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Do Deer Eat Citrus Trees?

Deer can be fairly migratory, but when they learn that your lawn or garden is growing food, they’ll become a regular. Not many obstacles will stop them and the few that do, will probably become less effective over time. While citrus trees aren’t preferred by deer, it’s definitely still a popular food choice. So, what can you do if deer are eating and damaging your citrus trees?

While deer prefer other plants, they won’t hesitate to eat citrus leaves and fruit. The best way to repel deer from your citrus trees is to use fencing or a guard dog. While repellents and deer-resistant plants can also be effective, deer can adapt and will continue to eat the surrounding vegetation.

If you still have more questions like how can you tell it’s deer and not rabbits that are eating your citrus trees, along with other ways to deter them, read on and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Do Deer Eat Citrus Trees?

Deer will eat many kinds of citrus leaves and fruit, from Meyer lemons to grapefruit. While deer prefer plants like roses, blueberry bushes, and other gardening favorites, they’ll commonly eat citrus trees, especially if they’re short on food. They’ll also test foliage by taking a few bites before deciding to use it as a regular food.

Deer are known to munch on almost every variety of non-citrus fruit trees, so keep an eye out if you’re growing fruits other than citrus too. This includes most stone-fruit trees like apricots, plums, and peaches, along with apple trees.

Most often, deer will feed in the early-morning and late-evening, but can still be seen chopping on trees mid-day. Very few obstacles can keep them out and they’re often seen jumping over fences that are several feet tall.

What Kinds of Plants Do Deer Like Best?

As mentioned, deer enjoy roses, blueberry, and most fruit trees (including citrus), so it’s safe to say they prefer more aromatic plants. Other flowers and plants that have a pleasant scent are some of the first to be eaten by deer. Once those are gone, and the deer are hungry enough, they’ll often move onto the less appealing, and sometimes bitter plants.

While some gardeners grow fodder in a corner of their garden to divert the deer away from the rest of the plants, it can often have the reverse effect and invite the herd back for more. For best results, deer should be discouraged from feeding in your garden as soon as possible (more on this later).

What Kind of Damage Can Deer Cause to Plants?

If you don’t see deer, but suspect they’ve been in your garden, you usually can tell if you notice torn and jagged branches on your half-eaten citrus trees. Other animals like squirrels and rabbits will leave behind bites that are more clean-cut. You can also confirm it’s deer if you see hooveprints that have a cleft and are 2-3 inches long. Lastly, deer droppings are another way to tell they’ve been through the area.

New shoots and saplings are particularly vulnerable since they don’t have many leaves to spare. Deer prefer the tender new growth from saplings, and a loss of just a few leaves or branches could cripple or kill the plant. When plants are this young, it’s best to keep them indoors or fenced off well to prevent predators from getting to them (this also applied to goats, rabbits, squirrels, and some birds). Even a citrus tree that is several feet tall can lose most of its foliage from deer over the course of just a few days.

To add to the long list of things deer can do to your citrus trees, young bucks sometimes use them to help shed velvet from their antlers. Unfortunately, this can result in damaged trunks, broken branches, and knocked-over containers (if you have your citrus tree in a pot). You can avoid bucks scraping and damaging your trees by caging the young citrus until their foliage grows large enough to block the bucks from reaching the trunk.

Once deer see your garden as an easy way to get food, it’ll be hard to keep them away. But there are some methods that can partially, and sometimes completely deter them.

How to Stop Deer From Eating Your Citrus Trees

It’s tough to completely keep deer away, but we’re going to look at the best ways to do this, along with some alternatives. While some of these potential solutions aren’t for everybody, you’ll hopefully find one or two that will help your garden survive.

Repellents

Deer repellents have been around for a long time and typically involve using a scent or taste that deer dislike. Other times you can repel deer with a physical or loud device. Either way you go, know that deer can become used to any of these measures and learn to ignore them (especially if they’re hungry). However, these repellents can and have worked for many homesteaders, so trying them out is worth a shot.

Sprays

The most common type of deer repellent are sprays. These can be applied to any citrus tree and are often smelly or bitter tasting. While many sprays keep their ingredients under wraps, you can make your own homemade repellent using bad eggs and spicy peppers (be careful about applying directly on plants as it could damage them). Also, sprays from predators like coyote urine can work well. Whichever way you go, many sprays need to be reapplied once a week, especially if it rains or snows.

If you’d like a natural and effective deer repellent that won’t damage your citrus trees, check out Deer Out’s concentrate mix on Amazon.

Physical Repellents

Sometimes, using a physical distraction or an object to scare deer can prove useful. To do this, you could either tie reflective tape or ribbons on your citrus trees, have a large beach ball drift around your garden, or put your animatronic Santa Claus out early this year (kidding, although it may not be a bad idea).

Keep in mind deer will get used to objects quickly and tend to ignore them after a short time. So, if you can’t mix up the strategy every now and then, using objects like these might not work as well.

Noise Repellents

Motion detected speakers or alarms could work the same way as physical repellents, but they also have the same downside. While these could startle deer initially, if the deer are brave or hungry enough, it won’t matter and these efforts will largely go ignored. Remember “deer-resistant” does not mean “deer-proof”. Still, it could be worth a shot, especially if you already have the equipment.

Fencing

Fencing is by far the best solution to keep deer out of your garden and away from your citrus trees. The two types of fences that work best are wire-woven fences (that are 6-8 feet tall) and electric fences. While wire-woven fences cost more to install than electric fences, it does a better job at keeping deer out.

However, there are two major downsides to having a fence. First, if it’s short enough, deer can simply jump right over it. And second, they can be expensive. Especially compared to some of the other solutions listed on this post.

Deer can easily jump over a fence that is under 6 feet tall and access your garden and citrus trees like it’s a buffet. They can also crawl under the fence if you don’t secure it to the ground properly.

When it comes to electric fences, installing a high-tensile electric wire is the best choice due to it’s durability. It would likely withstand a good bump from a deer if it ran into it. When you have an electric fence, make sure to keep the surrounding area clear of vegetation. If it rains or snows, the wet plants touching the electric fence can quickly drain it of its voltage.

As a bonus, know that having a fence can greatly reduce crop theft and vandalism. A good fence can be a deterrent for more than just deer.

You should know that some Homeowner Associations don’t allow tall fences or hedges, so if you’re thinking about one of these solutions, consider contacting them before making a decision.

If you don’t want to install a fence, then putting a barrier or cage around your citrus and other plants will be the next best solution.

Guard Dog

Getting a guard dog to deter deer from your citrus trees is the second most effective method on this list. They can help keep deer, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, and many other citrus-eating pests out of your garden.

If you do decide to get a guard dog, installing a fence is likely a good idea to help make sure the dog doesn’t wander off.

While some dogs have a natural instinct to chase deer, others will simply roll-over for them. If you do get a dog to deter deer, it might be worth testing their behavior towards them first.

Deer-Resistant Plants

By planting deer-resistant plants around your citrus trees, you can repel deer with moderate success. It’s also one of the most cost-effective solutions on this list. Unlike beach balls and animatronic Santa Claus’, deer-resistant plants can actually keep your garden’s appearance up and not make it look like some strange summer-Santa party.

Some of the best deer-resistant plants to use are onions, nightshades, and bold-scented herbs like sage, oregano, rosemary, and mint. Some trees include fig, sugar maple, and honey locust.

Look for plants that are smelly, prickly, fuzzy, or poisonous (hopefully not too poisonous). If you have cats, dogs, or other domesticated animals on your property, consider that they may get into these plants as well, so some plants are probably best avoided.

Remember, deer have been known to eat almost any plant when their food source is limited (even ones they don’t like), so take deer-resistant plants with a grain of salt.

Hunting

While controversial, hunting to reduce the deer population that’s feeding on your citrus trees can be an effective solution, to say the least. However, there are cases where this isn’t the best option and can pose more of a risk than a solution.

On the other hand, if you have a license and it’s legal to hunt on your land, then this may be an option you’re interested in. If you have questions about hunting, consult your local wildlife conservation officer.

Final Thoughts

When growing citrus trees, keeping deer away could be one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. A solution that works for someone else might not work for you, and vise-versa.

While fences and guard dogs are some of the most effective deterrents for deer, try out a few of the other options that interest you as they could likely work. Repellents, deer-resistant plants, and even hunting can bring results where other solutions couldn’t. Last, try talking to your neighbors to see if they have any issues with deer and how they might deal with them. They might even have wackier ideas than I do.