As a garden owner, I have always been fascinated by the wildlife that visits my backyard. One of the most common visitors I get is deer.
Deer are not known to regularly consume horse chestnuts, as these nuts contain aesculin, a compound that can be toxic to them.
However, deer may occasionally nibble on horse chestnut leaves or branches, but it is not a preferred food source. It is important to note that deer are opportunistic feeders and their diet can vary depending on the availability of other food sources in their habitat.
These beautiful creatures are a sight to behold, with their majestic antlers and graceful movements. But with their visits come some concerns, especially regarding the plants in my yard.
One of the plants that I have always been curious about is the horse chestnut tree. So, do deer eat horse chestnuts?
Let’s find out.
The Nuanced Answer
The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no. While deer do eat horse chestnuts, they don’t do it all the time.
Horse chestnuts, also known as conkers, are not a favorite food of deer. They are not as nutritious as other plants that deer prefer, such as acorns, apples, and clover.
When Do Deer Eat Horse Chestnuts?
Deer will eat horse chestnuts when they are hungry and have no other food sources available. This usually happens in the winter months when food is scarce.
In the fall, deer may also eat horse chestnuts as they prepare for the winter months.
How Do Deer Eat Horse Chestnuts?
Deer will typically eat the nuts of the horse chestnut tree. They may also eat the leaves and branches if they are very hungry.
However, horse chestnuts contain a toxic chemical called aesculin, which can cause digestive problems in deer if they eat too much.
How Often Do Deer Eat Horse Chestnuts?
Deer do not eat horse chestnuts regularly.
They will only eat them when they have no other food sources available.
Why Do Deer Eat Horse Chestnuts?
Deer will eat horse chestnuts as a last resort when other food sources are scarce. Horse chestnuts are not a preferred food source of deer, but they will eat them if they have to.
Implications for Backyard Owners
If you have a horse chestnut tree in your backyard, you don’t need to worry too much about deer eating it. As we have seen, deer only eat horse chestnuts when they have no other food sources available.
However, if you have other plants in your yard that are more appealing to deer, such as apple trees or clover, you may want to take precautions to protect them.
Other Animals That Might Eat Horse Chestnuts
While deer are the most likely animals to eat horse chestnuts, they are not the only ones.
Squirrels and other rodents may also eat horse chestnuts.
How Do I Protect My Yard From Deer?
There are several ways to prevent pests like deer from invading your backyard. I will go through my favorite methods here.
Many of these methods overlap with those used to deter groundhogs and gophers from a backyard, but the exact products and prioritized recommendations are different.
1. Motion-activated sprinklers
Like most animals, deer hate surprises, and they will run away if suddenly sprayed with water. I like this solution because it is humane, simple, effective, and does not require much time to set up and there are many models to choose from.
The Havahart 5277 is a motion-activated sprinkler that is activated by the movement of animals up to 25 feet away and sprays them with a harmless water jet, frightening them off and keeping them at bay.
The included metal stake makes it easy to install in your backyard, and the sprinkler can be rotated 180 degrees for maximum coverage.
These sprayers work particularly well for larger animals as they are easier to target and detect. They are also less prone to smaller stimuli but a splash of cold water is quite a substantial impact to them!
2. Ultrasonic Sound Emitters
Deer, as well as other animals that may invade your backyard, tend to have very good hearing. This means that loud or consistent noises will scare them away or at least shorten their visits significantly!
One of my favorite technologies to keep pests away from my backyard is these cool solar-powered ultrasonic sound emitters that you can buy right from Amazon!
In my experience, they really work, and the solar panels on top save you the time and money of changing batteries all the time.
3. Using Lights and Reflections
Deer are most active at dawn and dusk so they may avoid areas that have bright lights. Motion-activated lights, sounds, and sprinklers may help prevent deer from entering your yard.
Placing CDs or tin foil and mirrors around your yard is another cheap and effective way to create light reflections that blind and scare deer away from your tomatoes.
This may sound a little old-fashioned but it still works! The reflective surface of CDs or tin foil drives deer crazy and will make them seek away from your plants.
You can use old CDs you no longer need or aluminum trays from takeaway containers, just make sure they reflect light well.
If you have a lot of plants to protect this way, it may be a good idea to invest in some commercial mirrors or electronic light emitters like the ones shown above.
4. Build a Fence
The most obvious and practical solution to protecting your plants from deer is to install a fence around the patch. A fence should be at least 6 feet tall and sunk in the ground about 8 inches.
The best fencing material for this purpose is a cattle panel or hog panel as they are very sturdy and can withstand even quadruped animals such as goats, cows, and deer.
However, most chicken fencing types will do. This will be strong enough to stop them from getting through while still allowing for airflow and sunlight.
If you don’t like the idea of building a fence around your entire onion patch then you can try fencing off only the area that your onions, tomatoes, or zucchinis are in; this will at least keep some of the deer, groundhogs or gophers away from them.
5. Using Hot Pepper Or Garlic Spray
This is a good way to protect your vegetable plants or decorative flowers against pests such as gophers, rabbits, groundhogs, and deer. It will also protect your backyard against the neighbor’s cat that thinks it is fine to use your vegetable garden as a toilet.
You only need about 1 tablespoon of crushed chili pepper and garlic along with 1 cup of vinegar per half a gallon of water.
Spray this mixture on any exposed parts of the plant until completely covered. Make sure you reapply whenever rain washes away the spray.
6. Use Deer Deterring Companion Plants
Instead of making a tincture out of strongly smelling plants, you can also just plant the plants themselves!
Companion planting is a good way of deterring animals like deer from your garden. You can plant strong-smelling plants such as garlic, basil, lavender, and chives around your favorite vegetables.
These plants will keep animals like deer, gophers, and mice away because they don’t like the smell of these and they mask the smell of the delicious plants.
7. Use Deer Repellents
You can use some of the commercially available repellents to protect your vegetable plants against deer, gophers, and other animals eating your tomatoes.
You will need to be careful when using these though because some of them can end up harming you and your pets if not applied properly. Some of the commercial deer repellents available include Shake-Away, Bonide Repels All, Critter Ridder, and Tom Cate Repellent.
Green Screen is my favorite one as it comes in small bags that you place around your tomato plants. It is safe and easy to use with all edible plants in your garden!
Watch how Farmer Dean uses the Green Screen repellent to keep away deer from his tomatoes in this video:
In conclusion, deer do eat horse chestnuts, but they do so infrequently. Horse chestnuts are not a preferred food source for deer, but they will eat them if they have to.
If you have a horse chestnut tree in your backyard, you don’t need to worry too much about deer eating it. However, if you have other plants that are more appealing to deer, you may want to take precautions to protect them.