Deer Damage

Deer damage to plants, trees and shrubs


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

This tree probably won't survive its encounter with the antlers of a whitetail buck last Fall.

This tree probably won't survive its encounter with the antlers of a whitetail buck last Fall.

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 dried cracked corn. Solutions to deer issues are difficult and varied.

Proponents of deer control are concerned about damage to their ornamental and garden plants, the injury and property risks involved with hitting deer on highways and the argument that overabundant deer populations will lead to their starvation in the winter due to a lack of adequate plants for deer browse.

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.

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 at all with their gardening activities.  There are basically three strategies:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 don't usually eat Boxwoods.

Deer don't usually eat Boxwoods.

Plants deer like and don't like:

HIGH BROWSE RISK ("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 daffodils and hyacinths.

NOTE: Rabbits 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.