Despite the sharp thorns on roses, deer love to nibble rose plants. During the winter they will eat stems and bark; during the growing season they add flower buds and foliage to the menu. Deer bites leave jagged or torn ends on stems.
Deer are common in rural, suburban, and even urban areas throughout most of the United States. Damage from deer feeding can vary greatly depending on weather conditions and population pressure. The only way to completely exclude deer is to install and electrified a very tall (6-8 foot) fence, which is not a practical solution for most homeowners. Repellent sprays may be effective if reapplied regularly. However, if deer are hungry enough they may eat any plant with or without repellent.
If deer are a problem in your area, try planting your roses as close to the house as possible – 10 feet away rather than 30 to 40 feet. The lights and sounds of people tend to scare deer away and few are bold enough to come right up to windows or higher-traffic areas of the yard.
Another solution is to cover roses with sturdy netting or chicken wire draped and weighted over a frame of some sort. The netting must be fairly taut and not touch the roses, or the deer may nibble right through the netting. This method is best, or course, for protecting roses in small spaces. It also is more practical in the winter and early spring when you are not in the garden and do not have to look at the rigging.
Home remedies, such as hanging bars of soap from plants, and commercially available deer repellents have not been definitively proved to work.
Rabbits tend to be most damaging during winter when they may clip off entire stems or chew off bark at stem bases. Rabbit bites leave clean, slanted ends on stems.
To prevent winter rabbit damage, encircle roses with chicken wire or small-mesh fencing supported with stakes in late fall. If you have a whole bed of roses, encircle the bed (wood raided beds make this especially easy). Bury the lower few inches of fencing in the ground to deter burrowing. Repellent sprays may be effective if reapplied regularly.
Home remedies, such as spreading human or pet hair around plants, and commercially available rabbit repellants have not been definitively proved to work.
Small burrowing animals like gophers and moles are not usually major pests of roses, but they can make a mess with soil piles and raised ridges in lawns and gardens. Burrowing may disrupt rose roots. The best way to reduce mole or gopher populations is by trapping.
The larger problem occurs when mice and voles use existing burrows for over wintering. Mice and voles can seriously damage roses by destroying roots and chewing rose stems during the winter. If mice or voles chew around the entire stem, the stem will die. Severe damage to roots can also kill roses.
Keep potential wintering sites such as brush piles and firewood stacks at a distance from your rose garden. Trapping mice and voles in the fall may reduce their populations. Protect rose stems from rodent girdling over winter with a cylinder of wire-mesh hardware cloth.
If larger burrowing animals are a continual problem, consider planting roses in cages made from chicken wire. Use a mesh large enough that feeder roots can extend beyond the wire.
Source: Miracle-Gro Complete Guide to Roses, 2008, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. Endorsed by the American Rose Society