Because it generally withstands deer nibbling, laurel (Prunus and other spp.) is often a good choice for low-maintenance yards maintained by busy moms. If, however, you are seeing signs of deer damage and wondering whether your laurels will recover, don’t worry: they likely will. If the destruction gets bad enough, you can try several techniques.
Several types of laurel exist, not all of them in the Prunus genus. The most common is probably English or cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), usually thriving in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 8. Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10, and is sometimes called cherry laurel as well. Like members of the Prunus genus, unrelated mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is evergreen and hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Although cherry laurel is sometimes damaged by deer, it usually isn’t. Mountain laurel may be in greater danger, since from time to time deer do severely damage it. Usually they do so by eating bark, leaves and tender shoots, especially in springtime, but they can also cause damage by rubbing their antlers against the trunk. Since laurels tolerate pruning and shearing so well, they won’t have any trouble bouncing back if deer nibble them. However, if your deer problem gets bad enough, they may not get the time they need to regrow, which could be a more serious issue.
If you think something might be eating your laurel, the first thing to do is determine if the problem is actually caused by deer. Deer and rabbits are often confused, so check for the breakage point, where stems or leaves were removed from the tree. If the cut is clean and at a 45-degree angle, rabbits are most likely the problem. If it is jagged and torn, the blunt teeth of a deer are probably responsible. Anything higher than 2 feet is also indicative of deer, as are characteristic barkless patches on trunks and branches.
The simplest and easiest way to keep deer out of your yard is to build a fence. Because they can jump fairly high, the most effective fences are at least 6 feet tall, but 8 feet is better. If your garden is at the bottom of a slope, you should build it even higher: perhaps 10 or 11 feet. Other techniques for warding off deer include hanging perforated plastic bags on affected trees, containing strong-smelling substances such as soap or human hair. Mountain lion urine is also commercially available, and sometimes has good results.