Winter Deer Damage? MSU Extension Offers Solutions


“Deer feeding was heavy this past winter—very heavy.” Sounds like a broken record, doesn’t it? Each passing winter, deer browse affects thousands of home landscapes. With decrease in habitat and increase in home building, deer populations eagerly push into new territory, even city neighborhoods, and eat trees, shrubs and summer and winter perennials planted by unsuspecting gardeners. Feeding especially heavily on their favorite winter plants, such as the common yew (Taxus) and arborvitae (Thuja), deer leave many home landscapes looking completely barren in early April.


With one leap, deer can easily clear a 5- to 6-foot fence around a property to sample tasty delicacies throughout the season. The only thing left behind will be a few coco puffs. Tactics such as creating barriers around specific plants with fencing and burlap can be quite effective, but getting plants covered in time or the barriers put into place before the snow flies can sometimes be a challenge.

Commercial repellants are quite effective. Using taste and smell as a weapon, the sprays are a turn-off for our furry foe sporting their voracious appetite. Routine application is the key to success. Frequent spring rains will wash away products more quickly than during the winter and the early season push of new growth require repeated applications of repellants to coat the unprotected foliage. Application consistency is important since part of the tactic is affecting deer psychology, thus “re-training” feeding behavior.

Get in the game

Armed with a list of plants that deer “least prefer,” gardeners can adopt the mentality of “a strong defense is a good offense.” Because deer don’t read lists, the ratings are somewhat relative. One of the smartest tactics would be to avoid using plants that are “deer candy” and more frequently choose plants that deer seldom feed on.

For more information about preventing deer feeding damage and a list of plants that deer do not like, click here to read Michigan State Extension Specialist Rebecca Finneran’s informative article.