Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Jul 5, 2009

Oh Deer! They're Eating My Trees


Answer by: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist
Many homeowners have experienced the heartbreak and frustration of discovering trees and plants in their yards that have been reduced to naked stems, stripped of all greenery. Hungry deer, elk and other wildlife can wreak havoc on plants and trees, seemingly overnight. Mule deer are especially fond of hazelnut, Austrian pine, arbor vitae, barberry, cotoneaster and viburnum. Utah’s foothill bench areas as well as many valley floors are traditional wintering and foraging areas for mule deer and elk. The areas also provide attractive and highly desired sites for homes and communities. Thus, these areas are prime for increased human-wildlife conflicts in winter as wildlife search for food. With proper planning now, the intensity of these conflicts can be managed while at the same time providing habitat for Utah’s wintering wildlife and attractive residential landscapes.
At this time of year, many Utah homeowners are purchasing new shrubs and trees to landscape their yards. If you live in an area where elk, deer and other wildlife winter, it is important to be aware of the ornamental plant species that are especially appealing as food sources.
* The best option to mitigate deer and elk damage on your yard is to select and plant trees, shrubs and flowers that are either deer resistant or can recover quickly from browsing. For this reason, native species such as Gambel oak, chokecherry, hawthorn, sumac and serviceberry should be considered first since they have evolved under deer browsing pressure and are better adapted to Utah’s climate. Other plants to consider in your planting that are seldom preferred by deer include several species of maple, ash, blue Engleman and blue spruce, holly and narrow leaf cottonwood. Blending a variety of native and ornamental plants into a home landscape can create a people-friendly environment and provide winter wildlife cover and native browse species that can recover from use.
•  If you have a landscape that includes highly desirable plants that deer and elk have already found, now is the time to also consider other options. Another way to mitigate browsing by deer and elk is to enclose the area with a fence that is at least 7 feet high. Fences that are lower or that are made of decorative slats, wood or metal may reduce the damage, but won’t eliminate it. If the snow is deep and the animals are hungry, even good fences won’t make good wildlife. If you are experiencing damage throughout the year, fencing remains the best option. 
• Repellents such as systemic insecticides, human hair, soap and other chemicals, as well as outdoor lighting and artificial noise, aren’t reliable. Hungry animals will ignore repellents to browse available plants. In winter, thoroughly wrapping plants with both burlap and several layers of plastic netting will work, but it can become costly and time consuming.
* For further information on deer-resistant plants, visit or contact your local Utah State University Extension Office. For the address of the office nearest you, go to
Direct column topics to: Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah 84322-4900; 435-797-0810;


Cleone Larson said...

I am thinking about putting a chainlink fence across the back of our property. The deer use our yard to cut through to the scrub oak green area. They snack through our yard along the way and do considerable damage. If we put up a fence they will be able to go around a wild area to get to the same area that they get to going through our yard. What is the best height and type so the deer won't hurt themselves trying to cross the fence? Thank you! I am in Cottonwood HTs.
April 16, 2010 9:23:00 PM MDT

kate said...

Hi Got a homemade deer repellent recipe? Ammonia and? Theyre buffeting at my tulips now. Help
March 22, 2010 3:28:00 AM MDT

Carol Jackman said...

We have been planting some new shrubs on Riverside Country Club in Provo, and have discovered that the deer love them. We would like suggestions of plants that the deer will shun. Thank you. Carol D. Jackman
August 13, 2009 1:44:00 PM MDT
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