Oh Deer...they ate the whole garden!

Keeping deer out of the garden is no easy task, but here are a few of the latest deer-proofing products and ideas for saving your plants.

As we continue to encroach on the natural habitat of deer, growing the plants they love to eat, these beautiful animals will visit our gardens more and more and feed on our landscapes. My advice...if you live in a rural or semi-rural area, keep an eye on your roses! For that matter, keep your eye on everything as there are very few garden plants here in the Pacific Northwest that a deer won't eat.

What deer eat in the garden

Deer in the gardenDeer in our area include the mule deer, black-tail deer, or whitetail deer. They are ruminants -- cud-chewing grazers. This means they go around eating plants that are difficult for them to digest, get it halfway digested, then bring it up and chew it again. Rather gross, but that is why they can survive on indigestible leaves and new growth of trees.

They also like to eat delicate rose petals, soft green plants, fruit that is just waiting to be picked, and rhododendron growing in our yards. (...Why not eat something that tastes better than leaves and is much easier to digest?) That is the moment when we first reach for our camera, then realize what they are doing and run out the door yelling and waving our hands to try and scare them off.

How to keep deer out of the garden

They are attractive, graceful animals, and we marvel at their ability to leap effortlessly over a 6-foot high wall, but they can really damage a nice garden in no time.

What can you do about them? There are several types of deer-proofing products, but not a single one is going to be 100% effective. Deer are adaptable. One day you can scare them by clapping your hands. The next day, they just stare at you. The automatic sprinkler may startle them today, but tomorrow they may consider it refreshing.

The most effective deer deterrent is a very tall fence that they cannot leap over. Tall means twelve feet or so. A six foot leap for a deer is common and eight foot is not a problem either, but I've never seen one jump over 12 feet.

If a deer fence is not an option, here are a few organic deer repellant products we found:

  • Deer Out spray - apply every 3 months (or more often if we get a lot of rain) and when new growth appears.
  • Deer Stopper - this needs to be re-applied each month.
  • A motion activated sprinkler - you may want to turn it off before going out to work in the garden.

Of course, you could always grow the plants that deer typically avoid. This solution means no roses, no dwarf fruit trees, no blueberry bushes, no tulips, no sedums, no to most edible plants and almost all flowers that smell nice. But you don't need to limit your landscape to hardscapes alone. Here is a list of plants that seem to be "deer-proof" and are a good choice for gardens that are frequented by deer:

  • Lupine
  • Foxglove
  • Calendula
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Sage
  • Barberry

These plants must not smell good to deer, though perhaps some deer may develop a taste for them anyway.

Another defense against deer in the garden is a dog. Having a dog in your garden has its own set of challenges (read this interesting blog about landscaping for dogs), but they are an effective "deer repellant". Deer do not like things that look like wolves -- one of their natural predators.

We hope our deer-proofing ideas will be helpful and your plants will now have a chance to grow. Let us know if you find a method that works and we will share your advice with others.

Category: Animals and Insects

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