By Marcia Anderson
Last weekend, right after an afternoon spent toiling in my garden, a deer strolled into the yard and began munching on my freshly planted vegetable plants! The plants hadn’t even been in the ground a few minutes when she nibbled some right down to the ground and pulled others up – roots and all. Later, I found the doe and her two fawns right next to my front steps eating the impatiens and other potted annuals. So much for being able to admire the fruits of my gardening labor!
Springtime finds deer at their hungriest. Fawns are nursing and adults are anxious to gain back weight lost during the winter. An adult deer eats six to 10 pounds of greenery a day. So how can a gardener keep them from eating their entire landscape?
To deter deer, be prepared to alter their environment. Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the first rule of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is beneficial to both human health and the environment. IPM is smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control that focuses on preventive steps to preclude pests instead of waiting for them to arrive, then having to eradicate them. IPM is smart because it addresses the root causes of pest problems, sensible because it provides for a healthier environment, and sustainable by providing long-term control of pests. Here are some IPM approaches you can use to deter deer from devouring your landscape.
Fencing: An effective method of deer exclusion is installing and maintaining an eight to 10-foot-high deer fence. In my community, however, zoning regulations do not permit fencing taller than six feet. Whitetail deer are quite the jumpers and can scale eight-foot fences, especially if they are really hungry.
But, deer are less likely to jump over a barrier if they cannot see the landing area. You can plant tall, deer-resistant shrubs, like boxwood, Spirea, Andromeda or Weigelia, near the fence line to obstruct their view. Check the Rutgers University deer-resistant plant list for other species and select those that are appropriate for your exposure, soil type and hardiness zone.
Double fencing, parallel fences within a few feet of each other, are also effective deer deterrents. Having a fence with an irregular top creates an optical illusion that makes deer reluctant to jump. A seven-wire slanted fence and fence tops with exclusion wire on angled extensions will also keep deer off your property. Each deer is unique – the same thing that deters one won’t always deter another. A hungry deer is very persistent and will find a way over, under, around or through any barrier that is not tall, strong and attached to the ground.
Repellent Plants: Deer have preferences for certain plants, just as humans prefer some food over others. Every deer is looking to gorge on high-protein, moisture-rich plants. Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell for feeding, so adding patches of pungent plants can act as a natural barrier. Strongly scented herbs, including garlic, chives, mint, lavender, lemon balm, bee balm and oleander, are offensive to deer and can mask the scent of desirable plants. This strategy can help to make your yard less appetizing than that of the surrounding neighborhood.
Resistant Plants: Trade plants that deer find tasty, like tulips, for those they won’t eat, like daffodils. Other plants like lily-of-the-valley, lamb’s ears, lavender, Russian sage, Liriope, Pachysandra and myrtle have been identified as being resistant to deer browsing. They also do not like ornamental grasses, iris, fox glove or yucca. Deer are foragers so they will often taste-test, and, if really hungry, will eat most anything. The following plants are like candy to deer: Impatiens, sunflower, tulip, Hosta, shasta daisy, coneflower, Chrysanthemums and Hyacinth. The Rutgers’ deer-resistant plant list offers additional helpful information.
Chemical and Physical Repellents: Keeping deer out of yards and gardens has become a huge industry in the United States. There are hundreds of commercially available deer repellents that work – but most need to be re-applied after each rain. Repellents also need to be alternated so deer do not acclimate to them. Chemical deer repellents are regulated in some states, so they can only be applied by a licensed applicator in accordance with other restrictions. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s Nuisance Wildlife Repellent Handbook provides a list of some repellents.
Another method that is distasteful to deer is to use one of the many sewage fertilizer or mulch products. However, be cautious about the heavy metal content of these products if using in a vegetable garden. In breezy locations, aluminum pie plates strung on stakes may help to deter deer. Other ways to repel deer are flashing lights at night and motion-activated lights and sprinklers. Remember, deer acclimate so rotate, rotate, rotate your repellent strategies for best results.
Hopefully, these tips will help you naturally deter deer and keep the fruits of your labor – your garden and landscape – intact!
About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.