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By Chester Hill, Roosevelt County Extension Agent; and Jim Knight, Extension Wildlife Specialist (retired)

Deer are probably the most widely distributed and best recognized large animal in North America. Two species most common in Montana are the white-tailed and mule deer.

Deer habitat includes wildlands, agricultural areas, and, in some cases, residential areas. Deer favor early vegetation stages that keep brush and sapling browse within reach. Dense cover is used for winter shelter and protection. Because deer are so adaptable and residential areas sometimes provide suitable habitat, deer pose challenges to homeowners.

Damage identification is not difficult. Because both mule deer and white-tailed deer lack upper incisors, deer often leave a jagged or torn surface on twigs or stems that they browse.

Homeowners can be frustrated in keeping these pests away from their trees or garden plants. Scare devices, exclusion and repellents have a place in deer damage control. Initial selection of plantings may provide the best remedy to prevent deer damage.

Cultural Methods and Habitat Modification

Deer damage to ornamental plants can be minimized by selecting landscape and garden plants that are less preferred (Table 1). MontGuide 9521 AG, "Deer-resistant Ornamental Plants" also provides suggestions.

In addition to planting tolerant plants, harvesting garden crops as early as possible reduces the period of vulnerability to deer. Planting susceptible crops as far as possible from wooded cover will also reduce deer damage.


Repellents are well suited for use in orchards, gardens and on ornamental plants. High cost, limitations on use, and variable effectiveness make most repellents practical only for certain situations. Repellents are moderately effective for short periods and usually require multiple applications.

"Contact" sprays are applied directly on the plant and repel by taste. These are most effective on trees and shrubs during the dormant season.

"Area" repellents are applied near the plants to be protected and repel by odor. They are usually less effective.

During the winter dormant season, apply contact repellents on a dry day when temperatures are above freezing. Be sure to treat to a height of six feet on trees. The effectiveness of repellents depends on how much it rains and how hungry the deer are. Deer-Away®, Hinder®, Thiram®, Miller's Hot Sauce®, Tankage®, and Ro-pel® are some of the repellents available.
Tree Protectors

Tree protectors are available to put around tree trunks. Use Vexar®, Tubex®, plastic tree wrap, or woven-wire cylinders to protect young trees. Usually four feet of woven wire cylinders can keep deer from rubbing tree trunks with their antlers.


In some situations exclusion may be the most logical method of preventing deer damage. In backyard gardens, where deer depredation may be a constant challenge, a permanent fence may be cost effective. In orchards and around ornamentals, electric fence may be a solution. Several fencing designs are available to meet specific needs.

Permanent Woven-Wire Fencing

Woven-wire fences are used for year-round protection of areas subject to high deer pressures. These fences are expensive and difficult to construct, but easy to maintain. Woven-wire fences were used most often before the advent of high-tensile electric fencing. Cost, excluding labor, is about $2 to $4 per linear foot. The high cost has resulted in reduced use of woven-wire fences.

To build a deer-proof woven-wire fence, follow the steps below.

  1. Set rigid corner assemblies where necessary.
  2. String a light wire between two corners and apply light tension.
  3. Set 16-foot posts along the wire at 40-foot intervals, to a depth of 4 to 6 feet.
  4. Roll out an 8-foot roll of high-tensile woven wire along the line posts. Attach one end at ground level to a corner post with steel staples.
  5. Apply tension to the wire with a vehicle or fence strainers and attach the wire to line and corner posts with steel staples.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 as necessary around the perimeter of the fence.
  7. Attach two strands of high-tensile smooth wire to the top of the fence to raise the height of the entire fence to 9 to 10 feet.

Electric Fencing

Vertical electric fences are effective at protecting gardens and orchards from moderate to high deer pressures. Because of the prescribed wire spacing, deer either attempt to go through the fence and are effectively shocked or they are physically impeded by the barrier. Vertical fences use less ground space than three-dimensional fences, but are probably less effective at preventing deer from jumping over them. A wide variety of fence materials, wire spacings and specific designs are available. Costs, excluding labor, range from $0.75 to $1.50 per linear foot.

To build an 8-wire vertical deer fence (see Figure 1 below), follow the steps below.

  1. Install rigid corner assemblies where necessary.
  2. String a 121/2-gauge high-tensile wire around the corner assemblies and apply light tension.
  3. Set 8-foot line posts along the wire at 33-foot intervals.
  4. Attach a wire to insulators at 8 inches above ground level and apply tension.
  5. Attach the remaining wires to insulators at the spacing indicated in Figure 1 and apply tension.
  6. Connect the second, fourth, sixth and eighth wires from the top to the positive (+) post of a well-grounded, low-impedance fence charger.
  7. Connect the top, third, fifth and seventh wires directly to ground. The top wire should be negative for lightning protection.
  8. Clear and maintain a 6- to 12-foot open area outside the fence so deer can see the fence.

Maintenance includes weekly fence inspection and voltage checks. Applying a molasses-peanut butter mixture to the hot wires using a mop glove will encourage deer to touch the fence with their noses or tongues. This will provide greater repellent effectiveness.

Other Methods

Homeowners often come up with ideas that are unique to their situations. Tying a dog near damaged areas or using motion sensing scare devices will sometimes work. The sooner deer are discouraged from damaging your plantings, the more likely they are to stay away.

This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply discrimination or endorsement by the Montana State University Extension Service.

Ornamental plants, listed by susceptibility to deer damage.

Plants Rarely Damaged

Botanical Name

Common Name

Berberis spp. 


Berberis vulgaris

Common Barberry

Betula papyrifera

Paper Birch

Burus sempervirens

Common Boxwood

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Russian Olive

Picea pungens

Colorado Blue Spruce


Plants Seldom Severely Damaged

Botanical Name

Common Name

Betula pendula 

European White Birch 

Calastrus scandens

American Bittersweet 

Cornus sericea 

Red Osier Dogwood 

Crataegus laevigata 

English Hawthorn 

Gleditsia triacanthos 

Honey Locust 

Juniperus chinensis 

Chinese Junipers (green)

Juniperus chinensis 

Chinese Junipers (blue)

Picea abies 

Norway Spruce 

Picea glauca 

White Spruce 

Pinus nigra 

Austrian Pine

Pinus mugo 

Mugo Pine

Pinus sylvestris 

Scots Pine

Syringa vulgaris

Common Lilac


Plants Occasionally Severely Damaged

Botanical Name

Common Name

Abies concolor 

White Fir 

Acer rubrum 

Red Maple 

Acer saccharinum 

Silver Maple 

Acer saccharum 

Sugar Maple 

Aesculus hippocastanum 

Common Horsechestnut 

Amelanchier arborea 

Downy Serviceberry 

Campsis radicans 

Trumpet Creeper 

Cotoneaster spp. 


Cottoneaster apiculatus 

Cranberry Cotoneaster 

Cotoneaster horizontalis 

Rockspray Cotoneaster 

Hydrangea arborescens 

Smooth Hydrangea 

Hydrangea paniculata 

Panicle Hydrangea 

Juniperus virginiana 

Eastern Red Cedar 

Parthenocissus quinquifolia 

Virginia Creeper 

Philadelphus coronarius 

Sweet Mock Orange 

Pinus strobus 

Eastern White Pine 

Potentilla fruticosa 

Bush Cinquefoil 

Prunus avium 

Sweet Cherry 

Pseudotsuga menziesii 

Douglas Fir 

Pyrus calleryana "Bradford" 

Bradford Callery Pear 

Pyrus communis 

Common Pear 

Rhus typhina 

Staghorn Sumac 

Rosa rugosa 

Rugosa Rose 

Salix spp. 


Spiraea(x) bumalda

Anthony Waterer Spiraea

Spiraea prunifolia 

Bridalwreath Spiraea 

Syringa (x) persica 

Persian Lilac 

Syringa reticulata 

Japanese Tree Lilac

Syringa villosa 

Late Lilac 

Tilia cordata "Greenspire"

Greenspire Littleleaf Linden 

Tilia americana 


Tsuga canadensis 

Eastern Hemlock

Viburnum rhytidophyllum

Leatherleaf Viburnum


Plants Frequently Severely Damaged

Botanical Name

Common Name

Abies balsamea 

Balsam Fir

Abies fraseri 

Fraser Fir

Acer platanoides 

Norway Maple

Chamaecyparis thyoides 

Atlantic White Cedar

Clematis spp. 


Euonymus alatus 

Winged Euonymus

Euonymus fortunei 


Hedera helix 

English Ivy

Malus spp. 


Prunus spp. 


Prunus spp. 


Rosa (x) hybrid 

Hybrid Tea Rose

Sorbus aucuparia 

European Mountain Ash

Taxus spp. 


Taxus baccata 

English Yew

Taxus cuspidata is

Japanese Yew

Taxus (x) media 

English/Japanese Hybrid Yewborvitae

Thuja occidental

American Arborvitae