Deer damage and pruning

britgardener(Z8)May 15, 2006

Hi all

My rhodies suffered severe damage this winter and all that remains in the way of leaf and bud is about the top 2-3 feet, where the deer can't reach. Now the thing is, this rhody is far too tall for my liking and needs to be reduced in height ... by about 2 - 3 feet. If I lob the top off - or reduce the height :) - it will leave very little in the way of foliage. Could a rhodie recover from such a pruning/ Obviously I don't want to kill the poor thing.


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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

If its otherwise healthy, yes, you can prune that severely if you must. Keep in mind it may not flower fully for you next season after cutting it back that hard.

When you have to cut into a branch below any leaf rosettes, look for faint rings on the bark which mark the ends of previous growth periods where there once were leaves. Careful inspection should reveal small bumps which are growth buds under the bark. Make your cuts just above the rings so that dormant buds below them will be stimulated into growth.

If you can't find any rings or dormant buds on bare branches, make your cuts where you must; later when new growth starts, remove stubs down to the new growth. Dormant buds should begin to grow within a month on smaller limbs, ten weeks on tall main trunks.

You might want to consider one of the deer repellents that work in your area (deer have different tastes, Bobbex and Plantskydd are good here), or you may be lowering next winters dinner to within their reach.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 10:47PM
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Thanks so much morz8. Yep, it's true, I could be helping the deer out for next year, but this year we seemed to be hit particulalry hard for some reason, and I'm hoping it was just a run of bad luck. Ah, to be forever hopeful.....or deluded ;)


    Bookmark   May 16, 2006 at 1:52PM
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pileated(z5 CT)

BritGardener, I'm looking for the same info you are. We bought our present property three years ago, partly because of the many dozens of 30 year old rhodies and azaleas, most of which are 8+ feet high and produce amazing blooms. There didn't seem to be any noticeable history of deer damage, but last year they began munching in late August and now all of our rhodies are mushroomed. We fenced in a few of the azaleas and have decided we really need to do this for all of the plants we want to protect. I've noticed tiny leaf buds on some of the plants, so hopefully they'll come back. We've gone through all the so-called deer repellants, with no luck at all---plus, in order to treat as many shrubs as we have we'd need a tanker truck of the stuff. My sense is that if your local deer learn they like rhodies/azaleas, and if their normal forage source is gone, they'll keep eating your plants. Especially if you prune them down, you're asking for trouble---you need to fence them in. We've had luck with both the metal and plastic kinds of fence (which we did think to use on our hemlock hedge when they attacked it 2 years ago), but they need to be 4-5 feet tall and well staked. (A cheap but not pretty method is to use rebar for stakes.) Individual plants can be surrounded by a fencing "cage." Also, there is a new repellant product out that supposedly smells/tastes like daffodils. I haven't found it yet, but will try it. My only fear with this is that our deer may decide they like this too and begin eating all our spring bulbs while they're at it! Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 9:32AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Deer problems usually just get worse. Mine started when we had some winters with long periods of deep snow. Now I must either use deer netting or deer fencing every winter.

You can cut rhododendrons back to stubs and they usually will come back. In your cases and because another deer attack could be terminal to a plant cut way back, I would recommend cutting the top down to where there are still leaves left. I would leave at least about a third of the leaves. Then when the dormant buds lower on the plant sprout and new leaves form, you can cut back to where you want it.

I am in a rural area and promote deer hunting. However, I know that the deer herd is way out of control. There is very little that can be done. The deer are dying from starvation in the winter and being hit by cars. There are so many deer dying in the woodlands that coyotes and vultures are establishing themselves in the area. Perhaps there is hope that a balance can be reached in the future.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 10:21AM
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JJeane(7/N Ga)

Our deer nibbled on a newly-planted rhododendron down by the creek - ate ALL the new leaves! My husband refilled his deer feeder and I mulched the rhodie with hair cut from my dog and hung a sock filled with left-over soap bars .... new growth started and the deer left the plant alone! It's now covered with leaves! When the deer get used to the dog hair and soap, I'll have to think up something else. I think having a supply of food also helped.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 9:16PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Feeding deer just brings in more deer. They are browsers so they are constantly nibbling when they move through. If they aren't too hungry, then they will avoid most any plant that has some deterrent such as soap or hair. By the way, dog hair is new to me. I know many people use human male hair.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 9:21PM
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Human hair eh? I wonder if I collected a bunch of hair from a barbers shop whether that would work? On second thoughts I would have to choose a low class joint where they dont wash the hair before cutting (yuck).

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 2:21PM
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