For most homeowners, deer pose few problems. They are majestic to watch as they graze among the trees, and they are so easy to fall in love with as long as they don’t dart in front of your car.
However, if you have a home, deer can be problematic. Sure, they’re beautiful—but they also love to nibble on our plants.
Few gardens are immune to deer damage—except for those surrounded by super-tall fences, of course. Deer are mostly indiscriminate in the vegetable garden, chewing on everything from broccoli to tomatoes.
However, it is in the garden (or, for the most part, around any type of tree) where deer can be most destructive.
They will also kill the soil around the trees, increasing the likelihood of erosion and urinating the area, which can lead to an overabundance of nitrogen in the soil.
There are a few tips you can follow to protect your trees from deer – that way, you can all co-exist in peace.
What type of trees do deer like?
Deer will eat almost anything, but there are certain types of trees that are particularly dear to deer.
Those that are nut- or fruit-bearing are some of the most common targets, but they will also feed on evergreens. Trees such as hickory, chestnut, beech and white oak are common targets, as are domestic apple and pear trees, sumac, honey locust, persimmon and crabapple trees.
Your first line of defense in protecting your trees is to plant species that are not attractive to deer. Some trees are off-limits, but you may be able to deter deer by planting species with thorny, hairy, or discolored leaves around the base of your vulnerable trees.
Deer also stay away from plants with strong-smelling foliage, leaves that are leathery or fibrous, and poisonous plants.
When you’re planning your garden, it’s also important to note that deer don’t just pose a threat to trees by eating them. They often cause even more damage to trees through their breeding behavior.
Male deer often rub their horns against trees, ruining the bark and causing significant damage. This is done during mating to attract females or to mark territory, but it can also be done to help remove the velvet from their horns and polish them.
Unfortunately, these behaviors can result in not only mutilated trees, but cracked bark and broken branches.
How to protect your trees from deer
Here are some ways to prevent deer from targeting your trees. While no single solution will be perfect on its own, combining these techniques will allow you to design your own long-lasting approach that works.
1. Install Tall Fences (Or Consider Electric Fences)
Setting up a tall fence or cage around your plants is one of the easiest ways to keep deer away.
To prevent deer from reaching your trees, you need to make sure it is at least 8-10 feet high. Otherwise, the deer can easily step on it or leap. Fencing can be expensive, but it is worth it when you consider the damage that deer can do to your trees.
You may have to angle the fence about 30° or so. This will provide an additional layer of security. Although it’s not as common as you might think, it is still possible for a deer to jump over and clear a super long fence. Angling the fence will make it more difficult.
If you are trying to protect young plants, you may be able to use inexpensive cages made of chicken wire. This will protect a tree from deer when it is more vulnerable and vulnerable to damage. Just make sure the cage you use can be expanded to allow for the growth of the tree.
When building a fence, consider paying a little more money to have a stockade fencing instead of one that deer can see through. They do not like to jump over fences unless they can clearly see what is on the other side – therefore, a stockade fence will be just as effective as it needs to be.
Of course, an electric fence is always an option as well. Not all places allow them, so check the rules in your municipality to be sure.
An electric fence can be solar or battery powered, but you need to keep the highest strand high enough so that deer can’t jump over it.
2. Protect young trees with collars
If you have just planted your trees, it may be wise to use a homemade collar to protect their trunks. Use enough PVC pipe to fit around the trunk with a few inches of extra space. Cut the pipe along its length to open it up and slide it around the trunk as you plant.
This will not protect the tree from deer as it gets older, but it is an effective and inexpensive way to protect your trees while they are working on establishing roots.
PVC pipe isn’t your only option either. You can also use heavy mesh or wire fencing. Simply roll squares of these materials around the trunk of the tree and then secure. Be sure to check back in and remove the collar when the tree is older.
Unless you are already an avid deer hunter, this may not be the easiest way for you to get rid of deer eating your trees.
However, if you prefer to hunt for subsistence or sport, then hunting deer that is eating your trees (legally, of course) is a good way to solve your problem.
4. Use Deer Repellent
A deer repellent provides a temporary solution to your deer problem but can be effective nonetheless.
The idea behind deer exterminators is this – deer don’t like the taste! Applying a repellent to the tree should stop any tackiness, although it may not be as effective against rubbing.
You can use all kinds of deer repellents, including egg-and-water mixtures, deodorant soap suds, and commercial repellant sprays.
Over time, deer will become accustomed to the smell and they may stop avoiding your trees. At this time you have to change your strategy.
5. Get a Dog
You don’t need to (and you shouldn’t – it’s not the most ethical approach) to train your dog to attack deer. However, just hanging the dog around won’t keep the deer approaching your trees. Most of the time, they will be able to smell your dog and will be in the clear.
6. Plant Deer Resistant Plants
The best way to protect your trees and prevent deer from messing with them is to choose plants wisely. If you can swing it, avoid planting species that deer like to eat.
However, this isn’t always possible. If you want to grow an apple orchard, your only option is to grow apples!
Therefore, you may have to engage in some strategic planning – what plants can you plant near or near more desirable tree species to keep deer away?
Again, choose plants that are toxic to deer or have prickly, unpleasant leaves. Grow these around the base of your plant whenever possible to repel deer. Some good options include:
- globe thistle
- bleeding heart
- false blue
7. Use Sprinklers
It sounds silly, but deer can be easily stopped by motion-activated sprinklers.
This won’t be the best technique in the winter, as the sprinklers will need to be dried and stored, but they can work night and day. The sudden movement of the sprinkler will startle deer when they approach your trees – chances are, they won’t come back immediately.
Try Different Strategies
If deer are targeting your trees, whether by physically harming them with their horns or by eating them, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage. You’ll have the best results if you combine a mix of the tips listed above instead of relying on just one “hack” to get rid of deer around your trees for good.
If you notice deer damage on your trees, it is important to take action. This is because trees, especially young ones, are vulnerable to such damage. If they are injured, they will not be able to effectively transport water or nutrients – two things that are vital to a tree’s survival.