Living With a Herd of Deer

Image

Deer found a way into the yard to enjoy the lower leaves of this apple tree. Pruning up tasty plants out of their reach will make a garden less enticing.

The deer own the neighborhood.  They go everywhere at night, and wherever they think they can escape notice during the day.  Fences help to a certain extent, but deer are brave and strong, and can jump higher than you think.  They are cautious about jumping a fence uphill, and about jumping into enclosed areas.  They prefer well fertilized plants.  The high nitrogen content tastes good to them, like salt on French fries!

Image

A tomato, grown out in the garden, grazed by deer. Plant Skydd is an organic product which can safely be sprayed on edible plants to keep deer away. It must be renewed every few weeks and after a heavy rain.

Besides finding shredded leaves and bitten off stems, you might also notice hoof prints in soft ground or little piles of deer scat as calling cards of their presence in your yard.  You might see them browsing in your garden, or even on a low porch or deck.

The best defense against the deer is an olfactory defense.  They dislike the smell of putrescent eggs, moldy coffee grounds, cow’s blood, and most herbs.  Products such as Plant Skydd and Liquid Fence are pricey, but they protect your plants while until the plants get established.  You can shield plants to a certain extent by growing smelly herbs like lavenders, rosemary, basil, mints, and sages around them.  And some plants, like lantana, Artemisia, Hellebores, and Vinca taste so bad the deer just leave them alone.

A quick survey of the neighborhood is sometimes enough to get a wealth of data about which plants are growing well in lots of yards, which plants are pathetically nibbled, and which are largely absent.  Seeing wire cages around shrubs in so many yards in our new neighborhood should have been a clue to the problem.  Old timers call our azaleas “lollipop bushes” because the bases of them are so badly eaten, and only the parts the deer can’t reach freely flower.

Image

Azaleas get heavily pruned by our neighborhood herd of deer.

Some experts suggest just forgetting growing tasty morsels like Hostas entirely, and plant only things the deer are known to shun.  It is cheaper, and much less stressful, to chose varieties the deer avoid.  Since I’m not willing to forgo growing roses and Hostas, I’m still fighting the battle to keep deer away from favorite plants.  Actually, it is a challenge to successfully grow the plants I love in adverse conditions, and I’m still up for the challenge.

Image

Hostas are deer candy, and need protection. Autumn Brilliance fern is never touched by deer.

Image

Yucca is safe from deer attack. The Mallow in the foreground was not.  This bed of Dusty Miller, Coreopsis, Sage, Echinacea, and Stachys Byzantina was enlarged this year to protect a little Camellia bush in the center.

Here is a list of strategies my friends and I have used with success in our gardens:

1.  Keep tasty plants out of reach.  This might mean pruning up branches of fruiting and flowering trees so deer can’t reach them, or it might mean growing your tomatoes in pots on a deck the deer can’t access.  Parents understand this principle, and can come up with creative solutions.  I’ve grown cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets and grown beans and eggplant on a second story deck.

2.  Confuse deer with nasty smells.  Like us, deer use their sense of smell to decide whether or not to eat something.  My friend brings home bags of human hair from her hair appointments, and sprinkles this around her garden to keep deer away from large areas.  I use Plant Skydd spray on particularly tasty treats like rose buds and Hosta leaves.  I also spray this concoction at access points to my yard where I think deer may be coming in.  http://plantskydd.com/Plantskydd-Deer-Repellent.html

Some gardeners buy blood meal, an organic fertilizer, and sprinkle this over whole beds of plants to discourage deer, rabbits, and other small mammals.

Another good product is Neptune’s Harvest.  This is an organic, water soluble fertilizer made from fish emulsion and sea weed.  A dilute solution used as a foliar feed also offers protection, until it’s washed off in a heavy rain.  This is an excellent fertilizer and gives the plants lots of resistance to various infections and infestations.  Use a tablespoon to a gallon of water.  http://www.neptunesharvest.com/

These products, and other organic garden products are available at The Homestead Garden Center in James City Co.  http://www.homesteadgardencenter.com/

Coffee grounds, left out in a closed container for several days, can be sprinkled around beds you wish to protect.  Concoctions made with putrescent eggs, bovine blood, garlic, and hot pepper seem to be effective.  Some people use shavings from a bar of soap, and the previous owners of my property left piles of used kitty litter all over the back yard.  The cat litter didn’t break down, and left a huge and nasty mess.

Moth balls are also good protection against deer, rabbits, and squirrels.  Punch holes into a lidded plastic container, like a yogurt cup.  Make 2 additional holes in the bottom or top of the container to hold a loop of wire or twine for a hanger.  Drop in two or three moth ball packs, close the container, and hang it in or near the plant you want to protect.  The sealed container protects the moth balls packets from rain and prevents them from leaching into your soil.

3.  Startle deer with human sounds.  Wind chimes hanging in a tree near a deer path, a radio left playing in a garden, children playing, and a squeaky wind driven whirligig can all make cautious deer avoid an area.

Image

Lantana growing in front of this hybrid tea rose offers some protection from curious deer.

Oackleaf Hydrangea, "Snow Queen", is known to be highly resistant to grazing by deer.  This is only in the ground for a month from a 1 gal. pot.  Of the three planted in this corner of the yard, 1 has been grazed back to the stems by hungry deer.

Oackleaf Hydrangea, “Snow Queen”, is known to be highly resistant to grazing by deer. This is only in the ground for a month from a 1 gal. pot. Of the three planted in this corner of the yard, 1 has been grazed back to the stems by hungry deer.

4.Shield a tasty plant with other plants.  This has only worked for me when I’ve created a fairly wide border around the plant I’m trying to protect.  If the border is too wide for the deer to reach comfortably, two feet or more, it is effective.  Good shielding plants have a strong aroma and coarse texture.   Effective shields include Rosemary, Lavender, ferns, and Lantana.  Most good shielding plants prefer full sun, so if you’re working in shade,  use ferns.

5. Keep tasty plant close to the house.  The closer to your home, the less likely deer are to approach and nibble your prized plants- at least in theory.  Again, human noise, lights at night and sudden movement, provide some protection for foundation plantings and potted plants on decks, patios, and porches.

Image

Plants kept close to the house are less likely to be grazed than plants further away. Deer nibbled a few leaves of the Rex Begonia growing in this pot, but left the Coleus and Colocasia alone.

6. Build a fence around plants you want to protect.  Keeping the Bambis away with a fence is still a good plan.  Whether you try to fence your entire yard, or just a small patch for a vegetable garden, keep in mind that it needs to be tall and needs regular maintenance.  Some neighbors build wire mesh cocoons around new shrubs; some enclose their whole back yard.  The deer will try to jump anything under 8’, so plan on making an investment with this option.

Image

St. John’s Wort grows beautifully in partial shade and is ignored by deer.

7. Plan the bulk of your garden around plants deer avoid.  There are many beautiful and useful plants the deer will never touch.  Roses and tomatoes don’t happen to be on that list, but lots of other wonderful plants are.  Using an abundance of deer resistant plants, especially poisonous ones, make gardening in the forest much less stressful.  Special care should be taken to use deer resistant, thorny and poisonous shrubs, like Ligustrum or Kalmia, around the perimeter of the property to discourage deer.

The best resource I’ve found for gardening in a neighborhood with deer, and other hungry critters, is 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat by Ruth Rogers Clausen, and Alan L. Detrick.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/50-beautiful-deer-resistant-plants-ruth-rogers-clausen/1103870261?ean=9781604691955

I love this book because it goes into great detail about habits of deer and offers various approaches to foil them and discourage them from your property.  The plant entries are categorized by the type of plant, the cultural information is detailed, the photos beautiful, and numerous ideas are given for plant pairings in your garden.

Another excellent new book brimming with practical strategies to keep wild animals of all kinds away from the garden is Secret Garden of Survival by Rick Austin.  This is a short book, but is packed with information, useful illustrations, and the sort of wisdom only born of hands on experience.

Secret Garden Of Survival- How to Grow a Camouflaged Food- Forestby Rick Austin

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Garden-Survival-camouflaged-forest/dp/1481839772

Crepe Myrtle trees bloom July through October and are avoided by deer.

Crepe Myrtle trees bloom July through October and are avoided by deer.

Plants the Deer Generally Leave Alone  

Newly updated, annotated list here

This is a list of plants which are mostly ignored  by our herd of deer.  They are well suited to our climate (USDA Zone 7B), our soil, and the partial shade most of us have in our gardens.  Some of my gardening friends and I have been compiling this list over  the last few years.

We have observed that plants which grow extremely well in some of our gardens, such as Camellias and Hydrangea get eaten in others.  My mature Camellia bushes are left alone, but I’ve had tremendous damage done to some, but not all, new Camellia bushes.

Newly purchased shrubs and trees have a high nitrogen content, which makes them very tasty to deer.  It is liked salted French Fries for us.  Plants which have been in the garden a while tend to have less nitrogen, and so aren’t as tasty.  When considering how much extra fertilizer to spread around your shrubs and trees, if any, this is an important consideration.  Growing your garden on the lean side might offer additional protection from grazing.

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Bayberry, or Southern Wax Myrtle

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

Mountain Laurel blooms in early May in our neighborhood.

Beautyberry

Beauty-berry growing under a dogwood tree is adorned with purple berries by late September.

Beauty-berry growing under a dogwood tree is adorned with purple berries by late September.

Boxwood

Camellia

Crepe Myrtle

Dogwood

English Laurel

Fig

Forsythia

Fringe Tree

Japanese Maple

Ligustrum

Mahonia

Mountain Laurel

Magnolia

Camellia Sasanqua, which blooms each autumn.

Nandina

Native Holly and English Holly

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Pyracantha

Red Bud

St. John’s Wort

Perennials and Bulbs

Alocasia (Elephant’s Ear)

Butterfly Weed

Caladium (Elephant’s Ear)

Cannas

Centaura

Colocasia (Elephant’s Ear)

Coreopsis

Crocosmia

Iris, Lavender, Dianthus, are ignored by deer.  The rose needs protection.

Iris, Lavender, and Dianthus, are ignored by deer. The rose needs protection.

Daffodils

Daisies

Dianthus

Euphorbia

Hardy Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon growing at the edge of the forest.

Hardy Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon growing at the edge of the forest.

Fall Anemones

Ferns

Fireworks Goldenrod

Gaillardia

Ginger Lily

Goatsbeard

Goldenrod

Guara

Hellebores

Hyacinth

April 28 2013 garden photos 017

All parts of Daffodils are poisonous. The are not only ignored by deer, their roots and bulbs provide protection underground from digging voles.

Iris (Bearded, Dutch, Louisiana, Siberian, etc.)

Ivy

Ivy and creeping Jenny are safe from hungry deer.

Ivy, ferns and Creeping Jenny are safe from hungry deer and offer some protection to the Hosta in this shady garden.

Joe Pye Weed

Irises grow well on a slope in full sun.

Irises grow well on a slope in full sun.

Lambs Ears

Mexican Sage

Muscari

Pelargonium

Peonies

Red Hot Poker

Pentas, Sage, and Purple Heart enjoy full or partial sun.

Pentas, Sage, and Purple Heart enjoy full or partial sun.

Rudbeckia

Vinca

Herbs

Artemisia

Basil

Curry

Germander

"Otto Quast" lavender is one of the earliest to bloom, and is very hardy in zone 7B.

“Otto Quast” lavender is one of the earliest to bloom, and is very hardy in zone 7B.

Lavender

Mint

Monarda

Oregano

Parsley

Annuals and Biennials

Angelonia

Caladium

Castor Bean

Cleome

Dusty Miller

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly enjoying Echinacea, or purple coneflowers and Lantana.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly enjoying Echinacea, or purple coneflowers and Lantana.

Foxglove

Geranium and Pelargonium

Lantana

Mandevilla

Mexican Heather

New Guinea Impatiens

Persian Shield

Pentas

Plectranthus

Purple Heart

Zinnias

Plants that will need extraordinary measures to protect in a forest garden include:  Azaleas, Hostas, daylilies, Oriental Lilies, Roses, impatiens, some sedums, Tomatoes, squashes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, beans, and mophead Hydrangeas.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat.  The coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat. The coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome

Poisonous Plants to Grow In the Garden

Why I Love Those Plants of Ill Repute

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

Posted in

Permalink 3 Comments

3 responses to “Living With a Herd of Deer

  1. Pingback: Still Optimistic…. | Forest Garden

  2. what a lovely garden you have !

We always appreciate your comments. Thank you for adding your insight to the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 510 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest

%d bloggers like this: