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USU Extension wildlife specialist

How can I protect my landscape from deer?

Deer typically begin grazing on traditional winter ranges, even if they are now housing developments, soon after the end of the deer hunt in early November. They eat their favorite plants first, and in mild winters, this may be all they eat. During severe winters, however, they will browse any plants available and will continue browsing until spring green-up in March or April or later

Deep snow forces deer to move to lower elevations where plants are more accessible, and this may also prevent deer from browsing low-growing and small ornamental plants. They will generally dig down through about 8 inches of snow to obtain forage and will usually browse no higher than 6 feet, but will reach higher when standing on snow.

As forage supplies dwindle, though, deer will reach higher and dig deeper for food. Consider these tips to prevent landscape browsing.

* The most effective way to eliminate deer grazing is to enclose the area with a fence that is at least 7.6 feet high. Entrances must be closed at all times, especially at night. Good fences make good wildlife.

* Individual plants that are highly susceptible to deer damage can be protected by thoroughly wrapping them with burlap or several layers of plastic. Hungry deer tend to ignore repellents and graze on available plants. Repellents such as systemic insecticides, human hair, soap, chemicals, outdoor lighting and noise are unreliable in preventing deer browsing.

* Landscapes should be carefully planned in areas where deer browse. These plants are often permanently damaged and should not be grown unless homeowners are willing to completely protect them. Fortunately, some plants are seldom browsed by deer except during harsh weather when other forages are not available. The best sources for seeds and plant materials are nurseries that specialize in native plants. For a complete list of deer-proof plants that can be used in ornamental landscapes, visit

* Stakeholders often advocate feeding mule deer in the winter in developed landscapes to compensate for lost winter range. The reported benefits are mixed. The Berryman Institute at Utah State University recently published the results of a long-term study that states that both fawn production and survival did not differ in mule deer does that were fed versus those that were not fed. One of the unanticipated results of the study was that deer-vehicle collisions were the primary cause of death for radio-collared deer in both populations.

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