Deer jumped over my fence and ate all the leaves off my rhododendrons this winter. Can I expect the leaves to grow back, or should I replace these shrubs?
Answer: Chances are good that your rhododendrons will recover. Make sure that they are not further stressed by abnormally dry conditions; provide them supplemental water during dry spells. Make sure there’s one to three inches of mulch around them, which will help keep moisture in the soil.
You’re probably also wondering what you can do to prevent the deer from doing this again—and it will be important to stop them next winter, because a rhododendron stressed two years in a row is less likely to recover. As you may know there are numerous deer-repelling sprays on the market. Some gardeners have success with these, or with homemade sprays using a mixture of eggs, dish soap and hot sauce. Other gardeners hang moth balls, strong-smelling soap (in particular, Life Buoy) or mesh bags of human hair from branches.
The most effective deer deterrent is a fence—but it must be at least 8 feet tall, or else the deer will jump right over, as you’ve experienced. Alternatively, you could try draping deer netting over your rhododendrons next fall. Remove it in spring before the shrubs begin to bloom.