022 - Preventing Deer Damage to Your Trees and Shrubs

Deer/human conflicts have increased due to growing deer populations, limited resources and suburban development in deer habitat. In winter, deer often browse in residential landscapes. This can be reduced by selecting unpalatable plants, protecting woody plants with burlap or trunk protectors, and using deer repellent. In extreme cases, deer can be completely excluded with a fence.


Deer running through a snow-covered yard.

A brushy thicket
Mule deer habitat example

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the most abundant big game animal in Utah and are found throughout the state. Mule deer have specific forage requirements and are selective in their feeding behavior. In the wild, they rely heavily on shrubs like willows and dogwoods that grow in sunny, disturbed areas. The feeding they do on these woody materials is called browsing and the plants are sometimes called browse. Natural browse may be less available than in the past because much of the traditional mule deer winter range along the Wasatch Front and elsewhere has been replaced by pavement, homes and cultivated landscapes.

Mule deer spend summers in the mountains and, when food is scarce in late November, move to the foothills that border the valleys where most of us live. Sometimes the plants available for deer to browse in these areas are not adequate to satisfy the nutritional requirements for wintering mule deer. When natural winter browse is limited, the consequences for mule deer survival and fertility can be serious. Therefore deer may heavily browse ornamental shrubs and trees in winter, causing conflicts between mule deer and residents.

Deer damage may also occur in the summer, particularly during droughts when some native plants are water stressed and become toxic. In such cases, continuous protection may be needed to avoid yearround damage.

Utah DWR and Mule Deer Damage

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) is aware of Utah’s urban deer problem and is currently evaluating ways to manage these populations. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Darren DeBloois assures us that deterring mule deer from browsing on shrubs and trees in our yards likely will not cause them to starve over the winter. They will find other foraging opportunities.


To reduce mule deer damage to landscape trees and shrubs, you need to physically exclude them from individual plants or entire landscapes, use unpalatable plants in your yard or garden, or temporarily protect plants with deer repellents.


Mule deer near house

Fences provide the most reliable method for controlling deer damage. To be effective, 10 foot tall fencing should be installed around sensitive areas. Positioning a fence outside the canopy edge of low-branching hardwoods or just beyond the bottom branches of conifers will prevent most damage. A common use for fencing would be for protecting an entire orchard. Fencing should also be tight to the ground so that deer cannot crawl underneath.


  • Fences ensure that mule deer cannot browse on enclosed plants.
  • Fencing can protect plants from deer damage for many years, assuming gates are closed and fences are maintained.


  • Construction and maintenance costs may be prohibitive.
  • Fencing may not be aesthetically pleasing to you or your neighbors.

Tree Protectors

Homemade drainpipe tree protector

In the fall, male deer often rub their antlers against trees to remove the velvet layer that coats them. This rubbing can cause large scars on trunks and branches and can cause permanent damage. You can use tree protectors to guard trees in your yard from such damage. There are many kinds of tree protectors. They are made of polypropylene tubing, woven-wire mesh cylinders or other materials. You can even make your own by cutting a plastic drainpipe down one side and sliding it over the trunk.


  • Tree protectors are affordable and effective at inhibiting deer damage to tree bark.
  • Tree protectors may be left on year-round, providing that they allow for normal tree development.


  • Tree protectors may not be aesthetically appealing.
  • With small trees, the deer may just push over the entire protector and tree.
  • Trees may be so small that their foliage is contained in the protector and the foliage and stem may not develop normally.

Shrub Protectors

Shrub protector

Shrubs protected by burlap

If browsing deer are causing damage to shrubs in your yard, you can wrap individual shrubs with burlap, layered plastic or inexpensive snow fencing. 


  • Shrub wrapping is an affordable, quick and effective way to prevent deer damage to individual shrubs.


  • If you have many shrubs to protect, this may be a time consuming and labor intensive task.
  • You must unwrap shrubs at the end of the winter to allow for healthy plant production.
  • Again, aesthetics may be a problem.

Plant Native and Unpalatable Species

It is possible to discourage deer browsing in your yard by selecting native woody plants and shrubs or other plants that are unpalatable to deer (see list on page 5). You can arrange a “fronting border” of unpalatable plants around the perimeter of your yard to discourage deer from entering the property. Some effective fronting border plants are: cleome, zinnias, firs, hemlocks, pines, spruces and junipers. 


  • Native plants that are unpalatable to deer may use fewer resources like water and fertilizer and require less maintenance because they are specifically suited for the local conditions.
  • Native species provide habitat and food for other wildlife and birds.


  • Switching out non-native plants for native, unpalatable plants in your yard can be time consuming and costly.
  • Planting native and unpalatable species may limit your plant selection options when planning your yard or garden.
  • Sometimes native plants are not readily available.

Starting Plants From Seed: An Affordable and Easy Way to Propagate Plants

  1. Gather seeds from native species that are unpalatable to deer. There is a list found later in this article. 
  2. Scarify seeds. Scarification means removing or breaking through the hard outer coat of a seed to promote germination. This process can occur naturally in animals’ stomachs and bird gizzards, but may be sped up with human intervention:
    • File seed coats with a metal file. You also may crack them gently with a knife or hammer. -or-
    • Soak seeds in boiling water and remove them when water cools to room temperature.
  3. Scarify seeds. Scarification means removing or breaking through the hard outer coat of a seed to promote germination. This process can occur naturally in animals’ stomachs and bird gizzards, but may be sped up with human intervention:
    • Mix scarified seeds with an equal volume of a moist medium (i.e. sand, peat moss). Store in a closed container in a refrigerator; check often to ensure the medium is moist. The time required for this step will vary with species, more info can be found in the USDA Forest Service’s Nursery Manual for Native Plants: A Guide for Tribal Nurseries, which can be found online.
  4. Sow seeds under favorable conditions (i.e. after danger of frost has passed) and keep moist until well established. Cover the seeds with soil to a depth at least equal to the size of the seed.


Some repellents have been shown to be effective deer deterrents. However, you must apply repellents in above-freezing temperatures and reapply every four to five weeks or after precipitation. The most effective repellents contain eggs, preferably putrid eggs. This is found in the brands Deer-Away Big Game Repellent, BGR Spray, BGR mix, Deer-Off, and Deer Stopper II* (*mention of a specific brand of deer repellent is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by USU Extension). You also may make your own (see below).


  • Deer will often avoid plants sprayed with repellents containing putrescent egg solids for up to six weeks.
  • When applied every four to five weeks, repellents can be a suitable alternative to other mitigation techniques.


  • The cost of deer repellents may be prohibitive if you have a large area to protect.
  • Reapplication can be time-consuming.

Homemade Deer Repellent

  • 1 egg*
  • 1 quart warm water

Combine egg and water in blender, blend, and strain with cheesecloth or nylon (this will prevent the mixture from clogging spray bottle). Place mixture in spray bottle and apply to foliage. Reapply when new growth appears or after precipitation.

*Possible additions to try per 1 quart bottle:

  • 1 tsp. hot pepper oil, 1 Tbl. Tabasco sauce, ¼ c milk, 1 tsp. cooking oil, or a few drops of dish soap.
Deer eating from a bird feeder

Has Your Birdfeeder Become an Unintended Deer Lure?

Consider these tips when maintaining your birdfeeder at home:

  • Place feeders at least 6 feet off the ground or snow surface.
  • Use feeders that are not easily penetrated by deer; i.e. tube feeders, hopper feeders or cagestyle suet feeders.
  • Secure fencing around the feeder to prevent deer from eating spilled birdseed.
  • Avoid using cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds or seed mixes that attract deer to feeders. Instead choose thistle seed, suet or hummingbird nectar.

Native and Unpalatable Plants List

Plant Type Deer Palatability Scientific Name Common Name
Shrub Low Abelia grandiflora abelia, glossy
Shrub Low Fallugia paradoxa Apache plume
Shrub Low Fraxinus anomala ash, singleleaf
Shrub Low Nandina domestica bamboo, sacred
Shrub Low Berberis (Mahonia) spp. barberry
Shrub Low Leucophyllum spp. barometerbush
Shrub Low Justicia californica beloperone
Shrub Low Buxus spp. boxwood
Shrub Low Encelia farinosa brittlebush
Shrub Low Eriogonum spp. buckwheat
Shrub Low Buddelja spp. butterflybush
Shrub Low Potentilla spp. cinquefoil
Shrub Low Potentilla fruticosa cinquefoil, shrubby
Shrub Low Potentilla glandulosa cinquefoil, sticky
Shrub Low Potentilla arguta cinquefoil, tall
Shrub Low Cordia parvifolia cordia, littleleaf
Shrub Low Daphne spp. daphne
Shrub Low Cornus sericea dogwood, red osier
Shrub Low Calliandra spp. fairy duster
Shrub Low Ribes grossularia gooseberry
Shrub Low Ilex spp. holly
Shrub Low Ilex aquifolium holly, English
Shrub Low Agastache urticifolia hyssop, nettleleaf giant
Shrub Low Simmondsia chinensis jojoba
Shrub Low Lantana spp. lantana
Shrub Low Lavandula spp. lavender
Shrub Low Arctostaphylos spp. manzanita
Shrub Low Arctostaphylos patula manzanita, greenleaf
Shrub Low Arctostaphylos pungens manzanita, pointleaf
Shrub Low Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus rabbitbrush, yellow
Shrub Low Kerria japonica rose, Japanese
Shrub Low Rosmarinus officinalis rosemary
Shrub Low Salvia spp. sage
Shrub Low Caryopteris x clandonensis spiraea, blue mist
Shrub Low Rhus spp. sumac
Shrub Low Ericameria laricifolia turpentine bush
Shrub Low Yucca spp. yucca
Shrub Low Yucca baccata yucca, banana
Shrub Low Yucca elata yucca, soaptree
Shrub Med Prunus armeniaca apricot
Shrub Med Vaccinium caespitosum bilberry, dwarf
Shrub Med Rubus spp. blackberry / raspberry
Shrub Med Symphoricarpos orbiculatus coralberry
Shrub Med Cotoneaster apiculatus cotoneaster, cranberry
Shrub Med Cotoneaster acutifolius cotoneaster, Peking
Shrub Med Cotoneaster horizontalis cotoneaster, rock
Shrub Med Ribes spp. currant
Shrub Med Ribes aureum currant, golden
Shrub Med Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea elderberry, blue
Shrub Med Lonicera utahensis honeysuckle, Utah
Shrub Med Kalmia microphylla laurel, alpine
Shrub Med Syringa spp. lilac
Shrub Med Caragana arborescens peashrub, Siberian
Shrub Med Phlox subulata phlox, moss
Shrub Med Phlox diffusa phlox, spreading
Shrub Med Ligustrum spp. privet
Shrub Med Rosa nutkana rose, Nootka
Shrub Med Rhus glabra smooth sumac
Shrub Med Viburnum opulus snowball bush
Shrub Med Symphoricarpos oreophilus snowberry, mountain
Shrub Med Spiraea x vanhoutte spirea, bridalwreath
Shrub Med Vaccinium scoparium whortleberry, grouse
Shrub Med Salix discolor willow, pussy
Shrub High Prunus fasciculata almond, desert
Shrub High Berberis thunbergi barberry, Japanese
Shrub High Cotoneaster dammeri cotoneaster, bearberry
Shrub High Frasera spp. elkweed
Shrub High Euonymus spp. euonymus
Shrub High Pyracantha spp. firethorn
Shrub High Forsythia spp. forsythia
Shrub High Laurus spp. laurel
Shrub High Pinus mugo pine, mugo
Shrub High Antennaria dimorpha pussytoes, low
Shrub High Antennaria luzuloides pussytoes, rush
Shrub High Chaenameles japonica quince, Maule’s
Shrub High Rubus idaeus raspberry, American red
Shrub High Rosa spp. (cultivated) rose
Shrub High Prunus pumila sandcherry
Shrub High Viburnum spp. viburnum
Shrub High Taxus baccata yew, English
Shrub High Taxus cuspidata yew, Japanese
Tree Low Fraxinus spp. ash
Tree Low Fraxinus americana ash, white
Tree Low Betula spp. birch
Tree Low Cedrus spp. cedar
Tree Low Populus fremontii cottonwood, Fremont’s
Tree Low Populus angustifolia cottonwood, narrowleaf
Tree Low Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas-fir
Tree Low Abies spp. fir
Tree Low Ginkgo biloba ginkgo
Tree Low Celtis spp. hackberry
Tree Low Crataegus spp. hawthorn
Tree Low Yucca brevifolia var. brevifolia Joshua-tree
Tree Low Juniperus communis juniper, common
Tree Low Juniperus monosperma juniper, one-seed
Tree Low Juniperus osteosperma juniper, Utah
Tree Low Sophora secundiflora laurel, Texas mountain
Tree Low Acer platanoides maple, Norway
Tree Low Acer saccharinum maple, silver
Tree Low Acer circinatum maple, vine
Tree Low Cercocarpus montanus mountain-mahogany
Tree Low Quercus spp. oak
Tree Low Pinus spp. pine
Tree Low Pinus aristata/longaeva pine, bristlecone
Tree Low Pinus thunbergii pine, Japanese black
Tree Low Pinus flexilis pine, limber
Tree Low Pinus contorta pine, lodgepole
Tree Low Pinus edulis pine, pinyon
Tree Low Pinus ponderosa pine, ponderosa
Tree Low Pinus monophylla pinyon, singleleaf
Tree Low Cercis spp. redbud
Tree Low Artemisia spp. sagebrush
Tree Low Picea spp. spruce
Tree Low Picea pungens spruce, blue
Tree Low Picea engelmanni spruce, Engelmann
Tree Med Alnus incana ssp. tenufolia alder, thinleaf
Tree Med Prunus amygdalus almond, flowering
Tree Med Fraxinus velutina ash, velvet
Tree Med Betula occidentalis birch, water
Tree Med Acer negundo boxelder
Tree Med Catalpa spp. catalpa
Tree Med Cupressus arizonica cypress, Arizona
Tree Med Abies lasiocarpa fir, subalpine
Tree Med Abies concolor fir, white
Tree Med Gleditsia triacanthos honeylocust
Tree Med Lonicera spp. honeysuckle
Tree Med Robinia pseudoacacia locust, black
Tree Med Magnolia spp. magnolia
Tree Med Acer grandidentatum maple, bigtooth
Tree Med Acer palmatum maple, Japanese
Tree Med Acer glabrum maple, Rocky Mountain
Tree Med Philadelphus inodorus mock orange, scentless
Tree Med Physocarpus monogynus ninebark
Tree Med Prunus persica peach
Tree Med Pyrus spp. pear
Tree Med Prunus spp. plum
Tree Med Prunus americana plum, wild
Tree Med Populus nigra poplar, Lombardy
Tree Med Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian-olive
Tree Med Salix spp. willow
Tree High Malus spp. apple
Tree High Thuja spp. arborvitae
Tree High Populus tremuloides aspen, quaking
Tree High Juniperus scopulorum juniper, Rocky Mountain
Tree High Pinus nigra pine, Austrian
Tree High Pinus sylvestris pine, Scots

Photo Credits by Appearance in Article

  1. M. Schwender.
  2. Not available.
  3. https://www.tonybynum.com/
  4. Not available.
  5. M. Schwender.
  6. https://casacara.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/its-a-wrap/
  7. NBC News.


Many resources are available for people interested in designing and maintaining landscapes for wildlife. These include:

  • Baker, L. A. 2010. State Survey of White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman) Impacts on Residential Landscapes and the Green Industry of Alabama and an Evaluation of Commercial Deer Repellents. Thesis, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA.
  • Curtis, P. D., and J. R. Boulanger. 2010. Relative Effectiveness of Repellents for Preventing Deer Damage to Japanese Yews. HortTechnology 20: 730 – 734.
  • Hill, C., and J. Knight. 2006. Minimizing Deer Damage to Residential Plantings. Montana State University Extension Service.
  • Jett, J. 2004. Deer Proofing Your Landscape. West Virginia University Extension Service.
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 2013. Bird feeding tips in areas with deer baiting and feeding bans.
  • Schalau, J. 2010. Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants. The University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension Service.
  • Soderstrom, N. 2008. Deer-Resistant Landscaping. Rodale Books, New York, USA.
  • Swift, C. E. and M. K. Gross. 2008. Preventing Deer Damage. Colorado State University Extension Service.
  • Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 2013.

Published June 2013.