Protecting Young Trees from Deer

By Kirsten Conrad, Extension Agent for Arlington County and the City of Alexandria

Damage to tree bark from deer rubbing their antlers on them. Photo: Christa Rittberg, University of Minnesota Extension

Your young, newly planted trees are very attractive to our healthy white-tailed deer population. Not only are the leaves and tender young growth within easy height for feeding, deer will utilize young trees for rubbing their antlers and do serious damage to the bark and trunk of even newly planted trees.

Protection from wildlife is important for guarding the initial investment of planting. Overall, wildlife protection should be adaptive and based on need, cost, desired effectiveness, installation effort, and ease of maintenance.

Wildlife threats include deer, moles, voles, and beaver. The most common threat is deer browse. There are many options for protecting plants from deer browse and rubbing.

Eight-foot-tall permanent fences may be an option in some areas with many choices of construction materials ranging from T-posts to locust logs, welded wire, or plastic mesh. One cost-efficient alternative is plastic mesh fencing.

Registered deer repellents are available for purchase and use in Virginia and can be effective when applied frequently, just as new growth is starting in the early spring. Sprays must be applied according to instructions and reapplied every few weeks, as they lose effectiveness over long periods of time; they also must be reapplied after rain and snow events. A repellent may need to be changed often, because deer may become desensitized.

Tree tubes are a low-cost method that are easy to install and effective at preventing deer browse. This method works best with bare-root seedlings.  Wire cages can be constructed using concrete reinforcement wire and ½-inch electrical conduit for stakes. Woven wire is used with T-posts or wooden stakes.

Here are some tips and tricks for protecting your new trees:

  • Choose a protection method and maintain it. If you are using tree tubes, make sure that they stay in position.
  • Spraying? Make sure that you stick to the schedule.
  • Keeping a dog around can help scare deer away.
  • Make sure to keep your tree healthy. Provide one inch of water per week and stake it as needed for up to one year. Remove turf and other ground covers from around the tree to reduce competition for water. Make sure you have chosen and planted your tree species correctly for your site.

For more information, contact the EMG Help Desk at  

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