Winter Deer Feeding
Heavy snow cover last winter increased feeding damage by deer and
other smaller animals to landscape plants. Now is the time to be
prepared to try to prevent damage this year. For small areas or
individual trees, there are some homemade and commercial controls
that may be somewhat effective.
Deer tend to "browse" on plants, feeding on leaves, stems,
and buds of woody plants. Young fruit trees are especially attractive.
If other food such as corn, soybeans, acorns, fruit, and spring
forbs are available, they are also eaten readily. When food sources
become less available, deer will feed more continuously on trees
and shrubs. Grasses are not normally the most desired food source.
When extensive, feeding can cause permanent damage to young trees
Deer feeding is usually jagged or torn in appearance as compared
to the feeding of rabbits or rodents, which is more clean-cut. The
deer feeding is also usually higher on the plant, which can rule
out other animals.
Repellents are one of the most common control techniques on woody
plants. Their success is based on how much reduction there is in
the feeding, since they often will not eliminate it. The effectiveness
of repellents is based on several factors. Rainfall and moisture
dissipate some materials, so reapplication is needed. Some simply
do not survive in the weather well, even without rain. If food sources
are extremely scarce, deer may simply ignore the repellents, despite
the taste or odor.
Some homemade repellents, such as Tabasco sauce or hand soap have
been found to be somewhat effective. Hanging 2 to 3 bars of "perfumey"
soap on the ends of branches of young trees may repel deer. But,
be sure to hang the bars away from the trunk so the soap will not
drip down the trunk as it dissolves, since rabbits may be attracted
to the dissolved soap. A homemade solution of two tablespoons of
Tabasco sauce in 12-1/2 gallons of water with an additive to promote
retention, such as an anti-desiccant, has also been reported by
U. of I. horticulturists to repel deer when used on evergreen trees.
Other homemade repellents, or "tricks", such as hanging
plastic grocery bags from the tree to make noise in the wind or
placing human or pet hair around the tree or hanging it in mesh
bags in the tree have also been reported to have mixed success.
Commercial repellents are also available in garden centers or from
catalogs. Be sure to read and follow all label directions and precautions.
Wrapping the trunks of young trees with plastic guards or other
material in the fall can also help reduce feeding damage on the
trunk from deer, as well as rodents and rabbits. Be sure to remove
the wrapping in the spring to avoid damage to the tree. With high
snowdrifts, though, the wrapping may not provide adequate protection
since feeding may occur above it. Removing hiding places, such as
tall grass near the base of the tree, in the fall can also help
prevent feeding from rodents and rabbits.
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