If you garden around deer, you understand how difficult it can be to create a garden that is visually pleasing to people while at the same time being as unappealing as possible to deer. We all know the best strategy for keeping deer out of our gardens and away from our plants is to erect a deer fence. But let’s face it, that is not an option for every gardener, either from a financial or an aesthetic standpoint.
If Only Deer Could Read
While lists of deer resistant plants abound, they are only so helpful. First of all, the deer don’t read them. They don’t know that plants like lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) are widely touted as being deer resistant. All are recent deer favorites in my garden. That’s another inherent problem with lists of deer-resistant plants, what’s deer resistant in my garden might not be in yours. And vice versa. Finding the right deer-resistant plants for your garden is truly a case of trial and error.
The best advice I can offer, regardless of where you garden, is to start off with a palette of deer-resistant plants for your region and then pay close attention. A great place to find a list of locally deer-resistant plants is at your independent garden center or check with your local Cooperative Extension office.
There are so many factors that influence ‘browsability’ of plants, including the time of the year, extreme weather conditions and the taste buds of your deer. Knowing a little bit about deer and their likes and dislikes can go a long way towards helping you create a deer-resistant garden.
Keep ‘Em Guessing
◊ Deer are creatures of habit. More than likely, they enter and exit your garden at the same points and follow the same general path around it each time. That means a deer-resistant plant located on a known deer pathway may see more damage than the same plant located elsewhere in your garden. Take notes about what’s happening in your garden and transplant deer favorites if needed.
◊ Deer seem to like plants that have been over-fertilized. According to some scientists, deer are attracted to the excess nitrogen in some plants. Rather than adding all sorts of extra fertilizers to over-stimulate your plants, simply top dress with compost once a year to provide your plants with the balanced nutrition they need.
◊ Deer do not like to navigate grade changes in a garden. They dislike anything that affects their footing or hinders a quick getaway. Use berms, terracing and steps to deal with natural slopes in your garden. Make it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for the deer to cruise around your garden.
◊ There are certain times of the year when deer browsing is especially intense so you’ll need to be extra vigilant. These include times of drought (deer get almost 1/3 of their water from the moisture in plants), heavy snow coverage (when deer can’t access their usual food sources they often turn to typically resistant plants to survive), and spring when plants are pushing out new growth.
◊ ‘Hide’ deer candy among deer-resistant plants. This seems to work best if you use highly fragrant deer-resistant plants, like herbs. I have to admit I’ve had limited success with this strategy, but I know gardeners who use this camouflaging technique all the time.
◊ It can be more difficult to protect perennials than shrubs or trees, so design your garden with as many shrubs and trees as possible. Simply limbing up susceptible trees out of deer browsing range, typically about 5′ – 6′ off of the ground, can greatly expand your plant options. This is an especially effective strategy if you are a wildlife gardener who plants fruiting tree to attract birds, such as crabapples, service berries or hawthorns.
◊ As you’re waiting for newly planted perennials and shrubs to fill in, fill gaps with deer-resistant annuals. Teach deer early on that there’s nothing yummy in your garden.
A Last Resort
And here’s another tip that probably is not for everyone (kind of like a fence) but it seems to work. Install a cattle grate at the entrance to your driveway. This one, that from a distance looks very similar to the ubiquitous Belgian block aprons seen in this area of southwestern Connecticut, protects a 5-acre property that is full of deer goodies. The property is surrounded be a deer fence so the only access point for deer is straight down the driveway.
Since deer hate to walk on uneven surfaces, the cattle grate keeps them away from delicacies like apple, pear and cherry trees. Not to mention a lush veggie garden and plethora of plants that will never be found on anyone’s list of deer-resistant plants.
For more tips on creating a deer resistant garden, especially for your west coasters, check out Gen Schmidt’s post, Putting Your Deer on a Diet.
So tell me…what strategies for deterring deer work in your garden?
Before you leave, don’t forget to check out my post on Deer Off deer repellent. If you’d like to be eligible to win a free bottle of Deer Off, leave a comment on that post, too.