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Deer Control Basics

Learn More about Deer

Deer have adapted very well to human development of the landscape. Humans have created a habitat that is inviting to deer and many other types of animals. We have created suburban and rural housing developments, with planted gardens and ornamental shrubs, wood lots, orchards, nurseries and small farms that provide a mix of food, cover, and security. Deer require large amounts of food during the late spring, summer, and fall. The average adult deer requires between 6 and 10 pounds of food per day during the growing season. Deer are not grazers and can not digest grass very efficiently, with the exception of new shoots in early spring. When seen "grazing" in fields they are typically selecting weeds and broad-leaved plants not eating grass. Therefore, most planted crops are at risk to damage from deer. Some of the deer's favorite selections are; pumpkins, squash, beans, peas, lettuce, strawberries, and most other fruits. They also like to browse on all types of fruit bearing plants and trees including grapevines. Because deer do not have upper incisors, they tear plants when they browse them, rather than making a clean cut like a woodchuck or rabbit. Deer will also gnaw pumpkins and squash, leaving tooth marks in the fruits that will eventually rot.

It is difficult to move deer out of areas where they are not wanted. Not all strategies are practical for every homeowner. Frightening deer with gas exploders, strobe lights, pyrotechnics or tethered dogs typically provide only temporary relief. More practical management strategies include selecting plants unattractive to deer, treating plants with deer repellents, netting and tubing, and fencing.

The placement of plants in part determines the extent of damage. Plant more susceptible species near the home, in a fenced area, or inside a protective ring of less-preferred species. A hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable, so no plant is "deer proof." Also, the same plant species may be heavily damaged in one area but seldom damaged in another local.

The two types of deer repellents are contact repellents and area repellents. Contact repellents are applied directly to plants, causing them to taste bad. Area repellents are placed in a problem area and repel by their foul odor.

  • Apply repellents on a dry day with temperatures above freezing.
  • Treat young trees completely.
  • Older trees may be treated only on their new growth. Treat to a height 6 feet above the ground or maximum expected snow depth.
  • Deer browse from the top down. Hang or apply repellents at the bud or new growth level of the plants you wish to protect.

Home-remedy repellents are questionable at best. These include small, fine-mesh bags of human hair (about two handfuls) and bar soap hung from branches of trees. Replace both soap and hair bags monthly. Deer have been reported to eat the soap bars. Materials that work in one area or for one person may not work at all in an area more highly frequented by deer.

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