Deer Damage

Whitetail deer damage to gardens, trees and shrubs can be moderate to severe!

Whitetail deer are becoming more common around home landscapes as their natural habitat continues to shrink in favor of housing plans and commercial developments.

This tree probably won't survive its encounter with the antlers of a whitetail buck
This tree probably won’t survive its encounter with the antlers of a whitetail buck during the rut. Tree trunks should have protection installed at the beginning of the Fall season.
VIDEO: Quick easy tree trunk protection

To the chagrin of many homeowners, deer are quite comfortable wandering around their yards browsing on foundation plantings, flowers and vegetable plants. Other homeowners enjoy the presence of deer in their yards, encouraging them with salt blocks and cracked corn. Solutions to deer issues are difficult and varied.

Proponents of controlling deer populations have concerns about damage to garden plants, as well as the risks involved with hitting deer with their vehicles. Another argument is that overabundant deer populations can lead to winter starvation, due to a lack of food. Many municipalities now have deer culling programs.

Bucks mark their territory by rubbing tree trunks with their foreheads and antlers to apply a scent from glands in their foreheads, causing extensive damage to tree trunks. Video of deer damage and protective measures

Wherever one stands on the deer issue, gardeners these days must be VERY conscious of potential deer damage if they hope to have much success with their gardening activities.  There are basically three strategies:

  1. EXCLUSION – Through the use of fencing or mesh, keeping the deer away from plants. Effective deer fencing needs to be 6 to 10 feet high, depending on the exact location. There are also some plastic meshes available to drape over top of desirable plantings. Some of the newer meshes and fences are difficult to see, adding to their desirability as a viable alternative.
  2. DEER REPELLANTS – There are several commercial products and “home brews” that can be sprayed on plants to discourage deer browsing. The main disadvantage is that sprays need to be reapplied on a regular basis, and even more frequently during wet weather.
  3. PLANT CHOICES – Deer have “food favorites” just like us. Lists are usually broken down into categories of desirability. However, it’s important to remember that deer will eat ANY PLANT during a severe winter when other browse is scarce.

DEER BROCCOLI?   Deer don't usually like to eat Boxwoods.
Deer don’t like eating Boxwoods

The plants deer like and don’t like

HIGH BROWSE RISK (aka “Deer salad”)
Arborvitae, Daylilies, Euonymus, Hosta, Tulips, Yews


> Trees – Ash, Beech, Birch, Colorado Blue Spruce, Dogwood, Elm, Gingko, Hawthorn, Honeylocust, Larch, Linden, London Plane, Magnolia, Maple, Oak, Redbud, Spruce, Sweetgum, Tulip Tree, Willow, Zelkova

> Shrubs – Barberry, Bayberry, Boxwood, Cotoneaster, Drooping Leucothoe, Forsythia, Hydrangea, Japanese plum yew, Junipers, Lilac, Mahonia, Mugho Pine, Pieris Japonica, Potentilla, Privet, Pyracantha, Russian Olive, Spirea, Viburnum, Weigela

> Other plants – Ageratum, Ajuga, Aster, Astilbe, Tuberous Begonia, Bleeding Heart, Purple Coneflower, Crocus, Daffodils, Dahlia, Blue Fescue, Foxglove, Gazania, Geranium, Iris, Lavender, Lamb’s Ear, Calla Lily, Miscanthus, Pachysandra, Peony, Creeping Phlox, Poppy, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sedum, Snapdragons, Strawflower, Verbena, Veronica

Deer avoid daffodils and hyacinths.
Deer avoid eating daffodils and hyacinths.

NOTE: Rabbits and other wildlife will browse on some plants that deer leave alone.  When protecting a plant from rabbits in the winter, be sure to allow for their “added reach” due to snow depth acting as “elevator shoes” or “stilts” for the rabbits. Mice often chew the trunks of plants, another reason to hold mulches back from the trunks of plants.


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