No plant is deer proof. Deer are opportunistic feeders with voracious appetites and may try any plant at least once. Even plants with a low-susceptibility to deer browsing may be attacked Unfortunately, arborvitae happens to be one of the most browsed plants.
Arborvitae with its soft leaves is susceptible to deer damage. Many other evergreen shrubs are on the frequently damaged list for deer, including Indian hawthorn, rhododendrons and wintercreeper. Evergreen shrubs that are least susceptible to deer browsing include yew, yucca, anise shrub, Chinese juniper and rosemary. Holly bushes, Mahonia, Japanese privet and tea olive bushes are either occasionally or seldom damaged by browsing. Deciduous shrubs; such as Japanese barberry, winter jasmine and butterfly bush; are also seldom damaged. Deer frequently devour roses, blueberries and burning bushes.
Arborvitae is a building contractor's favorite because of its low cost, ease of growth and different cultivars. The plant decorates landscapes throughout the United States, but particularly in its native region of the northern half of eastern North America. Depending on your chosen cultivar, your arborvitae may grow to its natural 40 to 50 foot tall tree form with a pyramidlike shape and thoroughly dense leaves. Depending on the cultivar, use it as an accent, hedge or screen. Some cultivars only reach 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall, while others may be globular or different colors. During the winter, most cultivars lose their inner leaves. Some cultivars maintain their color throughout the winter, while others brown.
Deer Damage and Foraging
Deer also damage arborvitae and other landscape plants during the rut. Males rub their antlers viciously to remove the velvet near mating time, causing damage to tree bark. Arborvitae is not as susceptible to this damage, due to its dense growth habits, but if you have a shaped arborvitae with exposed trunks, you may see damage. During the winter, deer may be more frequent visitors to your landscape due to lack of food in their habitats. There are certain times when deer need more food, particularly when the males are hardening their antlers or while females are pregnant or nursing.
Protecting Your Arborvitae
Once deer find your tasty arborvitae, it is difficult to keep them away. The most effective form of control is fencing, either around your property or around your arborvitae. Deer fences around your arborvitae prevent the deer from getting to the succulent leaves. Whether you fence your property or individual plants, keep in mind that deer fencing needs to be at least 8 feet high. Deer are excellent jumpers and will not hesitate to jump or stand on their hind legs to get to a meal. Folk remedies include using heavily scented soap. The strong scent may deter deer, although deer have been known to nibble the soap. Try hot pepper powder or sprays on and around your plants; coyote, dog or wolf urine; placing rarely damaged plants around your landscape and arborvitae; or using a deer repellent. Scaring the deer is temporarily effective, but they will keep coming back despite being scared once or 100 times. Scare tactics include yelling or screaming loudly, barking dogs or firing a starting pistol when the deer approach. Planting arborvitae and deer-susceptible plants closest to your home may help, as deer are skittish and may be frightened to get too close to your home. Plant the more resistant plants further out.