University of Illinois Extension


John Church
Extension Educator, Natural Resources
Rockford Extension Center

Past Issues

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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 and shrubs.

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.

December 2001 - January 2002: Pointsettas Are Here | Buying Fresh Christmas Trees | Winter Weather & Plants | Pesticide Licensing in Illinois | Winter Deer Feeding

Past Issues

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