Deer damage is a special concern during fall and winter, starting in September. The first problem is “buck rubs” during the fall rut season. Bucks can’t resist sapling trees and will shred them as part of their mating ritual. Later this season when there’s less natural forage, hungry deer will become bolder about nibbling the tender tips of your trees and shrubs.
Preventing deer damage before it starts is much easier than changing existing behavior. Deer are creatures of habit. Deer control should begin whenever you add a new plant to your yard; deer will investigate newly turned dirt and you want to send an unfriendly message right away, before they get comfortable.
Deer are also neophobic (afraid of anything new). Changes in your yard put them on alert, and you can keep them off-base with new deer-deterrence tactics. Devices that move or make noise can work for a while. Physical barriers like electric fences can discourage them. Substances that taste bad discourage deer browsing.
We’ve all heard about folk remedies for deer control. Bars of soap, human hair, rotten eggs, garlic, fabric softener strips, dried blood and other remedies can help. All have some value because they either “jam” the deer’s sense of smell or create a sense of danger. These methods often work in the beginning but can gradually lose effectiveness because they are difficult or messy to manage over time, or because deer become accustomed to them. Some can also attract other pests, such as rodents or dogs.
The easiest deterrent to manage over time is commercial deer-deterrent spray. We have had great success using “Liquid Fence”, a mixture of smells deer cannot tolerate, in an easy-to-use pump sprayer. Once it dries, “Liquid Fence” resists washing away and will continue to work for about a month. We start by spraying Liquid Fence on any new planting, so that deer are discouraged from day one.
Starting in September we spray the trunks of all our young trees once per month during fall to prevent buck damage. Continuing to spray regularly through the winter helps prevent deer nibbling on trees and shrubs.
We’ve never found any other solution that is as effective and easy to use on landscape plants as “Liquid Fence”, so for years we’ve sold it in our garden center. It works very well year after year, as long as we re-apply it on schedule. Many of our customers have had similar success with it.
When buying plants for your yard, ask your nursery to recommend deer-resistant plants. Deer preferences vary, and desperately hungry deer will eat almost any plant, but certain plants are less tempting to them and you should focus on those when landscaping.