As the depth of winter approaches, I get asked how to deer proof trees. The answer is that you can’t completely deer proof a tree. A hungry deer will eat any plant when snow makes it impossible for them to reach their favorite food sources. However, you can make it more difficult for them to reach your trees.
The best advice may come from your neighbors. Different remedies work in different areas. What works in my neighborhood may not work in yours. So, start by asking your neighbors what they use to discourage deer and how effective is it.
Perhaps the best deterrent is to plant deer resistant plants. The most complete list of such plants that I’ve found is on Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension’s website (warren.cce.cornell.edu) under the Gardening & Landscaping section. It lists plants that are rarely, occasionally and frequently damaged by deer.
Boxwood is one of the plants in the rarely damaged category. One of my customers has a beautiful weeping Japanese red maple in the center of a triangular planting bed. It’s surrounded by boxwood on all sides and has never been damaged by deer. (I hope I didn’t just jinx him.)
Some people have had success with wrapping their trees and shrubs in deer fencing, hardware cloth or burlap. It needs to be installed at least eight feet tall. Ten or twelve feet would be even better. Other people have been successful installing netting over small trees and shrubs.
There are also repellents, which can be purchased or made using household items, and deer resistant plants like herbs. Deer love tulip bulbs but not daffodils. There’s also the old method of stuffing socks or panty hose legs with human hair and suspending them over the plants you want to protect. Strategically placed motion activated lights may also work.
Deer are the wildlife that draw the most attention as they browse on our valuable trees and shrubs in winter but sneaky rodents may actually kill your plants. Mice and voles like to burrow down in snow or mulch piled against the trunk and chew on the bark. Rabbits do it right out in the open. If they chew all the way around the trunk or stem, they will sever the tree’s vascular system, causing it to die.
The best way to combat hungry rodents is to wrap the trunk with hardware cloth. Hardware cloth is flexible screening that can be found at hardware stores and home centers. To be safe, wrap the trunk all the way up to the first branch. Some barrier directions say to offset the hardware cloth out from the trunk with wooden or PVC frames. Plastic pipe or tree wrap can also be used but it’s important to remove any wrap in each spring so the tree can grow.
Deer have always avoided our landscapes. I can not explain it. They damage home gardens in the neighborhood, but damage nothing in our landscapes. On rare occasion, I find evidence of deer eating something out in the forest. I really wish I knew why they avoid our landscapes. It would be very useful information.