Moose-proofing and other last-minute winter yard prep

Jeff Lowenfels

The outdoor season this year seems to be as long as the political one. (I know many of us are asking "Will either ever end?") Just when you think you should turn all attention indoors, it gets up into the 50s during the day and some nights we don't even have a frost. Even without including the politics, this is a most unusual time of year.

For example, what about the rule that you can transplant in the fall as long as you can work the soil? That rule applies everywhere, but perhaps not quite as well up here when the days are getting shorter so fast. We all know it has been unseasonably warm and this has kept the soil thawed, but we all also know what is coming -- and when it does, chances are it won't be gradual. The soil will freeze up quickly. Is there enough time to transplant?

Well, if you have to move things around, do it, but do it right now. Don't forget you will need some water, so lug a bucket or two as your hoses should be stored by now, but not too much water as plants are dormant and won't need much. It is the soil and the life in it that needs the water. Again, not too much. They will slow down soon as well. Spray evergreens transplanted this year with Wilt-Pruf to hold the water in the needles.

Next, moose. All yardeners know the problem this time of year. You want to make them go to your neighbors' yards and keep them out of yours. If you haven't fixed things up so that they stay away from your favorite trees and shrubs, you better get to it now.

First of all, hanging Irish Spring soap doesn't work. Nor does hanging bags of human hair, spraying garlic or having a big dog. Good tricks where the temps stay about 32, perhaps, but once it gets really cold, even the moose fail to detect the smells and the dog doesn't want to live outside all day and night. Tying dryer softener strips up in trees seems to work for some, but I am not sure that isn't because a bunch of these in a tree looks silly.

What does work, and you must think I own stock in the company (unfortunately, I don't) as I repeat this advice often, is Plantskydd. This sticky, smelly-when-applied, emulsified, blood meal keeps moose away form plants.

The theory is that the smell of blood makes moose think wolves are nearby with a kill, so they stay away. This could be, or may be they are extra sensitive to the smell of the stuff which you will experience when it is first applied. I don't know. What I do know is Plantskydd works all winter, especially when we have a shorter one like this year.. The deal is, it only works when applied and it isn't fun to apply it when it is below freezing, as in the winter after the moose have decimated your spouse's favorite shrub.

This time of year it may make more sense to paint rather than spray Plantskydd on trees and shrubs. You only need to get some on the bark, there are no leaves. Wear old clothes. Use a sponge or a paint brush. At least treat your very special plants like those rhododendrons and maple saplings.

Wire does a great job too. You can mold chicken wire around plants and tie it up and thus get away without creating cages that need strong support stakes, though these may be a better solution for your yard. If so, better hurry. First, the leaves are down and bark and buds are what moose are eating. And second, it will freeze and those stakes won't go into the ground. Again, just thinking about moose proofing things doesn't work. Either Plantskydd or some sort of fencing for the plants or the yard. It will be really cold soon, and the moose will be wandering around hungry. Make your yard the least desirable place to eat.

Finally, the nicer weather will allow you to construct support for those shrubs on your property that are susceptible to snow damage. In particular the older limbs of shrubs, particularly lilacs, caraganas and honeysuckles, snap under the weight of a good, wet snow. Given the warmth this fall, why not anticipate such a storm with some support instead of having to react afterwards with a chain saw.

Finally, for all of you who raked the leaves off your lawns and gardens, it appears that there is still time for you to put them back. You shouldn't have cleaned up so thoroughly. At least put some over your perennial plants. Leaves feed the lawn and garden biota but also insulate bare soil. If we continue not to have winter, they may end up providing the only insulation you will have this winter.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at or by calling 274-5297 during "The Garden Party" radio show from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KBYR AM-700.