If you’re a fan of plants, you may not be a fan of deer eating them.
I enjoy deer watching... from a distance that is. A good fence makes great neighbors and it can certainly help a great garden. however If you are like many of us who don't want the expense or incarcerated look and feel of living inside a fenced compound you do have options.
The best defense is a great offense and deer are complex creatures of habit. When they feel safe and find delicious food, they will include your trees shrubs and greenery on their daily wanderings. As with any Unwelcome guest making them feel more than a little uncomfortable speeds their departure and reduces the chance they will return.
Deer have a varied menu of trees shrubs and plants the will eat and in a pinch this grows to include normally unpalatable items like spruce, tree bark and wood.
These are listed in order of desperation and are not exclusive; they will eat whatever is available to survive.
They generally prefer lush energy rich plants like hosta or evergreens with softer needles like taxus or hemlock.
You can just plant trees and shrubs that are deer resistant but that leads to a dull landscape.
The best defense short of an 8 foot fence is a multi-pronged assault on all the deer's senses. Smell, taste and sound are three primary senses used by deer to navigate their way in the landscape. Sight, and particularly motion are also factors that influence a deer by making them feel less at ease.
Change and motion in the landscape creates feelings of unease and the potential for predators to sneak up on them well feeding makes the deer less likely to linger and sample your garden.
There are many taste and smell deterrents available that use a variety of ingredients including blood, urine, garlic, rotten eggs and a variety of mouth burning spices and peppers. They all work to some extent, but deer, being creatures of habit will eventually adjust to the taste and smell and eat your trees and shrubs in spite of your repeated spraying. A change will do you good! Change up your spray by using a variety of different sprays. This reduces habituation and acts on a variety of senses. Deer don't like this unpleasant change.
Blocking trails, and reducing bedding and birthing areas in your immediate hinterland will also take the game to a new level. Keep in mind that other people use trails before you pile brush or put log mats across them. Placing a few brushy branch piles on sites that deer lay down to rest on is a sure way to keep them on the move,
If a doe does give birth near your garden the feeding pressure will be increased as the new mother will not travel far to feed while the fawns are small. She will eat a much greater variety of non-preferred foods while she nurses and stays close to the birthing area.
Encouraging you dog to mark its territory at the boundary of your garden is also an effective deterrent. Motion sensing sprinklers, lights and other high tech gadgets are also effective as part of an overall program of wholesale unfriendliness.
Sound deterrents are useful as they not only startle the deer but create a sense of unease at the lack of ability to hear the approach of predators.
As with all deterrents sound devices must change and have variability to prevent them from becoming routine and ignored. All this can seem like a lot of work and it can be, you have to keep in mind that your garden has to be peacefully and accessible. Thankfully our senses are much less keen than the average deer so we don't smell the repellents or hear the ultrasonic devices. There are companies that will provide a regular deer repellent spray program and this can be very effective as it takes the burden of scheduling off the home owners. Most of these programs change their formulas periodically to keep ahead of the deer. There are also companies that provide a dedicated deer deterrent program to take the entire process to a higher level while allowing you to plant what you want.
ISA certified arborists are aware of what trees and shrubs are deer resistant in your landscape. Contact your land ISA Certified arborist to discuss your options for limiting deer damage on your landscape.