How To Deer Proof Your Yard For Winter


By Mark Wolfe

It’s fun to see wildlife spending time in your yard, until they begin to cause damage. In recent decades the deer populations in suburban and urban communities have grown from rarely seen to overabundant, leading, in some cases, to major landscape damage. They are hungry and our densely planted yards are an all-you-can-eat buffet, especially in winter. Ahead we’ll examine the most effective ways to deer proof your yard. But first let’s learn a little bit about their eating habits.

What do deer eat?

Deer are wide-ranging herbivores. Throughout the year they eat all sorts of vegetation, including herbaceous plants, leaves of woody plants, flowers, fruits, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, and tender new shoots. Although deer are not picky eaters, during the growing season, they mostly stick to foods with a smooth and supple texture and higher water content, like forbs and leaves of woody plants. In late summer and fall, they take advantage of abundant fruits and nuts to add a fatty layer that will provide insulation and energy to help them get through the winter. As the seasons progress from fall through winter, many of the deer’s other food sources become scarce, so they turn their attention toward the bud-laden twigs of woody plants.

Deer damage in the landscape

The effects of deer feeding look different in summer and winter. When there is an ample supply of succulent leaves and greenery in the summer, feeding deer leave behind ragged edges where they bite and tear the leaves from trees and shrubs. In many cases herbaceous plants are simply eaten to the ground. Sometimes, newly installed plants are pulled out of the ground with nothing left but a root ball.

In winter, evergreen trees and shrubs with coarse or prickly leaves that the deer ignored through the summer become the main course. Some of the seasonal favorites include hollies, azaleas, rhododendrons, arborvitae, and junipers. The effects of deer feeding on deciduous trees and shrubs is less obvious. Upon inspection, the bare branches may appear to have been “tip-pruned” where the hungry animals nibbled away the ends of the twigs. Under normal circumstances, healthy trees and shrubs can withstand some deer browsing. But spring bloomers may lose their flower buds, and repeated feeding throughout winter may weaken or kill susceptible plants.

Deer proof your yard

Like any other wild animals, deer are opportunists. If your yard offers safe, easy access to food when they are hungry, they will gladly take advantage. The most effective solutions to deer damage are those that make your yard less comfortable or less accessible.

Plant deer-resistant plants

Deer proofing begins with plant selection. While it is true that a hungry deer will taste almost anything, some plants are less palatable to deer than others. Deer dislike leaves that are fuzzy, leathery, prickly, or heavily fragrant. By including more of these deer-resistant plants in your yard, you may dissuade them from coming around so often.

Install a fence

A physical barrier is one of the most effective ways to keep deer from eating your landscape plants. Some good solutions include tall, 10 to 12 foot deer fencing for large, open spaces, shorter 6 foot stockade fencing for smaller areas like vegetable gardens, and invisible deer netting for temporary winter protection of individual plants or garden beds,.

Use deer repellents consistently

Scent and taste based deer repellents are proven effective when used as directed. Repellents are most effective (and cost effective) when they are used to protect individual plants that are more susceptible to deer damage. Whether you choose sprays or granules, these products have a specified lifespan which means they must be reapplied before time runs out. When you run out of one brand or type of repellent, use something different the next time so the deer are less likely to ignore it.

Make it scary

Deer crave familiarity and fear change, as well as sudden motion and noise. Add a motion-activated sprinkler to startle them away from key areas. Install a scarecrow with plenty of loose, shiny material that will move in the slightest breeze. Put up a motion detecting flood light. Add a windchime. And if you have a dog, let it spend plenty of time in the yard.

If the deer population is large and hungry, none of these methods will work all of the time, but they all work some of the time. If you have a deer problem, take action right away and stick with it. Not every deer will react to your efforts in the same way, so it is important to try more than one approach. You may have to switch up tactics occasionally to remain effective. Ultimately there will come a time when your neighbors are seeing deer but you are not, and you will realize that your efforts are paying off.