Christian County Extension Office
Winter and early spring can be tough on landscape plants, especially those within the sights of a hungry deer population. Damage can also occur from bucks rubbing trees with their antlers during the rutting season and other times of the year. The simple fact is that no tree or shrub is “deer proof”. But if you have a recently planted tree you want to protect from deer, you do have a few options.
Repellents can be applied directly to plants causing them to taste bad. They have varying degrees of success and none are 100% effective. Most ‘home remedy’ repellents, such as soap, human hair and pet waste are questionable at best. A spray of 20 percent whole eggs and 80 percent water is one of the most effective repellents. To prevent the sprayer from clogging, remove the chalaza or white membrane attached to the yolk before mixing the eggs. The egg mixture is weather resistant but must be reapplied in about 30 days. Repellents should be applied on a dry day with temperatures above freezing to a height of 6 feet on the tree or shrub. Some gardeners have reported success with planting strong-scented plants like lantana, catmint, chives, mint, sage or thyme to act as repellents near plants they are trying to protect.
Another option are commercially available tubes of Vexar plastic netting wrapped around individual trees. Plastic tubes are also sold that help protect the trunk. Neither are as effective as installing a deer fence around the property (the only sure way to control deer damage), but they are a much less expensive option to try first.
Deer are creatures of habit, so new plants added to an existing landscape already severely damaged by deer will likely suffer extreme-browsing pressure. Selecting plants that deer rarely browse can improve your chances of success. Some trees to consider include bald cypress, crape myrtle, eastern redcedar, ginkgo, kousa dogwood, saucer magnolia, sugar maple. Shrubs like barberry, beautybush, boxwood, abelia, junipers, spirea, and viburnum are also less likely to be eaten by deer but are not deer-proof.
Even if the deer don’t find these plants palatable, they may still suffer antler rubbing damage. Snow cover or high deer populations can also force deer to eat plants they typically would not.
For a list of more deer-resistant plants or for other questions, please contact the Christian County Extension Office at 270-886-6328.
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UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY, KENTUCKY STATE UNIVERSITY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, AND KENTUCKY COUNTIES, COOPERATING