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Chris Enroth, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator recently posted an article to his Blog about deer damage. This week’s article shares some of Chris’ recommendations regarding deer damage.

Although you may enjoy seeing deer on your property, as a gardener you know the battle all too well. Nearly every plant within their reach is free game. Deer have their preferred food, but during lean times even "deer-proof" plants may wind up on their salad bar.

It is relatively easy to identify deer browsing damage. Due to dull incisors (front teeth) on their bottom jaw and a lack of incisors on top, deer twist and tear at plant materials. Deer browsing results in a ragged, shredded appearance. Rabbits, on the other hand, have very sharp incisors and clip vegetation cleanly at a 45 degree angle. Deer can also browse much higher on plants than rabbits. During winter when food is scarce deer may also strip the bark off trees and shrubs.

Research has shown that exclusion is the best way to control deer damage. Investing in exclusionary fencing is essential for the dedicated gardener or commercial grower. Like so many other aspects of life, the most effective deer fencing comes with the highest price tag.

Deer are excellent jumpers. Therefore, fences need to be a minimum of eight feet high. If you prefer not to erect a fortress around your garden, electric fences can be used instead of the tall fencing, in rural areas. Electric fences are cheaper and still effective at deterring deer. For fence designs visit the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management or contact your local IDNR biologist.

The best defense arises from multiple techniques. In addition to exclusionary fences, here are additional tips for controlling deer damage:

  • Install motion-activated sprinklers, which are triggered when movement interrupts the laser beam. Point the sprinkler to the area you want to protect; when a deer, squirrel or forgetful gardener walks through the beam, they get sprayed with a few cups of water.
  • Deer acclimate to scare tactics like scarecrows, reflective materials, and flags. Move these items every few days to prolong their effectiveness.
  • Repellents temporarily reduce damage, but many aren't labeled for use on food crops. The active ingredient in the highest rated repellent in university studies contains putrescent egg solids (rotten eggs). Not something you want to spray on your tomatoes.
  • Home remedies like human hair, blood meal, and bone meal all weather away very quickly. Hanging bars of soap has an effective radius of three feet. In areas where deer have acclimated to people and our scents, these deterrents generally do not work.

Another option is to use plants in the landscape that are not palatable to deer. Yes, there are plants that deer will avoid most of the time. Contact your local Extension office for a list of plants less susceptible to deer browsing. However, if winters are harsh, or deer populations are high, they will eat just about anything.

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a master gardener at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page,


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