Deer are one of the most visible and widespread wildlife species.
Deer can be very destructive to home gardens, ornamental landscape plants, orchards, and vineyards.
Deer are browsers, preferring to consume a diet high in semi-woody materials, such as the buds from shrubs and trees, but will also eat a variety of vegetation including grasses and flowering plants. Deer also eat fruit, nuts, ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and garden vegetables.
Deer usually feed in the late evening and very early morning, so it is not easy to observe them. However, in suburban areas where deer have become accustomed to people, they may be active throughout the day. When deer munch on leaves and tender stems of shrubs and trees, they leave ragged edges on remaining plant parts.
Highly tasty plants, like roses and apple trees, are often planted around homes for landscaping and gardens, attracting deer and sometimes experiencing severe damage. Deer munching can stunt the growth of newly planted fruit and nut trees and vines, sometimes delaying their fruit production by several years. Additionally, deer can completely consume or trample leafy vegetables, legumes, ground covers, and flowers.
In mid to late summer, bucks (male deer) will rub their antlers on tree trunks and limbs, fence posts, and other rough surfaces to remove their shedding velvet. While this is not a problem for larger trees, saplings or small limbs can be badly damaged or destroyed. Presence of deer in the garden or orchard can be detected by finding hoof prints or droppings.
Creating Deer-Resistant Landscapes
Most traditional gardens and landscapes are highly attractive to deer and have little resistance to deer browsing. In many circumstances, gardens attract deer because other natural food sources are out of season or otherwise unavailable.
The plants most resistant to deer browsing are those that contain toxins of some type, such as oleander, which is poisonous to most mammals. Some plants may be toxic or repellent only during certain stages of growth, so they may be considered deer-resistant in some seasons but not others. Many plants that are found on lists of deer-resistant plants will simply be less palatable or less preferred, but when food is scarce (particularly in drought years), deer are numerous, or both, they will be eaten.
Properly built and maintained fencing is the most effective method for preventing deer damage. Fencing may require an initial financial investment but considered over time, may prove to be the most cost-effective approach.
The kind of fence you build depends on the cost, terrain, and your needs. Both high-tensile wire and woven mesh, full-height fences are effective. Deer are more likely to crawl under or through a fence than jump over it. Make sure you secure the fence close to the ground and repair any breaks.
Polypropylene fencing is effective deer exclusion. Such fencing can be useful in situations where newly-planted trees or shrubs need to become established and will grow in a few years to a size that is more resistant to or out-of-reach of deer browsing (usually 5 to 7 feet above the ground).
Deer normally will not jump a 6-foot fence; but if chased or threatened, they can clear an 8-foot fence on level ground. Because of this ability, a 7- or 8-foot fence is recommended, especially where mule deer are found. On sloping ground, you may need to build fences 10 or 11 feet high to guard against deer jumping down slope. Fence gates should be equal to the height of the fence, and they must be kept closed to prevent deer from entering the fenced area.
A good deer fence is built to work in both directions: if an animal gets in, you will need to have a way to get the deer out without difficulty. A removable section in an uphill corner on sloping ground or a corner farthest from human activity, if on level ground, can be very helpful in allowing deer to be driven out of the fenced area.
Make sure to stake the fence firmly to the ground between posts.
A slanted fence can be built with similar materials as conventional fences, but it will not need to be as high. As deer approach the outward-sloping fence, they come under the overhang, which discourages them from trying to jump over.
Individual Plant Protectors. In many places, protecting individual plants may be more practical and economical than fencing an entire area. For example, young fruit or nut trees in a home orchard can be individually fenced until primary branches grow above the deer’s reach.