Deer may remind you of an iconic childhood cartoon, Bambi, but a real life herd will see your garden as a feast of delicious plants and flowers. If your beautiful garden is decimated by a herd of white tailed deer, you might jump on the computer and research how to deer proof your landscape. The number one thing to realize is that there is no such thing as a deer proof landscape. If deer are hungry enough they will eat anything but they prefer narrow leaf evergreens and fleshy, water filled plants like Hostas, Daylilies and Hydrangeas. Deer don’t usually eat thorny shrubs like roses or barberry, but they are known to nibble the new growth because it’s still soft and palatable. Deer routinely browse vegetation 5-6 feet off of the ground and are mostly nocturnal feeders. Bucks can weigh 250-300 pounds and consume about 4-10 pounds of food, per day, on their vegetarian diet. They typically have their offspring in May-August so you can expect the population to rise in the summer. In the winter deer become desperate for food and they will turn to plants they typically leave alone earlier in the year. The only options for defense are planting strategies, installation of fencing (8’ minimum suggested), and commercial deer repellents (taste and odor based).
Installing deer resistant landscape plants is the best way to manage browsing damage on your property. Deer are very particular when it comes to what plants they like to eat and implementing a specific planting strategy can direct them elsewhere in search of food. Deer tend to stay away from trees such as American Holly, Birch, Corkscrew Willow, Pitch Pine and Red Pine. Some deer resistant shrubs include Boxwood, Caryopteris, Japanese Plum Yew, Microbiota, Heather, and Osmanthus. You can bring color to your garden without sacrificing flowers to hungry deer. Deer find perennials such as Ligularia, Bleeding Hearts, Catmint, Astilbe and Russian Sage unappetizing. Ornamental grasses are usually left alone because deer don’t like the texture. Some good specimens for your deer resistant garden are Big/Little Blue Stem, Hakonechloa, and Fountain Grass.
Deer fencing can be expensive but is probably the only option for large tracts of land. The fence must be installed with proper footings and should be cleared of debris around the immediate area. This prevents the deer from jumping over and digging underneath the fence. It is recommended that the fence be at least 8 feet high, which could be considered unsightly in some settings.
Commercial deer repellents are plentiful and selecting an adequate product can be confusing because of all the different ingredients and mixtures. An untreated garden can become a buffet for this woodland pest. Deer are deterred by strong fragrances and what they consider to be foul tastes. Repellents can be costly and should be applied directly to the plants every few weeks to ensure effectiveness. Some irrigation companies even offer an inline system that will distribute a repellent during watering. It is important to know what smells and tastes deer hate most to get the most bang for your buck. Look for natural repellents with ingredients that include putrid eggs, fish oil, garlic, hot pepper or some combination thereof. Bitrex is the common name for Denatonium Benzoate which is the most bitter chemical compound known to exist and is mixed with these commercial repellents. You can shop online for a brand that fits your budget, but you might need to try several to find out what works best for the deer on your property.
With an arsenal packed full of planting strategies, deer fencing and deer repellents, your landscape may stand a chance against deer browsing and cause them to look elsewhere for their sustenance.
Written by Nick Onesto