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Are Deer Eating Your Trees

The deer population in many states is rampant and as humans encroach more on the wildlife and their grazing grounds, it is no wonder there is a problem with the mix. It isn’t uncommon to see deer wondering into residential areas looking for food and this can mean munching on your trees and destroying your yard.

Deer can cause damage to your trees, garden and yard in many ways. Deer love to feed on leaves, stems, flowers, and bark, and while they are searching for such goodies, they often crush plants and flowers with their hooves. In addition, male deer often rub their antlers on tree trunks, causing bark to shed and trunks to splinter or split. This type damage often occurs during the fall season between the months of September and November.

How can you tell it is deer that has caused the damage to your trees? Searching for evidence and clues will help you know for certain what it is that has been nosing around your yard. The first thing to search for are track marks. Deer hoof prints are generally 3 to 4 inches in length. Another sign to look for are deer droppings. Deer droppings are pellet-like, elongated and may appear in clumps. If you notice that the branches and twigs in your garden are rough and shredded, rather than bitten with a clean cut, it is likely that deer are the culprit. They are not equipped with sharp upper incisors, so deer feeding on trees results in tattered-looking branches. Deer usually feed in the early hours of the morning. Damage can be more severe in areas with a high deer population and scarce food sources.

What kinds of trees do deer prefer? Their favorite include the following:

•    White Cedar (Arbor Vitae) – Evergreen with flat scalelike “leaves.” Some varieties used for ornamental shrubbery. A swamp tree but it can grow on moist upland. In many areas browsing deer have eaten practically all cedar within reach.

•    White Pine – Young trees have smooth dark green bark. Deer will eat white pine before they take other pines.

•    Maples – Trees with buds opposite each other Sugar maple has brownish or gray twigs with brown pointed buds. Red maple has red twigs and reddish rounded buds and is better deer food.

•    Yellow Birch – The bark of young tree , and twigs is brownish turning yellowish-gray and curling up when older. Pointed buds. Twigs taste like wintergreen. Young yellow birch looks like ironwood (a poor deer food), but ironwood has no wintergreen taste.

•    Dogwoods and Viburnums – Shrubs that generally have opposite buds like maples. Red dogwood has bright red twigs. Other species have reddish green, brown, or gray twigs. Viburnum buds are many different shapes.

•    Sumac – Shrub commonly found in old fields and forest openings. Heavy, stiff, brown twigs and branches. One kind is fuzzy and resembles antlers in velvet. Another kind is smooth. Bunches of fuzzy red fruit at the top of all sumac plants.

Deer will also eat other trees when moderately hungry, they include:
•    Aspen – This tree is, also called “popple” or “poplar” and is one of the most common Michigan trees. Trembling aspen has whitish, greenish gray bark and long pointed shiny buds Big toothed aspen has yellow green bark and fatter, fuzzy buds. Balm of Gilead (a poor deer food) looks similar, but has gray-green bark with bin sticky end buds and grows in wet areas.

•    Jack Pine – A small needled tree. Needles, 2 in a bundle are 1 to 1 ½ inches long. Young stands provide good winter cover, but only fair deer food.

•    Oaks – Buds at ends of twigs are clustered and only moderate in food value, but acorns provide excellent deer food.

•    Ash – Green to light brownish gray, stiff, smooth stems with opposite, dark brown and black buds. Side buds close to end bud. Black ash is a swamp species. White ash prefers upland sites.

•    White Birch – This is the common “paper” or “canoe” birch. Bark on young stems is a shiny orange brown color that gradually turns white and “papery.”

•    Witch-Hazel – Look for the unusual-shaped light brown buds. Yellow crinkly flowers can be seen in the fall along the sterns.

There are some plants and trees that are said to be more deer resistant than others, but when faced with starvation deer will likely eat anything that is available. To help protect your yard, you may consider constructing a physical barrier around your property, such as a high fence, but this can often be prohibitively expensive as well as unsightly. When used properly, repellents can be effective ways to keep deer away from your plants. Some people make a mix that includes Cayenne pepper to sprinkle on their trees and shrubs. There are also commercial products one can use. Hopefully one or all of the above mentioned deterrents will help you protect your trees for future and healthy growth.

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