D’oh, a Deer! Tips for controlling deer damage this winter

Published on Wed, 12/03/2014 - 5:14pm

In many areas, an early fall harvest caused local deer populations to begin winter foraging sooner than normal—foraging that incudes feeding on buds, stems, and small branches on the trees and shrubs on your acreage. With the following tips, you can help protect your plants from the damage deer can bring.


Protect individual trees using welded wire-mesh cages or rigid plastic tree protectors. Along with defending trees from animal damage, protectors provide some positive side effects like faster initial growth and straighter, more uniform stems. These shelters can also help you locate seedlings and give protection when applying herbicides. Tree shelters are 3- to 5-inches in diameter and are available in lengths of 2, 4, 5, and 6 feet. Conifers can be protected with paper “bud caps.” Moderately durable paper—like printer paper—is cut into 4- by 6-inch pieces, folded around the terminal buds of the tree, and stapled to needles near the top. The caps are applied each October until the terminal buds grow beyond the deer’s reach. Bud caps will not stop damage lower down on the tree and aren’t suitable for use on Christmas trees. By spring, the bud caps degrade to allow unrestricted new growth. Individual wire cages are another good— but costly—solution to deer damage, but again, aren’t advisable for Christmas trees.


Fences are great for preventing deer damage, but they’re expensive, making them cost-prohibitive for many situations. Also, wire mesh fences only work if they’re well constructed and at least 8 feet high. For larger numbers of deer or areas greater than 10 acres, adding two strands of barbwire spaced 9 inches apart across the top can increase effectiveness. Properly designed and maintained electric fences can be as effective as conventional woven wire fences. Deer learn to avoid electric fences, although they will continue to test them to make sure they are active. Electric fences tend to be less expensive than wire mesh fences, but require more maintenance. Consider a three-wire temporary electric fence for small areas with low deer pressure; the “Penn State” five-wire design for moderate deer pressure on small to moderate acreages; or a slanted seven-wire fence for moderate to high deer pressure on moderate to large properties.


Typically, deer repellents are best for smaller areas, although they lose effectiveness when food is scarce and tend to dissipate with rain and snow. Fermented egg solids are among the most effective odor repellents, with popular commercial formulations registered for use on fruit trees, nursery stock, ornamentals, and conifer seedlings during the dormant season. This type of repellent is usually applied to seedlings using a tank sprayer. Taste repellents are placed directly on the plants. They are most effective on dormant trees or shrubs and need to be applied when the temperature is above freezing to a height of six feet—or no more than the terminal growth on larger trees. Also, the deer will continue to browse the treated plant as they learn to avoid it, so expect some limited damage. Depending on the weather, contact repellents need to be reapplied every 20–30 days throughout fall and winter; some newer products on the market contain adhesives that allow the treatment to remain active for up to three months. Try alternating taste repellents since the deer can eventually acclimate to one product.


unting Harvesting deer during the legal season is quite possibly the best way to control their numbers. Encourage hunting in problem areas and ask your neighbors to allow hunting on their property, too. In harder to control situations, contact your state’s agency to check on the availability of obtaining out-of-season shooting permits.