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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - January 16, 2010

From: Sussex, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Deer Resistant
Title: Pruning Holly after Deer Browse
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Deer have been eating my Holly Bushes. Can I prune now in January? I live in the North of New Jersey. Will they come back fuller? I just planted them in spring last year. How can I get them fuller

ANSWER:

How you deal with this issue really depends on what type of holly you are talking about as well as how extensive the damage is.  We cannot give you any specific advice without seeing the actual plants, so you are really better off seeking advice from an experienced neighbor, county extension service or local garden center. 

As you have seen first hand, when deer are hungry they will eat even prickly, tough holly leaves.  And they love the tender new ones that the tree or shrub regenerates even more.  They are creatures of habit and once they have found something they like, they will come back for more.  So it is likely that they will be back for the fresh growth in the spring.  However,that also means that if you can convince them that your plants are not worth eating, they will skip your property on their nightly rounds. 

It is not a good idea to prune the plants now.  Pruning stimulates growth and if you have early warm weather followed by a freeze you could have new growth too early that would subsequently freeze, causing even more damage to the plant.

There are many, many deer deterrent methods and there are a number of plants that deer prefer over others.  For some reason they are region specific and somewhat hit and miss so again, we recommend you consult a local expert.  Your county extension service will be able to provide a list of plants that are somewhat less palatable to the deer in your area and some suggestions on what deer deterrent methods people in your area have had more success with.

You can take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone with this problem ... I have had deer eat  plants in my gardens in New Jersey, Texas and Ontario!

 

 

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