Plan a Deer Resistant Garden

Outsmart Bambi and Save Your Garden

…Want to have a deer resistant garden? Living in deer country means you have to find ways to outsmart those pesky foragers.

You can fence your property, and hope that will keep them out. Deer can easily jump a 7-foot fence or squirm through a 6-inch gap. If the plants look tempting to them, deer will try to find a way to get to them — and most likely will succeed.

This means you have to find ways to outsmart them. One way is to plant deer-resistant plants.Be aware, however, that these so-called deer resistant plants can be regional. What deer in Washington or California avoid may be tasty to deer in Ontario or New Hampshire. And if they are hungry enough or if food is scarce, deer will devour almost anything.

Does that mean there is no chance of having a deer resistant garden? Absolutely not.

deer resistant garden

Protecting Your Garden

Protection is the first step. If you want to keep your landscaping looking good, you have to find ways to protect your plants. Tree wraps, netting, fencing and chemical repellents are the most common methods, and can be used singly or in combination. Because deer avoid strong smells and bad tastes, spraying plants with repellents can be a very successful tactic.

Commercial products are available, including ones that smell like cougar urine. Deer are scaredy-cats, so if they get even a whiff of a predator they will avoid the area. Another common one contains the sulphurous compounds that are in rotten eggs.

However, there are home remedies that will work as well, made with fish fertilizer, hot sauce, eggs and soap. Here’s one home recipe for a repellent that works:

Deer Repellent:

  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup of buttermilk, milk, or yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons of hot sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon of liquid dish soap
  • 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 15 drops of cinnamon oil – optional
  • 2 Teaspoons of finely crushed garlic – optional”

Blend all the ingredients together until there are no lumps, and allow the mixture to sit for a few days. Strain it through an old panti-hose. Add it to a gallon of water, and spray it on. Reapply these sprays in about 10 days, or after rain.

If you have favorite plants that you know deer love, you can protect them by surrounding them with chicken wire or deer netting. The latter is a fine but strong black plastic net, with 1-inch openings. It can be draped over plants or supported by upright posts. Because it is black, it is almost invisible unless you are close.

You can also intersperse strongly scented herbs throughout the garden. The strong scents will confuse their sense of smell and discourage them from browsing. Include artemisia, lemon thyme, rosemary, mints, or lavender among your other plants for a deer resistant garden.

Scare Tactics

Another tactic is to scare deer. As I’ve said, deer are scaredy-cats, so any unusual or new situations will get them to bound away — at least until they get used to it! Some people suggest putting a loud radio in the garden or a motion-detecting device that triggers a high-pitched warning, a floodlight or a jet of water. These will generally work, and give you a deer resistant garden… unless the deer are very hungry.

Plan a Deer Resistant Garden

There is no such thing as a deer-proof garden, since hungry deer will devour almost any plant they can reach. Even throughout the year when food is plentiful, they will nibble on some of the common deer-resistant plants. Keep in mind that plants labeled “Deer-resistant” are those that are only rarely munched on… so far!

I had 3 years of gorgeous unprotected dahlias in my garden – all colors and sizes. I was sure deer found them unpalatable, so didn’t protect them. Then in the fourth year, the deer demolished all of them! 

It takes only one instance of finding your favorite plants munched to the ground to change your mind about having these pesky and persistent animals around your yard. Even suburban homes are susceptible to deer invasions, and suburban deer are more used to humans so even bolder than their rural cousins.

But it is possible to have a garden that is deer resistant.

Deer, like us, have preferred foods, and they include many of our favorites – roses, daylilies, hostas, and tulips. They can strip a vegetable garden bare overnight or destroy new fruit trees that are not protected by tall strong fencing. So unless you are willing to cage or fence all your plants, it is better to make some alternate planting choices for a deer resistant garden.

Many ornamental plants which were once considered medicinal are prime choices for deer-resistant plantings. Some of these have poisonous properties, while others are strongly scented or have leaves that are unpalatable.

In general deer avoid eating coarse, fuzzy or spiny plants with strong aromas, especially minty or lemony ones.

Here are some possible choices of plants to include in your deer resistant garden, to save you from utter frustration:

Bulbs: Daffodils, snowdrops, ornamental onions, grape hyacinth.

Annuals: Ageratum, larkspur, lantana, gaillardia, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, California poppies and dusty miller

Biennials and Perennials: Achillea, alliums, monkshood, hellebore, Russian sage, lavender, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, dianthus, penstemon, delphiniums, iris, foxglove, rudbeckia echinacea and bleeding heart.

Groundcovers: Ajuga, periwinkle, berengia, St. John’s wort, lamium, sedums and snow-in-summer.

Vines: clematis, Boston ivy, wisteria, trumpet vine, morning glory.

Shrubs: Buddleia, barberry, American box, ceanothus, dogwood, fragrant daphne, forsythia, mahonia, mock orange, rhodendrons, rugosa roses, syringa, and weigela.

Keep in mind that these plants are deer-resistant, not deer-proof. Any small or new plantings are likely to be browsed or pulled out of the ground as deer experiment with their taste.

A curious deer easily damages young trees and shrubs until they are mature enough to come back from the occasional browsing. Plants ignored in one region may be eaten in another, and plants that have been ignored for years may suddenly be the favorite food this year. Be patient enough to find out the tastes of your local deer.  Then plant your deer resistant garden accordingly.

Another choice, of course is to surround one section of your property with a strong 7-foot fence, as we did, and keep the tasty plants inside it. Leave the rest wild, with existing shrubs and grasses for the deer to browse on. After all, the deer were there first.

If you can learn to co-exist with them by planning a deer resistant garden, planting appropriate plants and protecting others, then it’s a win-win situation.

 

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