Deer are a common problem in many landscapes, where they forage on a wide range of plantings like flowers, shrubs, and small trees.
Considering an adult deer consumes about six pounds of plant material daily, you can easily imagine the kind of damage they will cause once they’ve established themselves in your landscape.
Add that to the fact that deer can also carry ticks and you’ll most likely be looking for solutions to keep these unwanted visitors away.
Unfortunately, deer management can be a frustrating challenge for homeowners. Deer feed all year long and quickly adapt to most home remedies. This can be further compounded if the winter is harsh enough and deer start to munch on the alleged deer resistant species of shrubs, along with eating the bark off twigs and causing extensive damage.
Effective Ways to Prevent Deer Damage
The most practical approach to deer management for most landscapes is a spray repellent program in the fall. This spray is innocuous to plants and shrubs while smelling and/or tasting bad to the deer.
Here in Connecticut, deer repellent sprays should be applied September through December when temperatures are above freezing. Application earlier in the browsing cycle (September and October) leads to much better results.
There are two types of deer repellents, contact repellents and area repellents. Contact repellents are applied directly to plants, causing them to taste bad (this is what we use at Barts). Area repellents are placed in a problem area and repel by their foul odor but we haven’t found these to be as effective.
Spray repellents should be applied on a dry day with temperatures above freezing. We treat young trees completely and older trees may be treated only on their new growth and buds. Treat to a height 6 feet above the maximum expected snow depth. Deer browse from the top down.
Home-remedy deer repellents are questionable at best. These include small, fine-mesh bags of human hair and bar soap hung from branches of trees, among others. The only truly effective home remedy I’ve seen is a 100 lb dog in your yard. Deer don’t like things that remind them of wolves and they’ll generally stay clear.
At Barts Tree Service we spray “Deer Free Winter Armor” to protect your landscape from deer. This is a white pepper based product so as you can imagine it doesn’t taste good at all. The product lasts 6 months and is made right here in the USA. One of the best features of this product is that it dries clear, whereas most of the other deer repellent sprays on the market have a green dye which can stain your house, walkway or other infrastructure.
Another option is to put up deer fencing around all plants that you want to protect. Keep in mind that this fencing must be 8 feet tall – anything shorter and deer can jump over it! If you have a few specimen trees or large flower beds, this can be a good choice as there’s no need to spray once the fence is up. The downside is the work involved in actually putting up the fence and the space needed to store it during the warmer months.
Electric fences also can be used. Electric fences should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5-gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps and 3,000 to 4,500 volts. Several configurations of electric fences are used: vertical five-, seven-, or nine-wire; slanted seven-wire; single strand; and others. When using a single strand electric fence it helps the deer to see that the wire is there if you mark it with cloth strips, tape or something similar. Otherwise, the deer may not see it in time and go right through it.
Wrapping in Burlap
If you only have smaller shrubs to protect, you may want to simply wrap them in burlap. Not only does this protect them from grazing deer, but it protects the shrubs from drying out in the cold winter winds. You can learn more about this in our article on preventing winter browning in evergreens.
And if you’re having problems with bucks damaging your trees by rubbing their antlers against the trunk, check out our article on preventing deer rub damage.