby rabbit could get through. This is not so important in the winter, but is great for next spring when their offspring are feeding. For more information on Living with Wildlife, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife
Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with "This Week in the Idea Garden" videos on Facebook at facebook.com/extensiondkk.
Photo: By Rovepestcontrol (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons