Yes, but never the whole shrub. Still this is no reason to avoid growing roses in your yard. You can protect your precious rose flowers if you go about it properly.
Rosebushes are sweet, but they only eat the tender new growth and leaves. Naturally, this is where the rosebuds form, hence so many gardeners complaints about never getting to enjoy their roses blooms. So, you will have no blooms this season when the deer have nipped that young stem growth in the late spring – unless you’ve planted reblooming cultivars, and are on top of the deer repellent regime.
Spraying after the fact is a huge part of many gardener’s deer dilemma. Some perennials and annuals will recover from early browsing damage, repair the canopy and pump out blooms anyway. But flowering woody plants – shrubs and trees whose stems harden with maturity are a different beast altogether, and roses belong to this category.
Spray new growth to enjoy your roses, and do it early. They won’t bother the rest of the plant. Just spray the entire plant heavily when the first leaves start emerging, and spray it again lightly once a week for the first month, making sure to mist all new growth on the top and sides. This will teach the deer that though it smells divine from afar, it tastes awful, and they’ll be less interested in it. Continue spraying on the time table recommended on your deer repellent label directions.
Of course, the spray you’re using needs to have some staying power. If it won’t hold up to a heavy rain, you need to find a better deer repellent. Look for one that does not wash off once the application has dried. Be sure to investigate how long it has lasted for others before investing in yet another disappointing product. Unless you’re ready to go out there and respray after every spring rain, and if you’ve got an automatic sprinkler system this will translate to spraying every day.
This is how you protect roses from being eaten by deer. It works great for us. We spray every week for the first month or so of the new growing season, and the deer go elsewhere to graze until wild abundance starts drying up in the fall. Then they return to the garden to see what’s good for devouring, but we’re ahead of them now… we’re hip to their pattern and begin spraying according to the label directions in early October. But, this regime may not work for everyone as far as not having to spray throughout the summer, especially in a suburban or urban environment, or in a drought year where there is less ‘wild’ for your local deer population to survive on. It does work a charm in a rural spot even with heavy deer traffic – sitting in their migration path to and from the nearby watering hole.
The key is to get that repellent on there as the new year’s foliage starts appearing, and keep at it while the plant is filling in and creating new growth. When all parts of the rose bush are woody the thorns have hardened the barbs are too sharp even for deer to eat safely.
By the way, if something ate your entire rose bush, it was probably rabbits. We fence our roses off for winter to protect them from hungry bunnies… but unfortunately this won’t protect them from mice and voles! At least if you’ve grown own-root roses the plant will grow back again in it’s original cultivar from the roots should conditions allow these smaller plantivores to mow down on your beloved bushes.