Being an animal lover, I think deer are adorable. But when they decide that your garden is their next 5-course meal, they become much less cute. Here are some ecological practices you can use to help keep deer out of your garden.
#1 Choose Deer Resistant Plants
The reality is that plants can only be deer resistant, not deer proof. If deer are hungry, and after a long difficult winter, possibly very hungry, there is little knowing what they may eat. Regardless, you should still try to plant as many deer resistant plants as possible. In general, deer tend to avoid plants that have a bitter taste, ones that are hairy or prickly, ones with milky sap and those with a strong fragrance.
Luckily, many of our native plants have some of these characteristics. Here is just a short list of a few you may want to consider:
Ferns – Plant these as a barrier or even in the same hole as a beloved deer-perennials and when the deer get a mouthful of ferns, they stop eating.
Grasses – Panicum virgatum or Switchgrass and Northern Seat Oats or Chasmanthium latifolium are just two examples. I planted Switchgrass around the entire border of a public garden I recently planted.
False Indigo or Baptisia australis
Low-gro Sumac or Rhus aromatica Gro-Low – Mildly fragrant, you can use this to plant a barrier hedge.
Mountain Mint is also fragrant and it will repel deer.
For a more detailed list of deer resistant plants, visit Bowman’s Wildflower site or use the handy tool from Rutgers that provides a list of landscape plants rated according to their resistance to deer damage.
# 2 Get a Dog
My clients that have dogs keep the deer at bay, especially if the dogs spend a lot of time in the yard which happens when there is an electronic dog fence.
#3 Spray Something Natural
There are numerous natural products on the market that you can spray around the perimeter of your garden to keep the deer away. To make sure that the product is safe, read the ingredients and make sure you recognize them. Many of these have to be reapplied if it rains. Many of my colleagues swear by Liquid Fence. Unfortunately, it smells like eggs. There are others on the market that don’t smell as bad.
#4 Fencing and Caging
Deer browse throughout the year, but in general it is in the spring when the deer browse a lot because new growth is luscious and full of nutrition. Fencing is the most effective way to keep deer out of your yard and garden and it is available in all types of materials including plastic and metal. It must be high enough, 7′ or 8′ tall, and you have to make sure that the deer cannot crawl under it – which they will if it is not secured. Electronic fencing is the preferred method but most expensive. For vegetable gardens, consider something that just goes around the garden like the fencing sold here.
Trees suffer damage when foliage is eaten to the browse line which is approximately 5 1/2′ from the ground and when bucks polish their antlers on tree trunks which they usually do on young trees, those under 3″ in diameter. Protect these with a wire cage until the tree is taller and more mature.
# 5 Hang Soap
Apparently Irish Spring soap bars are the best and they repel deer. Probably one of the cheapest ways to go and a local hosta nursery uses them.
#6 Motion Activated Sprinkler
If all else fails, then get a motion activated sprinkler like this one.
Gracie is a landscape designer and master gardener with nearly eight years professional experience.