Wildlife is a great addition to your landscape any time of year, and especially during winter when the color and it brings is a welcome sight. But what if you want to keep wildlife out of your yard, especially when it comes to hungry deer who feast on your shrubs and decimate your trees?
The colder and snowier it gets, the more likely you are to find a few furry critters munching on your landscape. This is a common challenge in woody areas but can also happen on any given suburban block if deer get hungry enough. And while it may not be possible to keep them out completely – at least not without a very tall fence! – there are things you can do to discourage them from dining and save a few of your plants.
Try these tips for identifying and preventing winter deer damage – and maintaining the beauty of your space.
Are You Sure It’s Deer?
Other hungry wildlife can do damage to your yard, too. Rabbits and rodents are notorious for munching on winter gardens, so if you haven’t caught the critters red-hoofed, take a look at the damage to be sure you’re dealing with deer.
Deer typically don’t leave teeth marks but they do a pretty good job of shredding through leaves and bark. If you notice torn leaves, bark missing from trees, if the tops of your shrubs or low lying plants look shredded, or the bottoms of taller shrubs and trees begin to look bare, then you’re dealing with deer.
Rabbits and rodents, on the other hand, will leave much more distinct teeth marks that look like scratches, and their dining will be evident closer to the ground.
Now that you know you have a deer problem, what next?
Your Best Bet Is Prevention
Deer are persistent little buggers. Once they find a good feeding spot it can be difficult to discourage them. So if you’re lucky enough not to have deer damage yet but suspect it’s coming, or if you’ve noticed the recent demise of some of your plants, taking action quickly can preventing deer from forming bad habits.
Deer can also acclimate quickly to deterrents so don’t rely on the same thing to work consistently. You’ll be most effective if you use multiple strategies and occasionally switch them up. The trick is to keep deer from getting comfortable in your space.
If you don’t want deer eating your plants, then plant things that deer don’t want to eat! Some of their favorites include arborvitae, hostas, daylilies, rhododendron, pansies, tulips and azalea. Including those in your landscape plan when you have the potential for deer damage is just asking for trouble.
But don’t fret, there are plenty of beautiful plants that aren’t appetizing to deer – calendula, hellebore, allium, butterfly bush, lavender, lamb’s ear, rosemary, coneflower and zinnia are just a few.
If you do have prized plants that you simply can’t give up, try keeping them in pots closer to your home, where human activity is more likely to scare deer off. Or plant them at the back of a garden and bring the unappetizing plants to the forefront. Deer will be turned off before they can get to the good stuff.
Keep in mind that if they get hungry enough, deer will eat just about anything. So you may not be able to keep them away completely, but by offering them fare that they wouldn’t normally enjoy, you can go a long way to saving your landscape.
Please Don’t Feed The Animals!
You might be tempted to feed deer under the mistaken impression that they’ll consume what you offer and leave your gardens alone. That would be a very bad idea for you *and* the deer.
Believe it or not, feeding deer late in winter can actually harm or kill them. And as much of a nuisance as they may be, you’re probably not looking to hurt them. On the flip side, it can also cause an unintended population explosion. And that’s not good for anyone.
Worst of all for your landscape, deer will become quite accustomed to foraging and feeding near your home, which means you’ll be helping them establish the very habits you want to avoid.
Give Them A Scare
Startling or scaring deer away from your gardens can be an effective way not only to keep them from feeding but to discourage them from returning and forming bad habits.
Using a deer repellent can help. There are two kinds of repellents: contact repellents and area repellents. Contact repellents can be sprayed on plants to give them an unpleasant taste. Area repellents deter deer with unpleasant or frightening odors – like predator urine – and should be used before deer begin to feed.
You can also startle deer with loud noises, sudden bright lights, or motion-activated water sprinklers.
You’d be surprised by what deer can become accustomed to, so don’t expect any one of these to work forever. Try using as many deterrent methods as you can and switch them up so deer don’t get too comfortable with what to expect.
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mouth
If you’re stuck with some determined deer, you can always simply cover or cage your plants. Netting or a burlap tarp can be placed over shrubs to keep deer from getting to them. Wire mesh can be wrapped around tree trunks to protect bark. Small cages can be placed over particularly vulnerable plants.
They may not be your favorite sight, but when you consider the benefit of having whole, healthy plants come spring, you might not mind as much.
Wildlife is a fun and enjoyable addition to your landscape but that doesn’t mean you need to be the neighborhood buffet! If you’re experiencing challenges with deer, or if you’d like to avoid potential deer troubles, let us know. We’ll consult with you to design a space that will work for you and your environment so you can enjoy it all year long.