All yews are poisonous to deer, moose, and elk, although some species contain lower levels of the toxin. Even so, yews are surprisingly a target for deer in winter when other food is scarce. Deer can cause severe damage to yews by stripping foliage and twigs from the entire portion of the plant that is within reach. It is unsightly, but yews are often able to recover from this damage because they produce buds on old wood. Cases of yew poisoning in winter-foraging deer have unfortunately been reported. Rabbits are not an issue for yews in winter, as the plant is unappealing and toxic to these small animals.
According to Rutgers University, this plant is Frequently Severely Damaged on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged. Only a few dozen other plants share this highest rating of deer appeal, among them hostas, tulips, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Luckily, there are multiple ways to deter or block deer feeding on yews. These include repellent sprays, granular applications, as well as more intensive interventions like fencing or burlap.
Keeping Deer Away From Yews
In winter, hungry deer will reliably find food sources that they can access. Planting less appealing plants in a perimeter around yews and other tasty plants could redirect roaming deer. However, this is not a fool-proof method. Repellent can help to keep deer away. This is often a foul-smelling concoction that must be reapplied about every few weeks or after significant precipitation. Finally, wrapping yews in burlap or installing a protective fence around the plants is the strongest means of protection from winter deer damage.
Will Yews Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
Yews can often recover well after deer damage occurs. Yews have latent buds along the stem and respond to shearing with a flush of new growth. Each spring following deer damage, assess the damage and prune the yew to even out the form or mask the damage. Yews have buds all along the woody tissue of stems. Once these buds are exposed to sunlight, they will respond and grow. Apply a complete, slow-release fertilizer in spring according to label directions, and consider applying more organic mulch around the base of the yews. These care practices will encourage healthy new growth.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018
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Author Angela Ryczkowski - Published 4-10-2023