In a typical year, this column in the middle of December would focus on how to deal with wildlife damaging valuable landscape plants. This year, the ground is clear, and lawns are still green. While the weather remains favorable, rabbits will feed on the diversity of plant material in the home landscape, lessening damage to any one plant. They will feed on grass, clover, and other lawn weeds as long as they can. Rabbits also will continue to feed on plants well outside of the landscape, further limiting damage around the home.
However, that will change soon enough. It would be good to do a “walk about” in your yard and scout for early feeding damage on your favorite plants or to identify any you hope to protect this winter. Rabbits, for example, 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, emerging tender perennials make a great meal for the rabbits.
What you can do to limit feeding
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. For rabbits, feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire or a more specific type of fencing, often called rabbit fencing, which is 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 offspring are feeding.
Field mice visitors
As we continue to enjoy the milder weather, so are the field mice. Extension has gotten many calls, as would be expected, about mice in the home. These calls have not tapered off as they usually do, as 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. Other points of access would be any openings as small as 3/8 of an inch in size. Check for failed caulk around plumbing pipe or electrical conduit on the outside of the home.
How you can stop them from getting in
Weatherizing the home can be good for energy conservation and mouse management 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 their place if those openings are not addressed! If you do find holes, pack them with steel wool.
Eliminating easy food sources inside the home also is a critical part of what needs to be done. Pet and bird food should be in metal containers with tightly sealed 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 up the crumbs. Do all you can to make your home uninviting and hope for some good cold weather.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.