Deer will eat almost anything when their favorite food sources run out…including all species of evergreens. Pine tend to be the first to go [higher sugar content in the needles], then firs due to their large, soft needles, and spruces tend to be last [pungens is latin for “sharp”. In truth, virtually no evergreens are safe when a deer is really hungry.
It is generally best to first choose evergreen species which are suitable for the area in which you intend to plant, because trees ill-suited to the location will probably not be around long enough to bother protecting. Our evergreen tree buyers guide is a good place to start. Once you’ve made wise species selections, you can then develop a plan to protect them from deer.
Protecting young evergreen trees from deer damage
Once the trees are several feet tall, deer browsing damage is generally not fatal, but it will set the trees back a year or two. To assist the trees through this vulnerable time, you can buy deer repellents such as synthetic coyote urine or other chemical deterrents [Plantskydd], or you can put a home-made tube of chicken wire over the tree and stake it down…but that is a lot of work.
An interesting nugget of deer repellent wisdom that I heard about from another nurseryman recently is that deer do not like the strong artificial fragrances found in many consumer products, particularly scented dryer sheets. So yes, what I am suggesting is tying a dryer sheet around the trunk of each tree, or on a stake driven into the ground next to each tree. If you have had problems with deer and find that this solution works, please let us know! This winter I will probably do an informal test in the woods behind our nursery on some species of native woody plants which are constantly being browsed by deer.
Sometimes it is best to “harvest and temporarily store” the deer in a climate controlled cooler and add the protein to your diet, if you catch my drift.