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Do deer eat Japanese Maples? Deer are infamous for munching on tree leaves as though they were intentionally planted as a midnight snack. If you’ve ever had an issue with local deer clearing your tree branches to the point that your yard looks like it’s the middle of January, you may very well be inclined to replace your trees with deer-resistant varieties. 

Maple trees are a popular choice, so it’s only natural for you to wonder, do deer eat Japanese maples? And if you’re an animal lover, you may also want to know whether Japanese Maple trees harm deer. 

Do Deer Eat Japanese Maple Trees?

Generally speaking, deer don’t eat Japanese Maple trees. However, if Japanese Maples naturally grow in your area, your local deer may have acquired a taste for these trees. 

Even though Japanese Maples are said to be deer-resistant, no tree is entirely deer-proof. If a wild animal is hungry enough, it’ll eat anything. That said, your maple trees should be fine with a few considerations. 

The gorgeous Crimson Queen Tree (Acer palmatum var. dissectum)

Are Deer Attracted to Japanese Maple Trees?

Japanese Maple trees have tiny flowers that don’t attract insects. However, songbirds will be drawn to the flowers, and small animals, such as squirrels, will munch on the seeds.

Fortunately, deer are another story. Japanese Maple trees won’t lead deer into your yard, but they may be attracted to other trees and plants you grow. Although deer aren’t attracted to Japanese Maples, these trees provide a great source of nutrients for deer, especially in the spring.

Deer aren’t very picky, but they naturally prefer some trees and plants over others. While deer aren’t very keen on eating Japanese Maple, they enjoy some other maple varieties, including Red and Sugar maples.

Telltale Signs of Deer Damage

Damage to a young tree’s trunk caused by antler rubbing

Even though it’s unlikely that deer will damage your Japanese Maple, it could happen if they’ve come to enjoy the taste of the leaves and bark. Also, deer love some maple varieties, so it’s a good idea to stay one step ahead and identify whether deer are the culprit behind your maple tree damage.

Antler Rubbing 

Since trees are your concern, the best way to know if deer are eating your maple trees is to look for telltale antler rubbing. Male deer will rub their antlers across the bark, creating vertical scrapes and leaving behind shredded bark

Deer Browsing

Deer lack upper incisors, so they cannot tear leaves as other animals can cleanly. Instead, they yank and rip the leaves and stalks, leaving behind identifiable jagged tears. 

Signs That Deer Have Been In Your Yard

Various animal tracks to identify wild garden visitors

To make it clear, just because deer have been stopping by to visit or passing through doesn’t necessarily mean that they are behind your maple tree damage. Squirrels and other small rodents are much more likely to eat Japanese Maple.

However, you can easily tell where a deer has been by their heart-shaped tracks and clumped pellet-like droppings. 

Can Deer Eat Japanese Maple, or Is It Poisonous?

Japanese Maple trees aren’t toxic to deer, humans, cats, or dogs. Some Japanese dishes even include leaves for garnishment or a unique flavor. So, deer can safely consume as much of this tree as they’d like. It’s a good thing that deer don’t seem to prefer Japanese Maples! 

However, if you are a horse owner, you may want to chop down your Japanese Maple trees as they are highly toxic to horses. Signs of horse toxicity include red or brown urine and loss of appetite. It’s recommended to fence your horses away from maple trees and wilted leaves.

Deer-Resistant Varieties of Maple Trees

Aside from the Japanese Maple, which is considered deer resistant, there are a few other varieties of Maple trees that are said to be deer-resistant, such as the Paperbark Maple, Vine Maple, and the Variegated box elder

Paperbark Maple

The recognizable peeling bark of the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

The Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) is a small slow-growing tree with exfoliating bark. It’s an excellent choice for a deer-resistant tree, but it’s often costly due to difficulty in propagation.

Vine Maple

Colorful Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) foliage turning orange and yellow in the fall

The Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) is native to California and more of a shrub than a tree. Also known as Pacific Fire, this deer-resistant maple has become famous for its beautiful bright red shoots.

Variegated Box Elder

The variegated box elder, Acer negundo

The name Variegated box elder sounds misleading, but this gorgeous tree is indeed a member of the maple family and is deer resistant. Native to the northeast, this tree boasts beautiful green leaves tinged with irregular white patterns. 

Maples That Are Not Deer Resistant

Of course, it’s worth mentioning the maple varieties that aren’t deer resistant. Deer love the taste of:

  • Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
  • Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – Michigan DNR mentions that Red Maple has red twigs and reddish rounded buds and is better deer food.

So you may want to avoid planting these if deer are plentiful in your area. 

How to Protect Your Maple Trees From Deer

Even though it’s unlikely that deer will eat your Japanese Maple trees, it has been known to happen occasionally. If you want to take precautions, you can use an organic deer repellent or create your own by mixing garlic, eggs, and cayenne pepper.

Alternatively, you can protect your trees and shrubs by building a six to eight-foot tall deer fence or installing motion-detectable outdoor lighting directed toward the trees you want to protect.

Since human scent naturally deters deer, you can try placing soap shavings or strands of human hair around your trees, but this strategy works better for protecting gardens. 

Verdict: Is Japanese Maple Deer Resistant?

Japanese Maple trees are indeed considered to be deer-resistant, but they definitely aren’t deer-proof. Deer are known to seldom cause severe damage to Japanese Maples, but they have been known to eat younger trees and even destroy the trees with their antlers. 

Fortunately, this rarely happens, so you have no reason to worry. Deer are beautiful and majestic animals that need to eat like any other creature. While your heart may want to treat them to a snack, the damage to your garden, trees, and shrubs can become costly.

However, it’s possible to peacefully coexist with deer by practicing deer-friendly gardening techniques, choosing deer-resistant plants, and taking an organic approach to protecting your trees.

Keep reading!

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