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I planted a bunch of Arborvitae in my yard and last winter the deer ate the bottom portion of 2 or 3 of them. I did some Googling to see if they'd grow back, and while most sources say that they will if there's any green left, none of them said whether they'd grow back to a normal shape or how long it would take.

Has anyone had success with Arborvitaes that have been chewed on growing back normal?

EDIT: Added some pictures. Also, I'm planning on fencing in the yard, so I'm not so much worried about further damage as I am the trees not growing right. I'd rather take them out now if I have to so they'll look at least half way close to the others in the row.

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  • It would help to know what size/how tall the trees are, and how bad the damage was. Can you post some pictures? That would be great. – J. Musser Jul 1 '14 at 18:39
  • It's dark out now, I'll try to post some picts tomorrow if I get a chance – user1146334 Jul 2 '14 at 2:07
  • Thanks for the photos. It looks like the deer didn't go past the growth line, and the plants can recover well. – J. Musser Jul 3 '14 at 1:44
  • Why are you complaining? Your deers are talented pon-pon makers, better than many people... – VividD Nov 9 '17 at 18:39
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The pictures help a lot. These trees were eaten back, but not too far for a good recovery. The fastest way to get them looking normal will be shearing. Shear back the areas the deer didn't hit, and while you're at it, you can do the others, to match. Do not cut past the growth line, where there are plenty of green stems to regrow from. Also, don't cut the terminal growth.

This will put the plant into 'grow-back' mode, and it will grow from the newly sheared parts as well as the deer-sheared parts. Shearing will also make the hedge denser and stronger.

Edit: Most coniferous evergreens have a growth line. It is characterized, by a noticeable drop in green vegetation, and a thicker stem diameter. This is the point on the branches where the viable growth buds are. Inside that line, the branches will not regrow well, if at all, when cut. It is safe to shear from the growth line out.

The terminal growth is the apex, or top of the plant. Most conifers do not like this growth to be cut, unless you know what you are doing and go back to the right bud.

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    What are the "growth line" and "terminal growth"? – user1146334 Jul 3 '14 at 14:06
  • @user1146334 see updated answer. – J. Musser Jul 4 '14 at 19:20
  • A suggestion for further protection should be mentioned here. Alas, ugly physical barriers such as chicken wire often prove most effective. I know, I know, that negates the whole reason for a such a beautiful planting of cedars. Perhaps a spray of capsicum? – Brenn Feb 13 '17 at 2:31
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Cedars or arborvitae can take a lot of damage by pruning or being eaten. As you have found on the web even severely damaged trees will grow back but the question is how long will it take. I see cedar hedges that have been topped, about the worst thing you could do to an evergreen, after two or three years you would not know. The real question is what can you do that prevents further damage again in the future? Deer are hungry in the winter and where they have had a snack once they will return.

Check this answer here for methods to control deer. Usually a fence of some sort is needed. If you can fence the area then by simply watering and fertilizing your cedars most of them will come back in two or three years.

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    I've seen arborvitaes with lower branch damage take forever to grow back, even on a healthy plant, because the tree was more concerned with putting energy into the apex (especially extremely columnar cultivars). Depending how bad the damage is, it may not regrow properly without some pruning and detail work on the damage. I agree that helping the tree is pointless if they can't stop the deer. – J. Musser Jul 1 '14 at 22:48
  • Maybe if a fence wouldn't work (I can see that with an evergreen screen, but not sure if that's how they were arranged) They could replant with an anti-deer-food species :) – J. Musser Jul 1 '14 at 22:53
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I have the same problem with my arborvitae's being eaten by deer. Mine are behind a 4 1/2 ft. chain link fence as part of a privacy barrier. There are six of them in the corner of my lot and unfortunately the deer reach their heads over the fence and eat the top portions. Their is a device on the market that is battery powered called "Predator Guard". It uses a small red led sized light and can be mounted on a fence or stake at the eye height of the animal you are trying to deter. The theory is that animals interpret the red eye of the light as another predator and will interpret danger and stay away. I know some farmers in the area that use these small devices to repel coyotes from livestock areas. Should work for deer as they are prey species. Not too bright to annoy the neighbor and no loud sounds. Also works on raccoons, possums and other vermin. Check on amazon or other websites. Also ammonia soaked rags hung on fence or stakes will deter any species that relies on scent such as deer. These will have to be changed every time it rains though. Deer in cold climates will be a particular problem to these evergreens as they are a readily available source of vitamin c for them. Just a couple of suggestions I have tried that have been successful.

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I'm late to the discussion here but we have three of these shrubs that the deer ate uniformly on during the winter a few years ago. That next Spring the growth returned but the neighbors thought we'd pruned them into a "phallic" shape. No, the deer did that as we laughed hysterically. The neighborhood actually called them "the penis shrubs". Lol!

They eventually regrew into fairly normal looking shrubs but this last winter the deer ate the bottom four feet so now they look like shrubs with tree trunks. {Sigh]

Ours are alive and about 18' tall now but they have "character". :)

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