With their food sources diminished, deer get hungry in winter and will eat just about anything such as fruit tree branches and bark.
After a long season in the yard and garden, November is usually time to kick back and relax, unless you are in southern Florida, California or Texas, then you're gardening up a storm!. For everyone else, there are a few more critical chores to do before you let old man winter really set in. Many of those fruit trees and edible shrubs that you planted this year, or those that are still young, need some protection from winter and critters. In most parts of the country, winter winds and cold can cause bark to split on trees and desiccation on evergreens and stems, leaving you with struggling plants come spring. Plus, other critters are out there looking for a meal too. Specifically rodents and deer love to feed on your tender fruit tree twigs and bark. So a little prevention now will go a long way to getting a healthy jump on next year's growing season.
White washing tree trunks with a three parts water to one part white latex paint solution can be artistic, but mostly just helps prevent bark splitting in winter.
One of the keys for trees and shrubs surviving the winter is to go into this dark time as healthy as possible. Trees and shrubs continue growing new roots as long as soil temperatures are above 40°F. Keeping your plants well watered while the soil is warm is important. Water weekly, providing enough moisture to sink at least 1 foot deep into the soil.
While most mature trees and shrubs don't need additional fertilizer, young plants should be fertilized in spring before new growth occurs. You also can fertilize in the fall to encourage roots to grow and get established. After the leaves have dropped, use an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous, such as rock phosphate. However, don't fertilize if in a drought, since the nutrients can't be taken up by the plant.
Weed the area around trees and shrubs, refresh the mulch, and clean up the leaves that drop. You can either collect and compost the leaves, or lay them on the lawn to be shredded by a lawnmower. The leaf pieces will decompose over winter feeding the lawn, or the garden if you distribute them there.
Often it's not the absolute winter cold that kills trees and shrubs, but the desiccating effects of cold winds. Protect young trees and shrubs by driving four wooden stakes in the ground around a prized bush, and wrapping the shrubs with burlap. Don't let the burlap touch the branches. The burlap will block the cold winds and keep the shrubs a little warmer.
Protect trunks of small trees with a plastic tree guard wrapped around the base. It stops rodents, such as mice and voles, from girdling the tree in winter.
Young trees also can be susceptible to sun scald. On cold days the sun's light warms the tree bark. Once the sun sets, the bark quickly cools causing it to split and break open. Split bark is a perfect location for diseases and insects to attack. Use a tree wrap or paint to keep the bark from heating up and splitting. For young trees either apply a tree wrap around the trunk, or white wash the trunk with an interior white latex paint diluted three parts water to one part paint.
For evergreens, anti-desiccant sprays can be effective in helping the leaves from drying out. Apply them in November and again in midwinter whenever the air temperatures are above 40°F.
Mice, voles, and deer love to eat fresh young twigs and bark in winter, especially if there is a snow cover and little else to eat. Protect young trees and shrubs with tree guards that wrap around the trunks. Not to be confused with tree wraps mentioned above, tree guards are typically made of hard plastic, while tree wraps are a flexible plastic tape. Place tree guards 1 inch below the soil line, and as high as you expect the snow line to be-usually a couple of feet will do.
Water newly planted trees and shrubs into the early winter. As long as the soil temperatures are above 40°F, the roots can grow and will need water.
For deer control try snow or wire fencing around individual prized trees, or use a variety of repellent sprays. Start using deer repellents now so that deer will learn to stay away from those plants while they still have other food sources. During the course of the winter reapply repellants using a variety of sprays to confuse the deer, and hopefully keep them away. Of course, if hungry enough a deer will eat anything, so fencing is really the only failsafe method to keep them from munching on your plantings.