By Dave Jensen, owner of Deer-resistant Landscape Nursery
I started the nursery in 1999, after moving to deer country in 1990 and discovering that all my new plantings were eaten within a few days - the culprit leaving behind nothing but hoof prints. My nursery plants are open to the local deer herd. By having a quantity of each type of plant, I have been able to observe with greater accuracy which plants are really resistant to deer browsing.
DO DEER EAT YOUR FLOWERS?
If so, you may have just moved to "deer country" - unaware of the damage deer cause in the landscape - or you've lived many years in the same house and the ever-increasing herds of deer have found their way to you!
Rather than giving up gardening or suffering with a sparse landscape, you may find help with one or more of the three most popular remedies: deer fencing, deer-resistant plants and deer repellents.
The most popular deer fencing is black, polypropylene mesh in a 7 ½' or 8'-tall height. Do not use the light-weight netting sold in some garden centers - it does not hold up, can break if run into by a deer, and is hard to handle.
The black color of deer fencing helps the fencing be less obtrusive in the landscape. On sunny days, the fencing blends with background shadows to become nearly invisible. In addition, the black color is reportedly hard for the deer to distinguish. They are not able to correctly determine the height of the fencing so, instead of trying to jump over it, they mosey on without eating up your plants.
Deer fencing is most popular for enclosing vegetable and cutting gardens, whole back yards and other landscaped areas. When fencing an entire yard, additional expense and inconvenience is incurred for driveway gates. Because the polypropylene is lightweight, the homeowner can install most projects.
Properly installed deer fencing is nearly 100% effective and requires almost no maintenance.
A fun solution to the deer problem is to grow plants that deer don't like to eat. Deer prefer a bland diet. Unless they are in starvation conditions, they will pass by most aromatic plants and plants containing poisonous or irritating chemicals. This means hosta, roses and lilies are NOT resistant to deer browsing! A number of deer-resistant plants are common in many gardens and others are more unusual and typically not available at the discount stores.
Digitalis (foxglove), Euphorbia (spurge) and Potentilla (bush cinquefoil) are popular plants that can be poisonous or consist of sap or other ingredients that can irritate the skin or digestive system if eaten. How the deer know this just by smelling is amazing.
Agastache (anise hyssop), Nepeta (catmint) and Buxus (boxwood) are examples of garden-worthy plants with aromatic foliage that the deer don't eat.
Note that deer-resistant plants are not useful as a perimeter planting with the intention of keeping deer from passing through to other taste-tempting varieties inside. Nor can they be counted on to protect non-resistant varieties when planted intermingled with them. Those deer just seem to have plenty of time to pick out what they want to eat.
My list of deer-resistant plants is popular (based on Google search rank) for several reasons. I continually test plants and revise the list. Photos are available for most varieties. The list is alphabetical by Latin name so it can be compared to other lists you may find. And, the plants, even unusual ones, are actually available for sale online to enjoy in your own yard.
Deer-resistant plants are beautiful, many are nearly 100% resistant to deer browsing, and they open up a whole new world of gardening for many plant lovers.
Most deer repellents are sprays that cover the leaves and flowers of plants with a smell that you might only notice for a few hours but the deer can smell for weeks. A few sniffs and the deer move on to your neighbor's unprotected smorgasbord!
Commercially manufactured repellents contain agents that keep the ingredients on the leaves for many weeks. Homemade solutions can wash off sooner, leaving plants unprotected until you have time to get back out and spray. Fast growing plants such as tulips and pansies need to be sprayed every seven to 10 days so the new growth is protected. Other flowers and shrubs should be sprayed monthly as the effectiveness seems to wane after three or four weeks, especially during peak consumption spring through fall.
Most repellents contain natural ingredients and are safe to use even with children and pets around. Ingredients include rotten eggs, hot pepper and blood meal.
So what is the best way to keep deer from browsing your garden? At my house, I use a combination of all three - a fenced-in cutting and vegetable garden, deer-resistant plants around the house and deer repellents on my wife's pansies and tulips.
With hunting suffering slight declines in many states and the propensity for deer to have very large "families," the deer population shows no signs of decreasing. Experiment with deer fencing, deer-resistant plants and deer repellents and you can enjoy your yard and garden while still admiring the beauty of the deer in your neighborhood.
USEFUL LINKS ON GARDENING WITH DEER
Bamboozling Bambi - There's hope according to article by long-time upstate-New York gardener (hosted on davesgarden.com).
Deer Facts (hearing, sight and smell) - Article by the folks that make Deer Off.
Dave's Top 21 - My favorite deer-resistant plants
Adventures of Psycho Deer - This animation hosted at YouTube says it all!
List of 300 Plants carefully tested by one gardener in Ohio -- includes plants deer ate.
White (albino) Deer - Video from Wisconsin
WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?
Rather than helping to protect the landscaping, the Nursery owner's cat seems to be making friends with the enemy!