Although some plants are more deer-resistant than others, deer will eat almost any plant if they are hungry enough, especially during winters with large amounts of snowfall and high populations of deer.
Plants favored by deer include arborvitae (Thuja), yew (Taxus), rhododendron and azalea (Rhododendron), crabapple (Malus), hosta (Hosta), tulip (Tulipa), and many perennials, annuals, and vegetables.
Timing & Life Cycle
Deer browse for food year-round. They more feed heavily in the fall as they prepare for winter and as females recover from the stress of raising fawns in the spring and summer. Deer seek out plants in their most nutritious stages, which is often when they are flowering, fruiting, or undergoing rapid growth.
Deer eat the buds, leaves, flowers, twigs, and even the bark of plants. Deer pull and tear at plant tissue as they browse for food, leaving a ragged edge rather than a clean cut. They cause further damage by trampling and sleeping in garden beds. During late summer and early fall, male deer, or bucks, remove the "velvet" from their antlers by rubbing them against tree trunks, which shreds bark and breaks branches. Velvet is the hairy skin that nourishes antlers while they are soft and growing. Bucks shed their antlers every winter. Damage can occur from ground level up to 6 feet.
Treatment & Solutions
Choose plants that deer do not prefer. Generally, deer avoid plants with sticky, aromatic, or hairy leaves. They rarely eat ornamental grasses. However, no plant is truly deer-proof because deer will eat any plant if they are hungry.
Single fences must be at least 8 feet tall to keep deer out of a given area. A double fence system — two fences approximately 4 to 5 feet tall and 5 feet apart — is often successful because they are too wide to clear in a single jump and too close together to be jumped separately.
A number of remedies have been known to repel deer, such as hanging fragrant bar soaps or bar soaps in netted or nylon bags near favored plants. Care should be taken to assure that there are no plants located beneath the soap bags. Highly fragrant plants may also act as a deterrent. Deer located in rural areas may be repelled by hanging human hair near favored plants. Predator urines, such as bobcat or coyote, work well but must be reapplied after large amounts of rain or watering. During the summer months, sprinkler systems that are activated by motion which project a sudden hard blast of water are also very effective.
Commercial repellents may provide protection but need to be reapplied after a substantial amount of rain or watering. It is best to rotate different repellents so that deer do not become accustomed to any one product.
Please contact Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about coping with deer and list of resistant plants.