The dry summer we had in Palos Park this
year drove deer into our yards and gardens earlier than usual in search of food.
Once deer begin to come to your yard, they will return again and again. So, you
must begin to work on the deer problem before they get a bad habit started and
cause permanent damage. Deer are protected by law; you may not feed or hunt
them. Their numbers are increasing and their habitat is decreasing. They like to
feed on leaves, stems, buds and anything green and tender. Due to a lack of
upper teeth, deer damage is usually jagged or torn as compared to rabbit or
rodent scars which are clean cut.
Male deer cause damage in another way. Besides eating tender reachable green
shoots, they rub their antlers along the trunks and limbs of trees to shed the
velvet which accumulated during the summer. This strips off the bark and breaks
branches. They also trample the ground underneath the trees, while marking their
territory with urine. Once the deer removes the velvet from his antlers, he
continues to polish them, thrashing his antlers up and down leaving his scent on
the tree. This further tears the bark and breaks branches.
There are many remedies available to the homeowner. Planting those plants
that are not attractive to deer is probably the most cost effective, least time
consuming, and most esthetically pleasing remedy. But, remember that if deer are
hungry enough and food is scarce enough, deer will eat almost anything. No plant
is completely deer resistant and deer change preferences from place to place,
year to year, and in response to various weather conditions. Don’t mix deer
resistant and deer preferred plants in the same area. Deer will trample the deer
resistant plants while consuming their preferred plants.
There are many products that use bitter taste or foul odor or both to repel
deer. These are not as obnoxious to humans as to deer because deer have many
more scent receptors than humans. Some of these products have been developed by
the large timber and paper companies to protect their seedlings. Most contain
inedible egg solids. All of them are labor intensive, need reapplication, and in
a bad year could be ignored by the deer. These products are washed away by snow
and rainfall. Some of them contain an anti-dissicant or a wax to make them more
permanent. These products can be found at garden centers.
Soap scraps, especially scented ones such as “Cashmere Bouquet” and “Irish
Spring,” tied to lower branches have been used by tree nurseries and arboreta
to scare deer with strange man-associated smells. A sock filled with moth balls,
or saturated with cheap cologne has the same effect. Coyotes are the most feared
natural enemy of deer, so their urine scent in either powdered or liquid form
creates the illusion that coyotes are present.
There are several inexpensive paper and plastic wraps on the market with
which you can wrap the trunks of trees to protect them from deer rubbing. These
wraps must be removed in April or you will harm your tree.
There are various fences you can use. A four foot fence is adequate for a
small garden since deer do not like small places. Use a six foot fence for a
larger area. These fences should be slanted thirty degrees away from the center
of the garden, because deer fear entanglement. Electric fences are only
moderately successful because in winter the deer hair gets so thick that they
don’t feel the shock. A stronger jolt might harm children. Electric fences
should not be used in urban areas. All fences have a problem with aesthetics.
Some even overpower the landscaping. They also can violate Village ordinances.
A unique remedy, the “Waterblaster,” is a device that scares deer away.
It is attached to your garden hose and has a motion activated sensor that can
sense a deer or other intruder thirty-five feet away and fifty feet to each side
and then instantly releases a short barrage of water to startle and repel. It
automatically resets itself. Of course, it is only useful in temperatures above
If you are looking for a list of trees and shrubs repugnant to deer, examine
the Morton Arboretum Tree and Shrub Handbook at the Palos Park
Library. You can be consoled with the fact that as young trees and shrubs grow
taller, the deer problem will diminish naturally.