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How deer damage trees

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Starring: Dwarfie

Deer may be cute, majestic, [insert better adjective] creatures that make you gasp when you see them out your window, but the effects they have on plants can be truly devastating. Both young and fully established trees can get irreparably damaged. In this post, we'll explain and show you how exactly deer damage trees and ways to prevent that.

In this educational / entertainment post:

Nibbling the leaves isn't the only thing these herbivores engage in. But even if that was the case, the result could be a tree stripped of all foliage within deer reach. And in case you didn't know, even though they don't posses long necks like giraffes, deer can and will stan up on hind legs to reach higher branches. Observe how it happens:

Now imagine there's a herd of dozens of hungry deer by your garden. Your excitement from seeing them outside your window can soon vanish, along with the vanishing foliage and bark (!) on the trees and shrubs you carefully planted and nurtured. Unfortunately, these wild animals care not for landscape design.  And once they decide that your garden is a safe and yummy haven, they will visit regularly.

Why do deer rub trees?

Or course, the worst damage comes from bucks rubbing their antlers on them. This way they remove the velvet that's covering them and eventually end up sharpening their weapons and polishing them. Simultaneously killing off the tree but that's not at the top of buck's list of concerns.

Males also rub trees during mating season to attract females or simply to mark their territory.

From our own observations, deer also use trees and shrubs as punching bags, training themselves for battle. Watch our dwarf buck attacking a young tangerine tree in the beginning of spring.

One deer resistant tree

Little buck rubbing the little tree like mad. It was a miracle he didn't break it when he got spooked and tangled in.

This is when we realized a deer-repellent spray doesn't solve all the problems, because even if the deer won't eat your tree, they'll utilize it in other undesirable ways. Which bring us to the next logical question:

How to protect trees from deer?

Methods of preventing deer rubbing and browsing in a nutshell:

  1. protective structures ('Damn, can't reach! Why wasn't I born a giraffe?!')
  2. repellents ('Eew, that stinks! Also, what's that annoying noise? I'm outta here.')
  3. frightening them away ('Aaaaaaaaaaaaa! It's every buck for himself')
  4. planting deer resistant trees ('Meh, I've had better. I'll go look for yummier greenery elsewhere')
  5. regulated hunting ('Oh deer. I'm dead. Dead don't damage many trees.')

Protective structures.

So what is the best solution to keeping deer away from trees?

Physically blocking them. And yes, it's not ideal from the aesthetic point of view, but neither are chewed up flowers and broken branches. It's either fencing off the whole area or individual trees.

Tree guarding is very efficient, and there are several methods of going about it:

Protecting only the trunk.

It can be wrapped in durable plastic mesh. There's several products available like A.M. Leonard Rigid Plastic Mesh Tree Bark Protector or more quitable for younger saplings - a Miracle Tree Tube.

Researching this problem has lead us to another possibly good and easy solution. Using paper trunk wraps. It has some other benefits for plants as well, but what's more important, there's some positive feedback regarding deer-proofing effect of these wraps. For example, there's a verified purchase review of HORT Paper Tree Wrap that reads that since wrapping the trunks, no more evidence of deer rubbing against the tree was seen and the wrap held in place through all sorts of bad weather.

Mind you these products will only protect 'the most vital organ' - the bark. Leaves and branches may still remain accessible depending on the kid of tree you have.

Below is the picture of one of our tree enclosed in a metallic wire cylinder:

You might notice how lower branches have been stripped off their leaves (also, how we haven't weeded around the tree in ages).

tree in wire cylinder to protect bark on trunk

If that level of damage is acceptable to you you can opt for mainly protecting the trunk.

Protecting the trunk and the branches.

For this purpose, you need to block the access to the tree completely, so no deer standing on his two legs could reach the branches. In order to be effective, you've got to erect the woven wire fence around it of at least six to eight feet (2 to 2.5 m.) high.

Electric fences. We don't use them. But they work. No animal likes getting electrical shocks.

Fishing line fencing. There's some people out there recommending it and others reporting that it doesn't work:

we haven't tried that ourselves but we've seen our deer squeeze through tiny holes. And if they can't enter, they'll just stick their neck and eat what they can reach. So for the fish-line idea to succeed the lines should probably be around probably be around 4" (10 cm) apart and very tight, especially in the bottom half. Remember, there's also little fawns. But even grown deer if determined can find a weak spot and push their way through.

Like Our fence-buster Junkie:

This fence was worked into submission over a period of time. Deer would keep pushing on it from below, when they were trying to reach some food on the other side. So that loosened it up bit by bit, and one day - boom - a doe is victorious, she's in! Read the full story here.

Repel deer away

If you don't want to put up a fence around your trees (yet), you may want to try deer repellent. There's 2 types: contact repellent and area repellent.

Contact one is simply a solution to be sprayed onto a tree that a deer will dislike when it approaches and smells it. We make our own by simply mixing an egg and baking powder in water. The proportion is 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of baking powder per litre of water. This mixture doesn't harm plants or animals. Harms humans, if they forget to wash the bottle afterwards and then open it in a few days. God help you.

Area repellent is a wireless kind of a solution. Haven't been tried by us (hey, we own a farm, would be weird to try and repel our own deer). But reportedly these devices help some people: Solar animal repellent, Ultrasonic animal repellent. We wouldn't get your hopes up on those, having used ultrasonic one against mice we realized they adapt. Can be similar story with sound and lights. Deer are fearful, they will run away first time they see/ hear something. But over a period of time they'll summarize that's no threat and ignore it. Similarly, as we've tried ourselves with birds, scare tactics are of low and temporary efficiency. Proof of that - blueberries and grapes that we never got to taste last year despite a bobble-head owl and sparkling tapes near-blinding us in our own backyard.

Scare deer away

As we've covered, there's a variety of area repellents - motion-activated devices from sprinklers that soak a trespassing animal with water to high-pitched whistles and the abovementioned solar lights on the market today. We've also expressed our skepticism as to the durability of this method. Our deer may run in fright today after seeing a new tractor, but next week they'll be rubbing against it, lying down by it's side. They're cautious, not stupid.))

Some advice shiny reflective tapes tied to trees. Again, will work as a temporary solution.

scare away deer?


Getting a dog that barks at 'intruders' may help as deer are naturally fearful animals of prey. For this to be successful the dog needs to actually be in the fenced garden you want to protect. Otherwise over time, cunning deer will figure out the dog can't get to them and ignore the barking. Regarding the size of the dog - doesn't matter, as long as your chihuahua is fierce enough ;)

The drawback of this idea may be that barking, sometimes at night, when deer are most active, may be unpleasant to your neighbors and yourself.

Are there deer resistant trees?

Deer have been known to avoid eating some trees and they certainly have their preferences, but eventually, few trees will keep a desperate deer away.  Still, here is an extensive list of trees and shrubs not favored by deer [ link ].

deer eating garden

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Last modified 2020-09-14 at 20:35

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