In Massachusetts, we have a lot of deer. As fall wears on, corn fields, native perennials and other sources die off, and these four-legged neighbors are quick to munch on your lovingly maintained landscape.
With an adult deer capable of eating roughly six pounds of plant material a day, they can wreak some serious havoc, particularly on your shrubs and trees.
Here’s some ways to protect your trees and shrubs from deer damage this winter:
Wrap your Shrubs & Trees in Burlap
The best way to protect your shrubs from deer is to wrap them— and burlap makes a great shield against both hungry mouths and wicked weather and winds. Unroll the burlap and cut it to the measurements of the hedge or shrub being covered. Most come with large threading needles to connect the burlap once wrapped, but you could also build wooden frames like they did here to surround your plants without sacrificing their form.
Don’t forget to protect your trees too, especially in preparation for winter. As the fields become dormant and deer have less food sources available, they’ll feed on whatever they can find, even plants they wouldn’t otherwise eat like maples, ashes, grape vines and evergreens. You could wrap your tree trunks in chicken wire or plastic trunk guards to keep deer from reaching your prized plants.
Set Up Fencing Around your Shrubs & Trees
Male deer are known for rubbing their antlers on trees, damaging their bark. Bucks do this to remove the velvet that has been growing on the antlers throughout the summer. However, scraping the surface of your trees could remove the xylem as well as the cambium at the base of the tree trunk, which helps to carry water and minerals to the leaves from its roots.
Fortunately, if they can’t get to your tree, they can’t rub. Set up a barrier around your property or specific plants to keep deer away, but make sure it’s tall. Deer can jump up to eight feet high!
Remove Deer Food Sources
Deer can’t eat what isn’t there. Start by thinking about what you could remove from your landscape to avoid temptation. In the wild, deer graze on berries, corn and sunflower seeds— to name a few. If you have a traditional bird feeder mix, try swapping them for a food source birds love but deer don’t, such as thistle seeds or suet cakes. Next, look at your potted plants. Simply moving these to your porch could deter deer, who are reluctant to climb stairs to reach them.
Next, look for other plants, besides your shrubs that could be attracting deer onto your property. By blocking access to your garden (yum, fruits and vegetables) or to particularly winter-hardy plants like your holly bush— which deer love— you could be taking your landscape off of their radar. Plant other tasty treats like English ivy closer to your home and windows, as the deer will be more likely to avoid them if they see movement and know they’re being watched.
Try adding plants that deer don’t like to eat too, like lamb’s ear or boxwood, which have unpleasant textures or prickles. There are also certain trees, for example, that deer stay away from like black locust, cedar, cypress, Ginkgo, hackberry, Japanese maple, oak and Magnolia.
Add Deer Repellent
Before buying any chemicals, we typically recommend trying natural solutions. Add some deer-repelling plants with strong smells such as lavender, catmint, garlic or chives.
If they’re still coming onto your property, try Deer Away® or Deer Off® spray, which emit a scent that reminds deer of a decaying animal, but shouldn’t stink up your yard. Spray the deer-repellant once a month, September through April near your vulnerable plants.
Protect your Entire Landscape this Winter
Guarding your property from hungry deer with burlap will also double as a shield against harsh winter weather. But, that’s not all you can do to winterize your landscape.
Download our Massachusetts Winter Landscape Checklist to prepare for the cold season ahead.