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Tips for keeping deer away from your plants

Most of the wildlife in Ohio is starting to slow down and close up shop for the fall and winter, but that’s not the case with deer. An Ohio State University Extension Wildlife specialist offered some tips for dealing with deer.

This is the time of the year that deer are on the move and will cause considerable damage to young trees. Male deer or bucks damage trees by rubbing and scraping against the bark during the mating season, showing their dominance.

The rubbing removes the velvet that covers their antlers. The buck then polishes the antlers and continues to mark their territory by rubbing the antlers up and down on the tree bark.

Young trees and thin-barked trees are especially susceptible to this damage. As the bark is removed, the tree is girdled. If the bark is removed completely around the trunk, it’s likely the tree will die.

In some cases the trunk of the tree can be completely broken.

I had this happen to a newly-planted tree a few years ago. The problem was that I didn’t notice it until the following spring when the tree failed to leaf out. The rubbing damage was tremendous.

Protect these trees by placing a barrier of fencing around the tree. Remember it has to be high enough up the tree trunk to protect the trunk of the tree. This will discourage the bucks.

You can also pound stakes in the ground around the tree in order to prevent access to the trunk.

Sometimes the bucks paw the ground around the base of the tree and urinate to mark their territory. This may cause damage to the roots.

Of course, the other issue with deer is the fact that they tend to like our garden plants. In fact, there are some that they prefer over others.

Gardeners who live in areas where deer are plentiful may notice the specific plants that are considered “deer candy.” You know the ones — tulips, arborvitae, daylilies, lilies, hydrangea, and taxus. These are their favorites.

Then there is a list of those that they sometimes eat and this includes forsythia, hemlock, junipers, maples, roses, spruce, and white pine.

The final list is that of the plants they don’t like and this includes most plants with thorns, potentilla, lilac and hyacinths.

However, the fact of the matter is that when deer are hungry, they will eat anything. So when you find the lists of plants that deer won’t eat (and there are lots of them online) keep in mind that these are just suggestions and based on observations.

There are all kinds of suggestions for repelling deer, including sprays, human hair hanging on a tree, bars of soap, etc. The repellants tend to work a little longer than the others; however, all of these will fade after a while and need to be reapplied.

The only surefire way to eliminate deer from the landscape is to fence the plants or the landscape to keep them out. This can be a costly endeavor because the fence needs to be about 10-feet tall.

The best recommendation is to learn about their habits and use plants that they don’t prefer — or deal with your individual “deer candy” plants by using fencing to keep them from browsing.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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