University of Maryland Extension

Wildlife Fruit Pests

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Wildlife Management

Deer
Voles
Rabbits
Birds

Animals can be a major pest of fruit plants, particularly in the first few years after planting. There are basically three solutions to most animal problems:

• The problem animal can be trapped but before doing so check with The Nuisance Wildlife Information Line, a service provided by MD Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wildlife and Heritage Services, and the US Department of Ag., Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services Program (USDA-APHIS)  for information.  Call them toll-free at 1-877-463-6497.
• A barrier of some fashion can be constructed to prevent animal access.
• Repellents can be used to discourage animal activity.

Effective control depends on three prime factors: timing, persistence, and diversity. You should install barriers around fruit plants before an animal problem occurs. Unlike insect pest control, you cannot wait to correct a wildlife problem. It is important to act at the very first indication of their presence. If left unattended, some animals will destroy fruit plants in a very short time. In many cases, a single approach to control may not work, and the effectiveness of a single control method is not guaranteed just because it worked before. Animals differ in their habits and can use their ingenuity to get to your fruit plants. Typically, you will need a variety of strategies and devices for animal control. A good first step is to surround new fruit plants with a cylinder of 1/2-inch hardware cloth that extends from below the soil surface to the top of the plant. Alternately, keep plants covered with netting. This will prevent problems with deer, voles, birds, and rabbits.

Deer

Can severely damage fruit plants by feeding or by rubbing their antlers to remove the velvet. It is difficult to break behavior patterns once they are established so plan a deer management strategy before planting. The only sure way to eliminate deer damage is with fencing.

Fencing options

• A solidly constructed fence of deer netting or wire mesh 8 feet high. 
• A solid 6-foot privacy fence or wall. Although deer can jump over it, they seldom go into an area they cannot see into first.
Build two 3-foot-tall fences made of three strings. The fences should be 3 feet apart. This double fence confuses deer and they generally won’t jump over it. Tie bright tape on the strings to make them more visible to the deer.
•Two-strand electric fences have also been used successfully. Hang squares of aluminum foil spread with peanut butter at intervals. These will attract deer and the resultant shock will make them wary to return.

Repellents 

• Need to be kept fresh for maximum effectiveness.
• The two kinds of repellents are contact and area. Contact repellents are applied directly to the plants and repel by taste. Area repellents are applied near the plants and repel deer by smell.
• There are many types and brands of commercial animal repellents to choose from that are helpful in deterring deer. Read the product label before application to see if it is labeled to be used on edible plants. 
• Some homemade repellents: 1) Hang small nylon bags of human hair or deodorant soap on fences or branches. Hang them 30 inches from the ground and no more than 3 feet apart. 2) Spray a formulation of 1 to 2 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce and 1 tablespoon of liquid soap in 1 gallon of water. 3) Spray a mixture of 3-4 raw eggs mixed with 1 gallon of water. 

Frightening techniques

• Devices using such techniques as bright lights or loud noises usually only work for a short period of time. A dog on a long run can keep deer out of a limited area. Dogs can be trained to guard against deer.

Voles

Are also called meadow or field mice, are members of the rodent family. They are compact animals with stocky bodies, short legs, and a short tail. They are usually brown or gray, though many color variations exist. They are active both day and night throughout the year and live primarily aboveground, in runways at the surface, or in mole tunnels. They eat the lower bark of fruit plants during the fall and winter and can girdle and kill young trees.

Methods of vole management

• Mow lawn and turf areas regularly. Pull mulch away from the trunks and crowns of fruit plants to     prevent voles from hiding in the mulch and chewing bark.
• Voles will avoid digging in pea gravel. Lay it at the base of fruit trees before winter.
• Use mouse snap traps. Place the trap perpendicular to the surface runways with the trigger end     in the runway. A peanut butter-oatmeal mixture or apple slices make good baits.

Rabbits

Can damage fruit plants by gnawing bark during the winter. They can be easily controlled with a two-foot high fence of chicken wire with the bottom tight to the ground or buried a few inches. Commercial tree wrap is another alternative in preventing rabbit damage to tree trunks. Effective repellents for rabbits that act upon their senses of taste (e.g. hot pepper flakes) and smell (e.g. dried blood) can be sprinkled around plants. They must be reapplied periodically, especially after heavy rainfall.

Birds

Are a particular problem for blueberry, cherry, and grape plants. They can be controlled by barring their access to plants with bird netting. Keep the netting 8-12 inches off the ground to keep snakes from getting tangled in it. An inexpensive Mylar tape with a shiny silver coating is also commercially available. The tape is effective when wound around plants one week before fruit is ready to harvest. Sprays made of table sugar and grape juice extract have also shown some promise. Various visual or sound frightening techniques, such as loud noises, lights, and bright shiny objects, can also be very effective if used as fruit begins to ripen. Most birds, especially crows, however, can become accustomed to them over time. Ultrasonic sounds are not effective because birds cannot hear them.

Publication: (PDF) HG 90 - Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife 

Wildlife- learn more about our co-inhabitants and how to prevent damage to homes and gardens. 

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