After a Long and Challenging Winter, Hungry Deer are out and about this Spring

After a Long and Challenging Winter, Hungry Deer are out and about this Spring


Winter deer damage to a mature Rhododendron in southern Westchester County, NY

This winter was one of the most severe we’ve seen in 20 years!  Snow accumulations and cold temperatures presented many challenges for our landscapes, but in particular Deer were challenged to find food sources in these difficult conditions.  Heavy snow and cold temperatures reduced deer travel, as deer minimize the use of their stored energy to ensure survival.  The long period of snow cover also reduced available food sources such as nuts, small shrubs and trees, and other desirables that are often found at lower heights.

This spring I’ve seen numerous properties with extremely heavy damage to woody plant materials such as rhododendron, arborvitae, hollies, and even plants that deer don’t normally browse on.  Properties that had local deer populations visiting regularly likely saw higher than average levels of damage, and as seen in the picture above, some experienced total devastation.  Deer stomachs actually adapt to be able to turn this fibrous plant material into proteins for the winter, however deer will not eat these woody plants in the Spring and Summer, as their digestive systems change to focus on more succulent emerging foliage. As we move further into spring, the deer have emerged hungry and extremely active.  They will be looking for food sources as they try regain some of the weight they shed over the last few months.  Reports from all markets indicate a significant increase in deer activity and deer browsing as the temperatures increase.  Deer will be targeting many emerging flowers and tender new growth on plants and shrubs as we move further into the Spring and Summer.  Emerging Tulips and other early season bulbs and flowers are beginning to bloom, and more and more perennials will be popping to life over the next few weeks.

What can you do to ensure you are prepared for this season and protection is in place the growing season?

1.  Be Pro-active in Plant Protection Many times we reactively treat our plant materials after the deer have come in and already damaged them.  This is often the case with emerging flowers, as timing is critical to their survival.  By proactively protecting these plants early in the season you can set yourself up for a season of success.  Once deer damage starts to occur, you may be setting the stage for a season of hungry deer visiting your property.  Deer are habitual creatures and will continue to return to places where they know food is available.  Get ahead of the problem, and you will stand a much better chance of enjoying your garden this summer.

2. Consider Working with a Professional While many over the counter products will have some effect in deterring deer browsing, timing and product selection is everything.  Working with a professional will ensure that applications are made at the optimal times to only the plants that are vulnerable at that time of the year.  Professionals also may have access to treatment products that are not available to homeowners, and can be more effective.  Setting up a timed treatment program early in the season will ensure the survival of your vulnerable flowers and shrubs.

3. Tick Populations   Harsh winters will often reduce populations of many insects, but ticks are surprisingly resilient when dealing with cold temperatures and heavy snow.  Ticks will bury themselves in leaf litter and brush in the winter, and the snow cover will additionally insulate them from exposure to the cold temperatures.  Many experts are saying that tick populations will not see a reduction as a result of conditions this winter, and some are even speculating that tick populations will increase due to the protection of ticks by the snow cover that we saw through the harshest part of the winter.  Ensure that you have taken measures to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of ticks, as they are often the carriers of blood born pathogens such as Lyme Disease.  Treatments for tick populations control begin now, and timed properly, will reduce populations significantly on your property.