Deer and rabbit damage is most noticeable in the early spring. As plants begin to sprout buds and experience seasonal growth, it can be frustrating to find that deer or rabbits are feasting on it. While these problems can be difficult to deter, there are some approaches you can try.
Identify the Culprit
First, it’s important to determine what kind of wildlife is going after your plants. Rabbits leave clean-cut damage that may actually resemble over-pruning. Branches actually appear as though they were cut by a blade since rabbits have razor-sharp teeth that can easily slice through plant material.
Deer damage, on the other hand, is messy. Deer pull at the plants and shrubs they want to eat and may even yank them completely out of the ground. Deer, like cows, are ruminants and have no upper front incisors. As a result, the branches they do leave behind will likely look jagged. It’s a very different look from the “sliced” appearance rabbits leave behind.
Beyond the plants themselves, you may also notice other clues as to what animal has been chomping on your plants. Paw prints can easily help you determine the culprit if they leave behind any muddy tracks. Deer tracks have cloven hooves and the tracks take on a more oval shape. Rabbits leave behind smaller tracks in sets of four.
Droppings can also help you identify the type of animal on your property, though the droppings left behind by rabbits and deer are similar. Both leave clumps of pellets. Rabbit droppings, however, are smaller, rounder, and in overall smaller piles.
Once you’ve determined whether it’s deer or rabbits munching on your shrubs—or perhaps both—you can put a plan in place. One course of action is to install plants that deer and rabbits don’t like to eat. As a general rule, both deer and rabbits will typically avoid plants that have a lot of scent. There are full lists online of plants that deer and rabbits don’t prefer—though keep in mind nothing is completely deer or rabbit resistant. If they get desperate enough for food, they’ll eat anything.
Using spray-on scent or taste repellents can also be an effective option. If the animal doesn’t like the smell or taste they’ll usually move on to something else. Just keep in mind that these products can wear off over time so they may need to be repeatedly reapplied.
If you’ve really had enough with damage and have tried other options, fencing might be your best bet. Although some animals can be extremely stubborn, the more you can do to make their meal difficult, the more likely they’ll just move on to the next feast and leave your plants alone.