What can I do about deer eating my garden?


BRANDON — In Abby Adam’s delightfully funny and irreverent book on gardening, The Gardener’s Gripe Book, deer kick off the chapter entitled “Enemies List:”

 “I used to be at peace with nature,” wrote Adams. “An animal-lover, I took my children to the zoo and taught them about our fellow members of the animal kingdom…. Walking in the woods, I treasured the occasional glimpse of deer or raccoon. I used to lose sleep worrying about endangered species. Then I got my garden, and instead of a Peaceable Kingdom, I found a battlefield. All creatures great and small were bent upon the undoing of my fledgling garden.” 

I was going to write about echinacea (coneflower) this week, but I have repeatedly been asked what people can grow in their gardens that deer won’t want to eat. Deer, if hungry enough, will eat anything. 

To deliberately misquote Paul Newman—yes, they have their “hamburger” in the woods and fields, but you, dear gardener, are offering them filet mignon. 

Deer may be many things, but they aren’t stupid. Abby Adams suggests three ways to deal with deer: electric fences, a barking dog, and moving. If you want, you may stop reading now.

Moving not an option?

I gardened for almost 16 years in suburban woods where we had deer. The absolute best deterrent I ever found was fencing. Because we had animals, we had lots of fencing. The deer, therefore, enjoyed my neighbors’ open yards and gardens. 

Fences, house walls, foundations, wooden pallets, chicken wire, chicken coops, and other outbuildings are great garden backdrops and will deter deer. To add to the physical barrier, deer steer clear of plants with strong smells and certain textures.

Some people use radios, water features, or hang shiny or loud objects that blow or bang in the wind. Others swear by collecting and spreading the urine or manure of predators. I never had any luck with these devices, nor, may I add, did Abby (who goes into hilarious detail). Fencing and plant combinations have worked for me in areas with significant deer pressure. 

Strong smelling perennials

Here are some of my favorite perennials that are easy to grow, which I have found deer leave alone: bee balm, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis, goldenrod, hyssop, iris (bearded or german), Joe Pye weed, lavender, perennial oregano, peonies, sage, shasta daisy, and sweet William. 

These plants can be grown from seed, and most can be purchased as plants at local nurseries. In addition, think of growing onion, garlic, allium, and daffodils around your favorite plants. Some of the prettiest gardens I have seen in Brandon liberally combine flowers and fruits or flowers and vegetables in close proximity.

Strong smelling annuals

Onions, marigolds, lavender, sages, nasturtiums, rosemary, and oregano can be planted in front of or near your favorite perennials to deter deer.

Plants with texture

Deer seem not to prefer fuzzy textures such as lamb’s ear, milkweed, pumpkins, squash, and yarrow. It is also rumored that they dislike prickly plants such as holly, blackberries, raspberries, roses, or spirea. 

The University of Vermont’s website (https://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/oh64.html) has a fairly exhaustive list of deer-resistant plants. It also has specific ideas about fences that work. Their plant list needs updating as it includes ajuga, mint, purple loosestrife, vinca, and scilla. These plants are either known to be invasive or have invasive varieties. I don’t believe it’s to anyone’s benefit to plant invasive species, no matter how pretty they are. 

Good Luck

Smelly, spiked, and fuzzy plants won’t keep deer away if deer are truly hungry, but I hope this article helps. Please let me know if you have other tried and true deer deterrents. One person told me, “I just plant extra.” Meanwhile, as all you gardeners know, deer are just the largest, most visible ‘guests’ feasting on our gardens. Happy gardening. 

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