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Preventing Deer Damage in Your Landscape

Hardy Geranium

Hardy Geraniums like Johnson's Blue are resistant to deer.

While most people enjoy seeing deer grazing in a field, they’re less amused when “Bambi” walks in and strips a newly planted vegetable garden, wildflower planting or display of beautiful spring tulips. Yet such backyard deer sightings are increasing in frequency across the country.

The first step to managing any pest is to positively identify the culprit. If you suspect a deer has been grazing in your garden, look closely at the damaged plants. Foliage and twigs eaten by deer have ragged edges; deer lack upper incisors so they eat by tearing off plant matter. (Rabbits and rodents have upper and lower incisors and leave clean cuts.) Another indication is the height of the damage — deer can reach up 6 feet or more.

What can you do to deter deer? The first step is to understand a little about them.

  • Most deer damage occurs in late fall through early spring, when the animals’ natural food sources are scarce.
  • A mature buck consumes between 4 to 10 pounds of food each day, including grass and other plants as well as buds and twigs.
  • Deer are creatures of habit; once they establish pathways or a feeding area it is difficult to deter them.
  • Deer are adaptable and learn quickly. Using a combination of control strategies is usually the most effective way to limit the amount of damage they cause.
  • Although no plant is 100% deer-proof, many plants are generally avoided by deer. View list of Deer-Resistant Plants

Kansas Peony

Kansas Peony - like all peonies - are generally avoided by deer.

Three Strategies for Controlling Deer Damage

Installing Fences
The only sure-fire way to prevent deer damage is a tall, secure fence. Deer have been known to leap over 7′ high fences, so an 8′ to 10′ fence is necessary for the best control For most homeowners fencing more than a small area isn’t an option, both aesthetically and financially.

Applying Repellents
There are several commercially available products reputed to repel deer. Some have an odor that is unpleasant to deer; some have an unpleasant taste. Repellents can be effective in deterring deer, especially if you apply them early in the season before deer have gotten in the habit of eating in your landscape. Of course many of the repellents used to deter deer are unpleasant to humans, too, so think twice before using them on or near food crops. Some people report success at repelling deer by hanging bars of perfumed soap and/or bags of human hair gathered from your neighborhood hair salon.

Using Scare Devices
Deer are easily startled, so using a motion detector to trigger a sprinkler, trigger flood lights or turn on a radio will work for a short time. However, deer will quickly become accustomed to them, sometimes within as little as a week. Varying the scare devices every week can extend their effectiveness. Be mindful of how the scare devices might affect your neighbors.

Selecting Deer-Resistant Plants
By choosing plants that are unpalatable to deer, you can reduce the amount of damage in your landscape. However, no plant is deer-proof. Hungry deer will eat just about anything. In general, plants that taste bitter or spicy, those with milky sap, thorny plants, and those with hairy or fuzzy leaves are less attractive to deer. Following is a list of plants considered unattractive to deer.

Perennial and Wildflowers
Bee Balm
Bleeding Heart
Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Weed
Coral Bells
Iris (Bearded, Japanese and Siberian Irises)
Japanese Forest Grass
Lenten Rose
Lily of the Valley
Russian Sage
Wand Flower
Fall-Planted Bulbs
Grape Hyacinths

Spring-Planted Bulbs



Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix

February 10, 2011 · Suzanne DeJohn · Comments Closed
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Flower Bulbs, Gardening in Spring and Summer, How-Tos, Perennials, Wildflowers