homepage logo

Garden Help Desk: Protecting your lawn from deer damage

By USU Extension - | Feb 11, 2023

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

When natural forage is scarce or the winter has been harsh, deer will often search in unexpected locations for food.

Our new house has no landscaping, not even a lawn, so we’re starting from scratch. We have a few ideas about what we want to do, but we heard there’s been deer damage a couple of blocks away where the yards are a little older. What can we do to prevent deer damage to the trees and shrubs we want to plant?

The best way to avoid deer damage in your yard is to plan your landscape and select your plants with the deer in mind. Avoiding the problem is always better than trying to manage it.

Good plant selection is the first thing to consider. It sounds like you already have a good idea of where you want to plant your trees and shrubs what you want to plant there. Make a list of those plants and then check you list against online lists of “deer-proof” plants and deer-preferred plants. Keep in mind that deer don’t read online lists, and there aren’t really any deer-proof plants. When preferred foods are scarce, a hungry deer will eat what’s available.

It’s not unusual for deer in one area to prefer different plants than deer in another area. Check with neighbors to find out what plants have had the most deer damage in your area. Local nurseries and garden center may be another source of information about deer damage in your area.

Some online plant lists will group plants as most-preferred by deer, least-preferred, or in categories somewhere in between. Are any of your chosen plants most-preferred or somewhat-preferred by deer? If so, you’ll need to choose between changing your plant palette or using some reliable exclusions methods that might not fit your vision for your landscape.

Courtesy Michael Caron

Grape cuttings need several weeks in moist, but not wet, potting soil, sphagnum peat moss or other rooting media in order to develop roots.

There are many claims about the effectiveness of homemade deer repellents such as hanging highly fragranced bars of soap, bags of human hair, predator feces, blends of pungent herbs and spices, etc. Commercial products like repellent sprays, ultrasonic devices, and water sprays also claim to be very effective, but deer can quickly become accustomed to these products.

Exclusion with tall fencing around your property is the most reliable way to prevent deer damage. An exclusion option is to individually fence smaller areas in your landscape. Small trees and shrubs can be protected with netting that is secured around the trunk.

Bags of repellents hanging here and there in your trees and shrubs, that may or may not be effective, won’t be particularly attractive in your landscape, though. To get the most enjoyment out of your landscape, you’ll be better off planning a landscape that isn’t as inviting to the deer.

Choosing plants that are less attractive to deer can reduce the amount of damage you’ll see in your landscape. For the majority of your most-preferred plants, you’ll find there are Less-preferred plants that will give you the same effect in your landscape. Combine those Less-preferred options and incorporate strategic fencing in your landscape design to minimize plant damage and work in your landscape. But remember — if a deer is hungry enough, it will eat whatever it can find.

I want to take some cuttings from my grandfather’s grapevines. When is the best time to do that?

Courtesy Michael Caron

Once roots develop, a cutting is ready to transplant into another container until outdoor planting conditions are favorable.

Grape vines are some of the easiest woody plants to propagate from cuttings. The best time to take grape cuttings is while the vines are dormant — after leaves have dropped but before buds swell in the spring. December through mid-February is the usual window of time, depending on what the late winter weather has been like. Here are the basics for successfully rooting cuttings from your grandfather’s grape vines.

Take your cuttings from dormant canes that were new growth the previous season. Take a few extra cuttings, because they might not all root successfully. Pencil-sized canes are the ideal size. Avoid thin, spindly canes or very thick canes.

Each cutting should be straight, and about 12-14 inches long with 4-6 buds.

Keep track of which end of each cutting is the bottom and which end it the top. This is very important! The bottom end is the end that was closest to the trunk. Mark the ends with twine, rubber bands, tape, or something similar. Or make your cuts on the bottom straight and at an angle on the top.

Grapevine cuttings root easily without any special treatment like rooting hormone, so you can skip that step, if you’d like.

Bury the bottom cuttings in container(s) of moist potting soil, sawdust, or peatmoss, or perlite. Make sure the bottom 2-3 nodes are buried.

Put the containers in a cool to moderately warm location. Keep the rooting media moist, but not wet. You should see good roots in 4-6 weeks.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)