Deer-Resistant Gardening

Deer are just about everywhere and, as the Annapolis area has become more crowded and the human population has taken over wooded areas, problems with native deer eating your garden are becoming more and more prevalent.

Assessing your deer problem isn’t difficult. But there are some basic deer facts that should help you determine whether or not you have a deer problem and, if so, how severe it is or will become.

  • Deer do not have upper front teeth so they don’t neatly bite off a piece of plant. Instead, they rip it off. If you notice your plants have been neatly chewed or bitten, it most likely is the work of an animal other than deer.
  • Deer typically graze at the edge of the woods, where they retreat to sleep during the daytime. So if there are woods near your home, there is a good chance that deer are nearby. During the summer, deer like to eat grass, but if we have our typical hot and dry summer, the grass tends to be brown and dry and will not provide the deer with the necessary nutrition they need. When drought conditions exist, deer tend to look for other sources of food, usually in abundance in our yards.
  • During the winter, deer tend to eat woody plants. This is why plants such as arborvitae tend to be eaten in winter but not typically in summer. Deer will not think twice about standing on its hind legs in the winter to reach this tall, tasty plant.
  • When spring arrives, many of the deer in our area may be close to starvation and extremely ravenous. An adult deer may eat 5-10 pounds of vegetation per day. Since deer generally travel in groups, you can see why this can add up to lots of leaves and flowers.

Deterrents

Deer will almost always stay away from plants that offend two or more of their senses. So if a plant tastes and smells bad, the deer will generally stay away. Deer deterrents are optimally effective when used on new plantings that deer have yet to sample. Once they taste and/or smell your new plantings that have been treated with deer repellents, they are very unlikely to return to that plant. K&B True Value carries a variety of sprays and other scented solutions that, when applied to plants and the borders of gardens, are effective deer repellents.

Creating Barriers

Deer netting can be used in combination with sturdy wooden stakes to create a fence around large plantings or can be wrapped around individual plants. There are a few pointers to remember when installing a deer barrier to maximize its effectiveness:

  • Your deer fence should be at least 6-7 feet tall.
  • Double barriers, a fence inside a fence, are especially effective. Two barriers confuse deer as they are not particularly good problem-solvers.
  • Slope your fence at an angle with the top pointing away from your garden.
  • Vegetation growing through your fence will decrease effectiveness.

Deer-Proof Plants

While there are a lot of products designed to deter deer, the best deterrent is wise plant selections. Herbivores eat plants in order of how much they like them. If food supply is ample, the less-liked plants will be the least likely to be eaten. Therefore, the most effective means of managing a deer problem is to use plants deer dislike. The good news is deer have “favorite” foods and staying away from those plants will reduce the likelihood for visits.

Unfortunately, many of the plants deer like to eat have become some of the most-common landscape plants. However, there are many plants that deer will almost never eat which will add beauty and variety to your garden. Below are possibilities for a beautiful deer resistant garden and some deer favorites that you may want to avoid.

Keep in mind that the severity of your deer problem may change over time. Disease, predators, weather and new construction in your area may all influence the size and health of your local deer herd. If your neighbors have recently installed deer fencing, they may be looking for a new source of food. Therefore, it is important to reassess your deer problem on a regular basis.

Plants Rarely Eaten by Deer

  • Astilbe
  • Barberry
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Heather
  • Bugbane
  • Coneflower
  • Boxwood
  • Spirea
  • Lavender
  • Bee Balm
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Verbena
  • Juniper
  • Russian Sage
  • Peony
  • Lily of the Valley

Deer Favorites

  • Daylilies
  • Hosta
  • Phlox
  • Roses
  • Apple Trees
  • Arborvitae
  • Tulips
  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendrons
  • Coleus
  • Impatiens

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