Mill Creek Tree Care
Protecting Trees from Deer
If you know, you know; deer wreak havoc on gardens and landscapes. Protecting your plants and trees from deer is an important aspect of maintaining your property. Here are some pointers.
Those with expansive, pristine gardens are likely familiar with this old foe: the deer. Deer are an icon of the North American wild, and live just about everywhere humans do. With increased development around urban and suburban centers, humans have slowly encroached on the natural habitats deer once called home. As such, it's not all that surprising when one, or a family, wander into our yards looking for food.
Deer aren't generally dangerous, they rarely attack, and their general reaction is to run away from people. The biggest risk they pose (outside of damage to your car in the event of a deer strike) is to your plants.
Deer eat leaves, berries, twigs - basically everything you'd see in a modern backyard or garden. The challenge for homeowners, business owners, and municipal authorities alike is: how to protect trees and plants from deer.
But before we talk about solutions, let's look at the specific issues that deer cause:
Deer eat your trees, their leaves, and associated foliage. The technical term is "deer browsing," where deer will "sample" the different plants and tree matter in your yard. The issue is, they can eat quite a bit; and if they find something they like, you can guess they will be back. How does this damage plants? Aside from robbing them of leaves and potentially breaking branches, deer hinder a plants' capability to neutralize CO2 through photosynthesis. Through the course of their meal, deer are neutralizing the benefits plants provide our community and the earth.
Deer Rutting; the removal of velvet from antlers. You may or may not know that, during the summer, male deer develop a velvety coating on their antlers. During the fall, they seek to remove this by rubbing their antlers against trees and other hard objects. While this may seem like a segment of the circle of life and changing of the seasons, it can be very damaging to your trees. The potential risk here is damage to the tree's cambium; the layer just under the bark that is critical to the movement of water and nutrients throughout the tree. Damage here can kill a younger, or older tree.
Shredding of bark. Deer also tend to shred the bark from trees - from about a foot off the ground, all the way up to four or five feet high. As one could imagine, this causes irreparable damage in some cases, and can ultimately kill a tree. In addition to bark, deer can shred smaller limbs off, adding to the damage they create.
Other hazards. In addition to the above, deer may (in rare cases) carry illnesses and diseases which could make other animals, or you and your loved ones sick. Deer are also known to carry ticks, which could multiply in, and infest your yard. While deer attacks are rare, should you come into contact with one, there are likely to be injuries.
So what are the best solutions? There are a few possible answers we'll discuss:
Install a fence. Completely eliminate the problem by installing a fence around your property. Ensure the fence is tall enough to keep deer out, then maintain it. The fence should eliminate the need to protect individual trees, as it will protect the entirety of your yard.
Install Mesh or Chicken Wire. Perhaps you don't have the money for an entire fence (they're expensive) or don't want one in your yard. Maybe your HOA or business won't let you anyways. Consider less permanent fencing around vulnerable plants and trees. Think chicken wire around a garden, or wire in a 3-4 foot diameter around newly planted trees. This can be accomplished with large stakes and netting or wire, and isn't overly cost prohibitive. As long as the barriers are installed in the correct areas, they should help to protect your plants.
Plant Sprays. There are a number of sprays and applications that are designed to ward off deer. Many companies will apply these, and many can be purchased off the shelf. The primary drawback to sprays is their lack of longevity. While each differs, most require re-application to continue working. This could get expensive, and could still leave your plants vulnerable.
Organic options. There are a variety of organic, everyday substances which deer are said to dislike. These include coffee grounds, mothballs, garlic, and even fish heads and hair. There are several others, but the lists get weird here. The idea is the same as the sprays discussed above - apply them, and the deer won't come near. Problem here is the longevity associated with any of these items. Plus, we're personally not fans of leaving decomposing fish heads laying around a yard we've created to enjoy. Perhaps these are good short-term, stopgap solutions.
Individual guards, wraps, burlaps, cages, etc. This solution, to us, is generally best because it strikes a middle ground. There are a number of solutions here - the best one will depend on your situation, and your type of foliage:
-Tree Guards: Tree guards are generally metal or plastic mesh, and completely surround a tree while leaving several inches between the material itself, and the trunk. They rise to between 3 and 5 feet from the ground, sit on the mulch beneath the tree, and hinder any attempts by deer to reach the bark. They aren't overly expensive, can be moved, and don't preclude you from performing work. They generally open along the side, and can easily be moved.
-Burlap Sacks: Surprisingly, burlap sacks are exceptionally strong. And they're inexpensive. Burlap is most useful for lower shrubs, as larger burlap bags that might cover a tree are hard to come by. But they could work in a pinch. These are great solutions because they'll let water in, are breathable, will keep deer off, and can protect from snowfall.
-Tree Wrap: Tree wraps are materials that wrap around the trunk of your tree. They keep deer away from the bark, but deer could still reach low hanging branches. As a note, these must be changed out periodically (we recommend every 2-4 months, depending on conditions) to avoid too much moisture inside, or to remove insects or growth that may be hiding inside the wrap.
-Wire Tree and Shrub cages: just as they sound, wire cages are large, collapsible wire structures that completely surround a tree. These should be at least 5 or 6 feet tall, and prevent deer from reaching the tree or its branches in any capacity. A properly placed cage can completely protect a tree from deer. These can also be staked down, and cable-tied together.
Lastly, keep anything else deer may be interested in out of your yard, or secured. Do you have a compost bin or pile? Deer will probably be interested in what's inside. Does your dog eat their food outside, or do you leave food for the raccoons? Deer are probably interested in all of this. Don't let them come for the raccoon food, and stay because they found your trees to be delicious.
Assess what your individual issues are, and how best to protect your own yard. Then, let us know how we can help. If an assessment is helpful, just give us a call. We'll be happy to help maintain, and keep your trees safe from deer and other forest critters.