Deer Protection, Buck Rub & Resistant Plants

Deer Resistant Plants, Buck Rub & Protection

Deer resistant plants is a very common topic in Wisconsin, especially in fall. It's often an initial question on new landscape projects of all sizes. Deer resistant, repellent, deterrent, and deer proof can all be used synonymously with the topic. Ultimately, fencing is the BEST way to protect your plant(s).

To give you an idea of scale, all our farms in various locations (700+ acres of farmland) are ALL surrounded by 8' high deer fencing. But once the plants are out of our care and into your landscape, how can you protect them?

As the Wisconsin DNR recognizes Wisconsin as one of the premier white-tailed deer hunting states, it’s no secret that deer are prevalent here and around the Midwest. The DNR offers some great resources on deer management and population statistics, down the county level.

How does this relate to your new plants?

Deer/Buck Rub Kills Trees

Buck rub is easy to spot in high-deer populations, like much of Wisconsin. You'll notice long scratches, peeling, or damaged bark around the mid-section of the trunk or higher on single stem trees and fruit trees. Bark damage closer to the ground is more likely rodents.

Buck rub often appears in the late summer or early fall. Male deer rub the velvet off their newly acquired antler growth. Also, the area between the forehead and antlers contains sweat glands. Rubbing their antlers on trees will leave a scent that communicates a challenge to other male deer and attracts potential mates.

Plants Are Deer Food

White-tailed deer (most common in Wisconsin) are herbivores. Their diet includes readily available plants, including new plant growth, twigs, fruits, and nuts. This means that all plants are susceptible, including new growth on young branches of single stem trees, shrubs, and fruit trees, most soft-foliage evergreens, and perennials.

Their tastes may change with the seasons and as plants change/grow each year. Sometimes the new spring growth on a plant is irresistible, and when that growth hardens off later in the season, the deer move onto other plants. In late summer and fall, deer consider plants that will help them put on fat before the winter season.

How To Deer Proof Your Plants

There are many products on the market that claim to discourage and repel deer from eating desirable plants. Many of them work well when used according to label directions and for small-scale applications. It’s probably not feasible, however, to treat an entire landscape with spray or granular applications.

The best way to protect your new trees is appropriate fencing. While this may seem more costly up front, you can use them every year instead of continually buying sprays or granular products.

Single & Multi-Stem Trees, Fruit Trees

  • Vinyl Tree Guards, Mesh Tree Protectors

Evergreens, Shrubs, Perennials:

  • Sprays, Granular, DIY Chicken wire or heavier-duty enclosures

Deer Protection Options

  • Vinyl Tree Guards (available at Johnson's Nursery for $1.99 ea.)
  • Mesh Tree Protectors (twin packs available for $4.99 for 2-pack)
  • Chicken wire
  • Sprays for small scale applications (available at Johnson's Nursery)
  • Granular
  • Something more heavy-duty (like high-velocity lead)

Plant Deer Browse Resistant Plants

No list of deer resistant plants is 100% bulletproof because a hungry animal will eat any plant if it's desperate. The plants below are suggestions based on observation. Our recommendations come from growing plants on 700 acres of farmland in Wisconsin and working with a diverse client mix from homeowners to municipalities to contractors since the 1950's.

"sp." means the entire genus, including all cultivars, are to be considered resistant.


Buck rub and deer browse differences for single and multi-stem trees. Musclewood, for example: Deer may not want to eat the plant, but the bark is very thin, and can be easily damaged by buck rub. Same with Beech and Magnolia. Deer may use anything as an antler scratching post.




Deer Proof Perennials