Deer damage to trees in private gardens and tree nurseries is staggering. By browsing on trees, shrubs, and ornamental plants, deer have been known to cause as much as $20,000 damage to a single homeowner's landscaping.
Deer damage to trees with the explosion of the deer population has been particularly hard on tree growers. Deer damage fruit trees both in and out of growing seasons. During the fall and winter, deer nibble on twigs of small trees and also rub their antlers against young trees, a practice known as "rutting." In the spring and summer, deer eat fruit, leaves, buds, and twigs.
Deer Damage to Trees from Rutting
Male deer engage in "rutting" against trees to both attract does and to ward off other bucks who may be entering their "territory." Rutting can heavily damage part or most of a young trees and may even kill them.
Deer damage to younger trees is worse because they are particularly vulnerable to energetic bucks that can effectively girdle the tree, which means a tree is damaged around the entire circumference. Bucks may also return to the same tree to "re-mark" their territory, so repair to a specific tree may not help it survive over a growing season.
Preventing Deer Damage to Trees
Some tree growers recommend trunk guards to protect small trees from rutting behavior. Plastic tree guards prevent the tree trunks from getting light and can hide invasive insects, and wire guards that are not monitored regularly can girdle a growing tree and result in the tree's death.
Some homeowners prefer to plant trees that deer do not like to eat. Deer have been known to avoid eating some types of pine (such as Austrian and black), birches (sweet and paperbark), and spruces (Norway and white). This approach has been effective in limited cases, but eventually, if they get hungry enough, deer will eat almost any type of plant available.
The options for dealing with deer incursions on trees, gardens, and yards in suburban areas can be limited. Zoning laws may prevent the installation of deer fencing, which can also be expensive to install, particularly in varied terrain. To be effective, deer fencing must be tall enough to prevent deer from jumping over it, which may result in objections from neighbors concerned about neighborhood aesthetics.