For landscape professionals, deer can evoke both joy and anger. There is no doubt that in parks, golf courses and commercial landscapes, deer bring joy to visitors and residents alike, merely by their presence. Conversely, if you are the landscape manager, much of your association with deer is not by seeing the animal itself, but by seeing the damage it wreaks on landscape plants. Though there are not definitive, non-lethal controls presented here, knowledge of your subject may aid in finding a way to reduce their damage.

  1. Deer prefer habitats with a forest edge — the forest provides cover and the surrounding area provides grazing. They leave the forest in early morning and in the evening to search for food.

  2. Their grazing range can be as large as several hundred acres, depending upon the season, their sex and habitat quality. Cautiously consider any list of plant material distasteful to deer because even though deer may not eat a particular plant species in one location, they may dine on it in another. In general, they prefer newer, tender growth and flower buds, even eating some plants all the way to the ground. Young thorns are not a deterrent.

  3. Deer do not have upper incisors, so when they eat they may tear off the plant part or pull the plant completely out of the ground. The average deer eats 6 to 8 pounds of plants per day. On trees, deer generally browse up to 5 feet high.

  4. Male deer grow antlers from April to August. The antlers are covered with a layer of soft, velvety tissue that is rubbed off during the fall breeding season. Tree trunks are the most common place for this antler polishing — quite often young trees. Wire or corrugated drainage pipe wraps in the fall are necessary to protect desirable plants. Remove the wraps after threat of deer damage subsides for the season.

  5. Deer are creatures of habit. They like to return to the same feeding ground, especially if you keep supplying them with food. Repellents are helpful if you are able to apply them at planting in the spring and can continue applications as directed. Miss an application and the deer will let you know it. There are many products out there — some taste bad to the deer, as in pepper sprays, others smell bad or menacing. Do not spray the foul-smelling products, usually made with rotten eggs, near buildings inhabited by people. The smell is strong enough that it will move right into the building. The smell is also bad enough to make some people nauseated. Newer pepper products are formulated with wax as the carrier, which provides greater longevity than those with pepper only.

  6. Fencing is the only sure deterrent. Fences have to be at least 8 feet tall, preferably 10 feet. If selecting an ornamental/deer control fence, stay away from styles with pointed tips on the pickets. Deer will impale themselves trying to get to your plantings. Don't skimp on materials — they will cost more in the long run and may fail your objective. There are many good references, online and from various universities, to provide the specifications needed for effective deer control fences.

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