With winter on our door steps many are probably thinking they're out of the woods when it comes to deer damage in backyard landscapes.
Actually, fall and winter mark the beginning of the worst seasons for deer damage. Deer will eat just about anything in the winter - their food supply is very low and they can't be choosy. They're hungry enough to eat vegetation that they ordinarily would not choose to eat.
As with other wildlife, land development has reduced deer's natural habitat. Combine that with a lack of natural predators and easy access to your landscapes and modern-day deer not only survive, they thrive!
The most important thing to understand about fighting deer is that it's easier to prevent damage than to react to it. So it behooves you to know your enemy and stay at least one step ahead of them. Deer are creatures of habit - they establish feeding patterns and return to the same spot over and over again, even when that same spot stops offering enough food for them.
Even just a few deer can cause significant damage to your landscaping. A single whitetail deer can consume, on average, 8-12 pounds of foliage a day and in many areas of the country, deer overpopulation is a serious problem. With nowhere to go and not much left to eat in the dead of winter, deer can wreak havoc on shrubs, trees and gardens, and destroy new buds and leaves before they have a chance to grow, ruining your prospects for any spring growth.
Here's a quick list of the tell-tale signs of deer in your backyard:
1. Rub marks on trees where bucks have rubbed their antlers to mark their territory; the tree bark is actually rubbed off.
2. Any kind of torn vegetation is also another telltale sign, deer do not have incisor teeth, and therefore, they "rip" the vegetation when they bite into it.
3. If your damage is found off the ground, up to 6 feet, small animal damage can be ruled out.
4. Deer tracks are also easy to identify. The prints are about 2 to 3 inches long and are shaped like broken hearts.
So what do you do to keep the deer out of your backyard? There are loads of "home remedies" that have been tried with varying results ... human hair, soap, pepper spray, even a battery operated radio, creating constant noise and fooling deer to think humans are in the yard! These remedies might work sporadically, but they are not reliable deterrents for deer.
Properly built and maintained fencing can be an effective method for preventing deer damage. But, deer can jump up to and clear an 8-foot fence on level ground, and they can easily push and remove plastic netting. Installing a 6- to 8-foot fence can be an effective solution to some extent, but fencing is costly and can be quite unsightly.
Perhaps one of the most effective and easiest methods to deter deer are repellents. Deer repellents are designed to impart objectionable odors or tastes. Research them and give that a shot.
Basically, get accustomed to deer in our rural areas and take the measures to curtail their activity and limit the damage they can inflict in our yards.