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Deer Problems

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is “will the deer eat these plants?” and “how do I protect my plants from deer?” While deer may appear to be harmless, they can be quite a nuisance in the garden. These super grazers leap over all but the tallest fences to devour the stems, leaves, and buds of many types of plants, including arborvitae, fir, alfalfa, and roses. They also eat fruits and vegetables.

How to Identify Deer in your Garden

If you notice jagged edges on your plant leaves and cloven hoof prints in your garden, then you probably have a deer problem. Be on the look out for their bean-shaped droppings as well.

How to Keep Deer Away

There are many techniques you can try to deter deer from munching on your plants. Try some of these methods for your garden (none are gauranteed, but you may want to give them a try anyway):

  • Make it tough for deer to browse. Trim off lower branches of trees. No deer wants to waste time picking through your scary yard if there are lush bushes next door.
  • Use scare tactics. Try putting several metal posts 4- to 5-feet-tall around the garden. Attach a metal pie tin to the top of each pole with twine. The least bit of wind makes the pine tins clack with a noise that the deer don't like.
  • Clean up your yard. Don't leave acorns, rotted fruit, or leaves on your lawn; they are an open invitation to hungry deer.
  • String blinking Christmas-tree lights around the perimeter of your garden.Set them up on a motion dector. When a deer triggers it, the light and movement will scare the deer back into the woods.
  • Put strong-smelling plants that deer don't like on the outside of your garden and smaller plants that need more protection on inside. Deer tend to stay away from poisonous plants, strongly flavored plants, and plants with hairy or furry leaves. See our chart with a list of deer-resistant plants.
  • For a natural deterrent, scatter dog or human hair around your garden, or hang human hair in pantyhose or mesh bags in trees. Find human hair clippings at a barber shop.
  • Scatter or hang bars of deodorant or cheap motel soap around the garden; if you leave the wrappers on, the soap will last longer. Irish Spring is particularly recommended.
  • The smelly method: Mix rotten eggs in water (a dozen or so per 5 gallons) and spray around the perimeter of the garden. (This and the following are the basis of most commeceral deterrents.)
  • The spicy method: Mix 2 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce to a gallon of water and spray the foliage and fruit. If it rains, reapply.
  • Spread kitty litter around the edge of the garden.
  • Soak old socks in Lysol and spread around garden's perimeter and hang from a tree limb or stake.
  • For a real odor offensive, use predator urine; wolf and coyote urine are sold commercially.
  • The most reliable method is to fence in your garden. Put up a strong, 8-foot-tall metal fence.

Deer-Resistant Plants

First, what is deer candy? Deer love narrow-leaf evergreens, especially arborvitae, taxus and fir. They seem to show a preference for hostas, daylilies, and English ivy, according to researchers in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who have studied whitetailed deer damage to nurseries in the Northeast and report heaviest browsing from October through February.

Which plants do deer dislike?

  • Not surprisingly, deer stay away from poisonous plants! Daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers that have a toxicity that deer avoid.
  • Deer also turn their noses up at fragrant plants with strong scents. Herbs such as sages, ornamental salvias, lavenders, peonies, and bearded irises are just "stinky" to deer.
  • Would you want to eat something prickly? Neither do deer (unless they're desperate). Plants such as lamb's ear are not on their preferred menu.
  • Favorite deer-resistant perennials are bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). They are popular with us, but not deer!

Keeping in mind that the first rule in deer proofing is that there really are no deer-proof plants, here is a chart with some plants that deer rarely or seldom severely damage:

Plant critter-proof plants and flowers

Deer, rabbits and chipmunks are common plant eaters in this area. They do damage to everything green. The trick is finding plants they avoid. Below is my list of perennials and annuals that solve some of these problems.

Critter-Proof Plants List

Most munchers usually avoid plants with thorny or fuzzy foliage and those with strong aromas like lavender. To save your most valued flowers, situate them in the center of beds closest to the house or against the house. In other words, to protect them, surround your favorite blooms with ones deer and rabbits hate. Why? Deer and rabbits nibble on the outside edges of plantings furthest away from buildings.

Rabbits avoid calendulas, chrysanthemums, columbines, four o’clocks, foxglove, gladiolas, hollyhocks, impatiens, iris, larkspur, morning glories, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet peas and verbena.

Deer steer clear of ageratum, begonias, chrysanthemums, columbines, coreopsis, cosmos, foxglove, iris, lavender, monarda, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, salvia, Shasta daisies, verbena, vinca, yarrow, zinnias.

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