Deer can cause two types of damage to plants: rubbing or battering by antlers and browsing. Battering usually occurs prior to the deer’s rutting season, in late summer and early fall, as male deer rub their antlers against young trees, two to three inches in diameter. Rubbing against stems and young trunks can cause girdling and dieback. Browsing may occur throughout the entire year but becomes more noticeable during late fall and winter when other foods are less available. A hungry deer in a cold winter will eat anything and one adult deer can consume up to four pounds of woody twigs a day.
Management for Deer Damage
Fencing is the most reliable deer control solution, but not always the most practical or aesthetically pleasing. Deer are good jumpers and it is commonly recommended to use at least 8-foot high fencing. Metal cages placed around individual plants will help deter deer from browsing, provided the cage is tall enough to prevent deer from reaching over the top. Protecting trees with plastic collars and tree guards in late summer will protect trunks from deer rubbing. Be sure to remove wrapping in spring to avoid damage to the trees. Several commercial repellents are available for short-term solutions. Spray repellents work by emitting an odor or taste that deer don’t like. Their success is based on the level of reduction of feeding and not on totally eliminating deer browsing. Reapplication is necessary in inclement weather.