Dave vs. Deer: Deer 5, Dave 0

To say I’m furious tonight would be an understatement. The deer have struck again, and again this week, relentlessly. This week’s attacks have been the most brutal by far. I normally like the deer. It’s fun to see the fawns scamper through the backyard, or to watch the watchful mother and father deer looking after the young ones. But today daddy deerest is on my list. The young buck seems to have an itch and scratching my young defenseless trees seems to satisfy him. During the summer months the deer have a fuzzy coating on their antlers and to remove it for winter time they scratch against trees with their antlers. They also do this to mark their territory. The unfortunate side effect of this behavior is that it scrapes the bark right of the tree. The cambian layer of the bark is where the tree transports water and without it the tree will essentially die of thirst. Fortunately none of the trees effected have been completely debarked. I have to keep a careful eye on the trees now to watch for disease and to observe the healing process. If the trees heal and don’t receive any further damage this fall they might live to see better days. If not there might be over $100 worth of lost trees. What trees were damaged? Two red maples, a Yoshino Cherry (yep my favorite tree) and a young dogwood I just recently planted. The deer also munched on my purple leaf plum to the point where I had to move it to a new location hopefully well away from the deer.

I never anticipated this but I will next year. It’s not that I have plants that deer like to eat, they just like to scratch. Most of my plants are deer resistant perennials, things like Russian sage, salvia, rosemary, and several others that have strong scents. To prevent further damage I put a black plastic mesh around all the trees that received damage. I also barricaded the deer trail with a bunch of dead branches to inconvenience the deer. I even tied several long branches together into a tripod formation to give the pile some height. The funny thing was I just bought a 40 pound bag of deer food to provide them an alternative to my purple leaf plum. Ah deer, you have rubbed the gardener who was about to feed you the wrong way!

14 Replies to “Dave vs. Deer: Deer 5, Dave 0”

  1. OMG, DAVE, Have you tried human hair to deter the deer? Go to your local barber shop & ask them if they will save you the cut hair. Deer don't like the smell of humans. Try it & see if that helps.
    I'm sorry that they have endangered your trees. Hopefully they will survive.

  2. Those thugs! I hope your trees recover Dave.

  3. Hi Dave, I only thought deer ever did damamge by eating plants, including the bark on young trees. Now I know it is the antler scratching, and to think they did it to the yoshino! How dare they! Hope your annoyances to them works. At the Biltmore all the young trees have chickenwire around the lower parts, unsightly but the only way to protect them until age gives them some size, the trees, not the deer. ;->

  4. How frustrating…would wire wrapped trunks like Frances mentioned, help? Deer seem so relentless.

  5. I sympathis with you – I dont have deer luckily but I have had rabbits and my parents had peasants which used to scratch up everything. Its even more fustrating when you have bought special food for them.

  6. I bet the deer are thinking you maybe put the branches there for their jumping practice:) They are busy keeping track too in the woods when you aren’t looking. A fence and big dogs work for me. Thank goodness! I hope your trees recover.

  7. Dave, I found your blog via Tina’s. I also try to garden in harmony with my deer friends. I have a large deer resistant outer garden, but they’re already starting to look for something to eat, having ignored 99% of the garden all summer (they do eat the “deer resistant” geranium ‘Rozanne’ and helianthus angustifolius)

    The fellas started rubbing on our southern magnolia, too. We had limbed it up thinking that without lower branches, they’d stay off of it, but they’ve rubbed on the trunk. We got (from our big supply) our 32″ high wire edging fence out and put one of those in a circle around it. It worked well last year, we were just late to get ready this year.

    I like your blog! I’ll be back to read more. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden in Chapel Hill, NC)

  8. Lola,

    Ironically I just got my haircut! My wife does that for me so we can save money…did I mention that we’re cheap? 😉 But I did save my hair. I’ll take it out and decorate some trees later today. 🙂


    I really really hope they do. I could deal with the maples being damaged but the Yohsino and the dogwood…that was too far!


    I never even considered the antler effect. The buck wasn’t here last year, or if he was he didn’t have his antlers yet. The chicken wire idea might be necessary. I used the black plastic mesh, which is basically the same thing around all the trees. I think meshing the trees may become a regular fall chore for me. So far they have avoided our other maple that we planted last year. They like the young ones best it seems.


    They sure are! It’s only natural though and I still like them, I just like them farther away!

  9. Patientgardener,

    The rabbits haven’t bothered much of our stuff this year but I know they could! The pheasants must have been interesting! I bet the chicken wire thing would help with them too. Definitely frustrating!


    So far this morning no deer! Maybe my homemade pallisade worked, or maybe they just didn’t come by last night. Whatever the case I will be vigilant!


    Ouch, the poor magnolia. I definitely empathize with you! Our veggie garden is bordered by the same kind of fencing and has had no deer or rabbit problems this year so I’ve been thinking of moving the fencing over the winter to help keep the deer out. I’ve also cooked up a special mixture of cayenne peppers as a present for the deer. I can be a generous gardener ;). Maybe a multi-tiered approach will succeed. Thanks for visiting, I’ll add you to the blogroll!

  10. Dave, we had this problem a couple of years ago. A young buck totally destroyed a small volunteer silver maple, so no problem. But he also ravaged a little redbud we’d brought from our old house when we moved. Garden Man is positively religious about his “babies”, so it was a great disaster. The next year, we put fences around all our smaller trees – let me know if you want to see a photo – and we’ve done the same this year. We leave them up from early Sep until Jan (or later if the stakes are frozen into the ground). It seems to be working. Not so pretty, but if it saves a beloved tree or investment . . . .

  11. Hi, Dave. About those deer fences:you might like to read my post on prettying them up

    Like your site a lot…will be back

  12. Hi Dave – Oh, those darn deer. I hope you are able to discourage them from visiting you. We had such a problem this year, next year I am going to be using Liquid Deer Fence. I’ve heard that it works and they don’t get used to it.

  13. I hope your trees survive whatever damage the deer have inflicted on them Dave. Deer aren’t a problem I have in my area, but with my 6 ft privacy fence I don’t know if they would be an issue in the back garden anyhow.

  14. […] you can see from the picture to the left that this tree has taken a beating. Last fall when the deer were out in force a buck decided to rut against several of my favorite trees. Coincidentally all the deer […]

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