JARS v61n3 - White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer
Pennsylvania State University
Berks County Cooperative Extension

Reprinted with permission from the Berks County Cooperative Extension

Over the past 30 years, especially the past decade, populations of white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus ) have increased dramatically throughout the Northeast and in many midwestern and western states. Increases in deer abundance can be attributed to changes in habitat, including reversion of abandoned farm fields to forest, and shifts in human population to rural and suburban areas. Both of these trends create open and forested habitat preferred by deer. In addition, decisions by landowners to prevent hunting have made many areas off limits to hunters, allowing deer populations to increase. Although the recovery of deer populations from only about 500,000 nationwide in the early 1900s to more than 15 million today is considered a wildlife management success story, many people increasingly view the situation with mixed feelings.

Habitat and Food Habits
Deer live on the forest edge rather than in continuous areas of mature forest. They prefer mixed conifer-hardwood forests, shrublands, and old fields with active cropland nearby. This rich mixture of vegetation produces abundant food and cover. Deer are very adaptable, however, and greater numbers are living in suburban neighborhoods, which have a combination of open lawn, succulent summer gardens, plentiful ornamental shrubs, and patches of forest cover.
Deer feed primarily on grasses, crops, leaves, twigs, and buds during late spring and summer. They forage on mast (e.g., beechnuts, wild cherry seeds, and acorns) during fall and concentrate almost entirely on twigs and buds during winter and early spring.
The amount of food that a deer must consume daily depends on its gender and body weight and the season. In general, deer consume 3 percent of their body weight each day. Therefore, a buck weighing 125 to 250 pounds requires from 4,000 to 6,000 calories each day, which can be obtained from 4 to 8 pounds of grass, forbs, and twigs.

Description of Damage
Home and Gardens - Deer frequently feed on flowers, fruits and vegetables, and the buds and twigs of fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. Damage to landscape plantings and ornamentals may occur at any time of year but is usually most severe in the late winter and early spring when other food supplies are limited.
Forests and Wildlife Habitat - Deer can also affect their own habitat and the abundance of other wildlife species. Overpopulation can profoundly influence the presence, absence, and abundance of plants and other wildlife. In many forests, over-browsing of tree seedlings creates open, park-like stands that have little or no vegetation near ground level. Instead of a diversity of woody and herbaceous plants, the ground surface may be dominated by ferns, grass, and woody shrub or tree species that are not preferred by deer.
Reduction of the understory and vertical structures, which gives forests a park-like appearance, removes important nesting and feeding sites for some forest songbirds. Nesting in more open forests can make bird eggs and nestlings easier for predators to detect. Some species may leave the area, whereas others will be less abundant than they once were. In addition, other wildlife, such as squirrels and chipmunks, must compete for acorns, a food preferred by deer.
Deer prefer certain plant species over others and frequently feed on economically valuable tree species, leaving less valuable trees. This change in species composition will have dramatic effects on our future forests and forest-related industries.

Identifying Damage
Deer feeding damage is readily distinguished from that caused by rabbits or rodents. Whereas rabbits or rodents leave a clean-cut surface, deer lack upper incisors and leave a ragged, broken end on browsed branches. Another indication is the height of the damage from the ground (up to 6 feet), which often rules out smaller mammals.

Preventing Damage
Population Control - Although repellents and fencing are the primary techniques used to address site-specific deer damage problems, these methods will not decrease damage on a community-wide scale. Deer populations will increase if mortality is low and food is abundant, and the population has the potential to double in size every two to three years.
Although the annual hunting season is an effective way to reduce deer populations and thus damage in rural areas, buck-only harvests cannot reduce or stabilize deer numbers. Where possible, landowners suffering damage should encourage or require hunters to harvest sufficient numbers of does (within the legal limits). Harvesting female deer is essential to reducing deer numbers and deer damage. In suburban areas where hunting may not be practical, some other form of mortality may be required to stabilize herd growth. Reproductive inhibitors are currently experimental and difficult to apply over large areas.
Deer Feeding Habits - Deer feed selectively on fertilized and unfertilized landscape plantings and managed croplands. Costly browsing damage may be reduced or eliminated by planting less preferred species or by establishing susceptible plants only in protected areas. A few strategies to consider include planting susceptible plants close to the house or in a fenced yard, or planting preferred species inside a protective ring of less preferred species. Under most circumstances, landscaping based on knowledge of deer feeding preferences provides an alternative to expensive chemical repellents and unsightly physical barriers.
Whether deer will target a particular plant species or variety depends on their previous habits and nutritional needs, plant palatability, seasonal factors, weather conditions, geographic area, and availability of alternative foods. Deer are creatures of habit, and previous movement patterns or foraging experiences can determine where damage will occur. Also, one plant species may be rarely damaged in one region of the country, but highly preferred in another due to differences in deer pressure and other factors. Examples of species with noted regional differences include holly, white pine, and deciduous magnolias. Therefore, caution must be taken when using plant preference lists from areas outside your own.
In general, damage from browsing is more severe when snow cover or extreme cold has reduced food availability. Another problem time is early spring when young succulent growth of ornamentals provides attractive browse before other spring growth is available. When food is in short supply, deer will browse even the most undesirable plants. Under such conditions, landscapers should combine damage control measures with careful plant selection. Damage control measures could include repellents, physical barriers (fencing), and deer population control. Ultimately, reducing the deer herd size is the most effective solution.
The lists in the boxes below, are from the publication "Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage" by the West Virginia University Extension Service. The information derives from personal communications, published articles, and unpublished reports. Please note that deer-browsing resistance of a plant species changes according to fluctuations in deer populations, alternative food availability, and environmental factors. No plant is safe under all conditions.
Plants listed in the "Rarely Damaged" category are eaten infrequently by deer and are the best candidates for damage-prone landscapes. "Frequently Damaged" category plants often require physical or chemical protection. Before planting any of the species listed, check to ensure that they suit local climatic and soil conditions.
Scare Devices - A variety of frightening devices, including lights, whistles, loud noises, and scarecrows, have been used to prevent deer damage. Audio and visual scare devices are not recommended around the home or near urban or suburban areas, however, because of disturbance to neighbors, possible violations of noise ordinances, and lack of effectiveness. Deer habituate to scare devices after a few days of exposure.
Repellents - Repellents can help prevent deer from feeding on crops or landscaping plants and are most effective when integrated in a damage abatement program that includes one or more other techniques such as fencing and population management. Repellents are best for small orchards, gardens, and ornamental plantings around the home. Their utility is limited for row crops, forages, and other large acreages because of high costs, limitations on use, and variable results. Applying repellents prior to deer damage will help to prevent deer from establishing a feeding pattern.
Repellents fall into two broad categories - those that repel by taste and those that repel with a disagreeable odor. Most deer repellents can be applied as a spray to ornamental shrubs and non-bearing fruit trees. Hinder, an ammonium soap-based repellent, and Deer- Off, a product that incorporates putrescent egg solids, are the only repellents currently approved for use on garden vegetables and fruit-bearing trees during the growing season.
The effectiveness of repellents depends on the number of deer, feeding habits, and environmental conditions. If deer are very hungry and other food supplies are limited, repellents may not work. Some damage must be tolerated with the use of repellents, even if browsing pressure is low. Young trees should be treated completely. On older trees, treat only terminal growth that is within reach of deer (up to 6 feet above ground). Growth that appears after treatment may need to be sprayed again. Repellents should be applied when precipitation is not expected for 24 hours and temperatures will remain between 40F and 80F for that period. Research trials have shown that odor-based products usually outperform taste-based materials. No commercial repellent is 100 percent effective, and under heavy deer browsing pressure, the best materials must be reapplied about every five weeks. This may limit their use in areas that have deep snow and below-freezing temperatures during winter.
The deer repellents listed in Table 1 are grouped by active ingredient and include the type of plants for which they are registered. Product labels provide all necessary information on use and must be followed to meet legal requirements and achieve maximum success. The active ingredients are shown in parentheses after the trade names. "Home remedies" such as tankage, soap, bobcat urine, and human hair may act as repellents. However, because both state and federal regulatory agencies prohibit the commercial use of products not registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we do not recommend them.

Table 1. Repellents
The table is an abbreviated form of Table 1 in the original document, which also includes: formulation, how to apply, length of effectiveness, cost and remarks.
Repellent Plants for which Registered
Deer Away/Big Game Repellent
(37% commercial putrescent egg solid)
Fruit trees before flowering; ornamental and Christmas trees
Deer-Off Repellent Spray
(3.1% egg solids, 0.0006% capsaicin, and 0.0006% garlic)
Flowers, grass, bulbs, ornamental shrubs, edible crops, plants, seedlings, trees
(ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids, 13.8%)
Home gardens, ornamentals, annual and perennial flowers, fruit trees until one week before harvest
Miller's Hot Sauce Animal Repellent
(2.5% capsaicin)
Ornamentals, fruit and nut trees, bushes, vines, and hay bales stored in the field; can also protect vegetable crops if sprayed before development of edible parts
Nott's chew-Not
(20% thiram)
Dormant trees and shrubs
Tree Guard
(0.20% dentonium benzoate)
Shrubs, ornamental plants, conifers, and nonbearing deciduous trees; not intended for use on food or feed crops

Fencing - If deer densities are high, tolerance of damage is minimal, or particularly valuable plants need to be protected, fencing alone or fencing plus repellents may be the best option. Many different fence designs are available; the one you select may be based on cost-effectiveness, aesthetic considerations, or ease of construction.
Rope Fencing - A cotton rope fence used with a repellent is particularly useful for preventing deer browsing in flower beds or small vegetable gardens; this combination of a visual barrier and order repellent can reduce browsing considerably during the growing season when alternative foods are available. The fence can be constructed by installing 3- to 4-foot posts around the perimeter of the beds. Attach cotton cord or rope at a height of about 30 inches. Spray an odor-based repellent directly onto the cotton rope or strips of cotton cloth tied to the rope at 3- to 4-foot intervals.
Snow Fencing - Snow fences can be used during the winter and early spring to protect small groups of trees or shrubs. Although not an absolute barrier, a snow fence may effectively deter deer form entering small areas ( a circle 20 yards in diameter).
Plastic Bird Netting and Wire Cages - Plastic netting and wire cages can be used to prevent deer browsing of individual plants or small plantings. Both alternatives are inexpensive and can be aesthetically pleasing. Plastic netting can be wrapped around individual shrubs during the winter and early spring. The netting is usually invisible form a distance. Although deer my browse any portion of the plants that extends beyond the netting, damage is greatly reduced. Plastic netting can also be wrapped around clumps of flowers in early spring when other food supplies are most limited and deer are most likely to cause damage.

Rarely Damaged
Botanical Name Common Name
Aesculus parviflora bottlebrush buckeye
Amelanchier arborea downy serviceberry
Amelanchier canadensis shadbush
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny serviceberry
Betual albo-sinensis Chinese paper birch
Betula nigra 'Heritage' heritage birch
Betula papyrifer paper birch
Chamaecyparis pisifera Japanese false cypress
Cryptomeria japonica Japanese cedar
Picea pungens glauca Colorado blue spruce
Pinus sylvestris Scotch pine
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas fir
Shrubs and Climbers
Botanical Name Common Name
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi bearberry
Asimina triloba pawpaw
Berberis spp. barberry
Buxus spp. boxwood
Caryopteris x clandonensis caryopteris (bluebeard)
Calastrus scandens American bittersweet
Cornus sericea red osier dogwood
Cephalotaxus harringtonia var. horeana Japanese plum-yew
Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian olive
Gaultheria procumbens creeping wintergreen
Hibiscus syriacus rose of Sharon
Ilex x 'John T. Morris' John T. Morris holly
Ilex x 'Lydia Morris' Lydia Morris holly
Leucothoe spp. leucothoe
Ligustrum vulgare European privet
Pieris japonica Japanese andromeda
Rhamus cathartica common buckthorn
Sambucus canadensis blueberry elder
Sarcoccoca hookeriana var. humilis dwarf sweet Christmas box
Annuals, Perennials and Bulbs
Botanical Name Common Name
Achillea spp. yarrow
Aconitum spp. monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum ageratum
Allium christophii star of Persia
Allium neapolitanum daffodil garlic
Allium ostrowskianum lily leek
Anemone x hybrida Japanese anemone
Anemonella thalictroides rue anemone
Anethum graveolens common dill
Aquilegia spp. columbine
Aurinia saxatilis basket-of-gold
Antirrhinum majus snapdragon
Arabis spp. rockcress
Arisaema thiphylum Jack-in-the-pulpit
Aubrietia deltoidea rock cress
Bergenia spp. bergenia
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides plumbago
Cimicfuga racemosa snakeroot
Colchicum autumnale colchicum
Colchicum speciosum colchicum
Consolida amgigua larkspur
Convallaria majalis lily-of-the-valley
Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' threadleaf coreopsis
Cyclamen hederifolium Neopolitan cyclamen
Dicentra spectabilis bleeding heart
Digitalis spp. foxglove
Dryopteris marginalis wood fern
Echinacea purpurea purple coneflower
Epimedium spp. barrenwort
Euphorbia spp. euphorbia
Fritillaria spp. fritillary
Galium odoratum sweet woodruff
Gloriosa superba glory lily
Hemmerocallis 'Stella d'Oro' Stella d'Oro daylily
Hesperis matronalis dame's rocket
Hyacinthus orientalis hyacinth
Lamium maculatum deadnettle
Lavandula spp. lavender
Linaria vulgaris toadflax
Lobularia maritime sweet alyssum
Lychnis coronaria rose campion
Matteuccia struthiopteris ostrich fern
Narcissus spp. daffodil
Nicotiana spp. flowering tobacco
Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis royal fern
Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny spurge
Pachysandra terminalis Japanese spurge
Papaver orientale oriental poppy
Pelargonium spp. scented geranium
Pervoshia atriplicifolia Russian sage
Ranunculus spp. buttercup
Rheum rhabarbarum rhubarb
Rudbeckia spp. coneflower
Salvia spp. sage
Santolina chamaecyparissus lavender cotton
Scilla spp. squill
Stachys byzantina lamb's ears
Tagetes spp. marigold
Tanacetum vulgare common tansy
Thymus spp. thyme
Tiarella cordifolia foam flower
Tropaeolum majus nasturtium
Yucca spp. yucca
Frequently Damaged
Botanical Name Common Name
Abies balsamea balsam fir
Acer palmatum (red-leaf varieties) Japanese maple
Acer platanoides Norway maple
Cedrus atlantica atlas cedar
Cercis canadensis redbud
Chionanthus virginicus fringe tree
Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland cypress
Fraxinus excelsior European ash
Ilex 'Nellie Stevens' Nellie Stevens holly
Kuelreutaria paniculata goldenrain tree
Magnolia soulangeana saucer magnolia
Malus spp. apple and crabapple
Prunus spp. cherry and plum
Pinus strobes white pine
Pyrus spp. pear
Thuja occidentalis arborvitae
Tsuga spp. hemlock
Shrubs and Climbers
Botanical Name Common Name
Chaenomeles japonica quince
Clemati s spp. clematis
Cornus mas cornelian cherry, dogwood
Euonymus alatus winged euonymus
Euonymus fortunei wintercreeper
Hydrangea quercifolia bigleaf hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia oakleaf hydrangea
Ilex comuta Chinese holly
Ilex x merserveae messerve holly
Ilex verticillata common winterberry
Kalmia latifolia mountain laurel
Rhododendron austrinum Florida azalea
Rhododendron periclymenoides pinksterbloom azalea
Rhododendron vaseyi pink shell azalea
Rhododendron hybrids evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons
Rosa hybrids hybrid roses
Rubus spp. blackberry and raspberry
Sorbus aucupatia European mountain ash
Syringa patula Manchurian lilac
Taxus spp. yew
Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry
Annuals, Perennials and Bulbs
Botanical Name Common Name
Aegopodium podagaria bishop's weed
Aquilegia spp. columbine
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum Japanese painted fern
Cherianthus spp. wall flower
Hedera helix English ivy
Helianthus spp. sunflower
Hosta spp. hosta
Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids daylily
Iberis sempervirens candytuft
Lilium spp. lily
Matthoila incama stocks
Pelargonium spp. geranium
Polygonatum biflorum Solomon's seal
Ranunculus asiaticus buttercup
Trillium spp. trillium
Tulipa spp. tulips
Vinca minor periwinkle
Viola spp. pansies and violas