Conversations about deer are just about as prevalent in the gardening world as gardening itself. It's only natural considering the endless hours invested in growing plants with beautiful blooms that never see the light of day. This conundrum is shared by urban-dwellers and countryfolk alike.
Photo courtesy of Plantskydd.
What is one to do?
Finding the best solution for managing conflict with wildlife is an ongoing challenge. Here are three ways to manage the dilemma of deterring deer.
Choose deer resistant plants
Some question whether there is such a thing as a deer "resistant" plant. A young or famished animal will be compelled to at least sample less palatable varieties of plants to satiate their curiosity or hunger.
However, plants are smart. They have a powerful desire to live long enough to reproduce so their progeny can continue the mission. Many native species have evolved over time to make themselves less attractive to predators. Of course, if they get eaten, they wouldn't be able to produce flowers, seeds and the subsequent seedlings.
Pictured from top left: purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii), threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), ostrich fern - front (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and cinnamon fern - rear (Osmunda cinnamomea), blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Photo courtesy of Gardener Sue's News.
Not all native plants are deer resistant. Some tend to be eaten in some parts of the country but not others depending on the deer and what other food is locally available. Thankfully for those of us who garden with deer nearby, there are some kinds of plants we can grow that most people report are rarely browsed by deer. The photo above captures nine stunning native zone 6 perennials as an example of the options you might consider.
A bonus to growing these types of plants is that many of them also feed or play host to important pollinators. Now you have two reasons to plant these beautiful perennials! Who wouldn't prefer watching a butterfly take a leisurely sip from a coneflower to watching a deer chomp down on some plump daylily buds?
Wire cages can be used to protect individual trees from deer damage. Support cages securely using metal posts. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Cooperative Extension.
Erect physical barriers
While it can be a costly endeavor if you're looking at fencing your whole yard, physical barriers can be cost effective if you only have a few trees, shrubs or beds to protect. By using easy-to-find items like hardware screening or chicken wire, you can protect from deer, rabbits and even some burrowing critters.
Form a cylinder around your trees, securing the ends tightly, and set down a few inches below ground. Leave room for the tree to move, as the wintry winds can be quite strong. In snowy climates, remember to erect your barrier approximately 2 feet taller than the anticipated snow cover. This can be tough to guess at the best of times so use your judgement.
Repeat repellent applications
Some reject the idea of repellents, believing they don't work. The good news is research has proven odor-based repellents are more effective than other repellent systems. According to Dr. Dale Nolte and Dr. Kim Wagner of the USDA/APHIS National Wildlife Research Center in Olympia, Washington: "Studies investigating trends in efficacy of deer repellents indicate that, of the 20 products tested, repellents with active ingredients that emitted sulfurous odors i.e., bloodmeal or egg solids, generally provided the best results."
One of the longest-standing products on the market is Plantskydd Animal Repellent. It was originally developed in Sweden to protect its vast tree plantations from browsing by deer, rabbits and moose while also adhering to the country's strict environmental laws. More than 50 field studies have demonstrated its unique effectiveness as a repellent that works by emitting an odor that animals associate with predator activity. This stimulates a fear-based response, which results in animals looking elsewhere to dine. And it's sticky, so lasts through rain, snow, and irrigation.
To get the best results: Spray directly onto plant material and apply when temperatures are above freezing. Apply to dry plants and allow 24 hours to dry. During periods of rapid growth, apply more frequently by treating new growth.
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