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Deer Damage

Deer Damage Article and Photo by Jeff Burbrink, Purdue Extension Educator, Elkhart County

All the snow northern Indiana had in December 2000 blanketed the ground so thoroughly that deer and other wildlife have been struggling to find enough to eat. There are two common questions being asked by the homeowners. First, will the plants recover? And second, what can I do to keep the deer away?

Unfortunately, most evergreens (pines, arborvitae, spruce, and fir) will not grow new foliage to fill the empty void once the green leaves or needles have been removed from the stems. So, most of the arborvitae I've seen, which generally have been nibbled from the ground to a height of 6 to 8 feet, will remain bare at that height. The exception is the yew, which has buds in the stems of the plant and can regrow new foliage. It may take years for a yew to fully recuperate, though.

Fencing is one option to physically keep the deer away from the trees. Deer generally won't jump into a small, enclosed space. The theory is that if the deer can see the other side of the fence, they wonât jump in! However, a hungry deer is likely to do just about anything for food.

Another option for protecting larger plantings is an electric fence. One type, called polytape, when used in combination with peanut butter, has been fairly effective. Full details on cost, construction and effectiveness are available from your county Extension office, in Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources bulletin FNR-136 or online at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-136.pdf.

There are several repellents marketed that deter deer with their scent. You can purchase these at area garden centers or farm stores. These repellents often need to be re-applied frequently because they break down quickly when exposed to the elements. Other home remedy repellents include hanging small bars of scented soap or bags of human hair in each tree, creating a scent of humans nearby. Remember; if the deer have nothing else to eat, and they have developed a habit of coming to your bushes for a snack, they will probably overcome their fear of the new scent.

A good, noisy dog is often a deterrent to deer. It has to be a dog that likes to roam around a bit at night, and doesn't mind the cold. If he's sleeping at the foot of your bed, the deer won't have much to fear.

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Last updated: 27 February 2001/tlm.
The Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University.