One morning I awoke to find my newly planted altheas eaten down to small remnants of the thriving shrubs they had once been. I was livid. My mother had given the altheas to me. I had hauled them over one thousand miles from her place to mine. They had certainly not been planted as cuisine for the local wildlife. And so began my search for deer-resistant plants.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 6, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
In view of the tracks which I found nearby, there was no doubting who ate my shrub altheas, (Hibiscus syriacus, also known as Rose of Sharon). It was deer. During the night the ravenous rascals had leapt my fence in audacious disregard of human and dog, then munched until two of my altheas were small stubs. Not only had the deer eaten my altheas, but they nibbled on several of my daylilies and one of my roses. It was time to consider deer fencing. It was also time to research deer-resistant plants.
After trial and error, I found the best deer deterrent is a good dog. A barking dog will turn away the deer intent on making easy cuisine of your gardens. If you haven't the good fortune to own a diligent dog, then the following suggestions may be of some use to you. Keep in mind, however, that none of the suggestions listed are guaranteed to prevent the deer from entering your yard and gardens to forage on your plants.
Fencing An ideal fence would be eight feet tall, extend beneath ground with no gaps between panels or at the base. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for deer to leap over fencing as tall as eight feet. A fence along with other preventative measures should help to discourage deer from entering the gardens in regions with large deer populations.
Electric fencing is another type of fence used to deter deer. It sometimes works, but deer may jump it.
On our farm, we installed a combination of six foot high lattice panel and privacy fence to act as garden walls. It has been effective at discouraging the deer from entering our yard and gardens. I have a patch of daylilies planted outside the fence. At times the deer sample those, but not often. I am certain this is dependent upon the amount of food available in the wooded areas, pastures and crop fields. We are surrounded by crop land and pastures. The deer much prefer the ease of foraging in the fields to dealing with our dogs, fencing and security lights.
Deterrents You may want to try one of these deterrents. Be warned that the deer may stop nibbling for only a short time and go back to eating your plants even with the deterrent there.
Spray the plants with a blended mixture of garlic, rotten eggs, pepper and soap. Test a small amount on the plants before dousing the entire garden with it.
Place mothballs, human hair or bone meal at the base of the plants.
Install security lights to brighten the garden and scare the deer away.
Try stringing fishing line in the deer path. This will trip them and frighten them away.
Any type of noise maker might work. Crank up the radio in the garden. If the neighbors do not fuss about it, this should frighten the deer away.
The urine of certain predators such as cougar, coyote and bobcat is said to deter deer when sprinkled about the garden plants or the perimeter of the yard. It is, however, a costly deterrent.
Mineral blocks placed at the edge of the deer's feeding range or trails may help to deter the deer. The hope is that the deer will stop to feed on the mineral blocks rather than your gardens. It might attract more deer, so beware.
A Sampling of Deer-Resistant Plants for the Midwest This is a list of plants deer will usually ignore. To call a plant deer-proof is a misnomer. No plant is deer-proof. Deer have different preferences from region to region and varying tastes from creature to creature. The deer might eat the neighbor's prize 'deer-proof' roses and leave yours alone. This is part of the frustration of dealing with deer. Still the plants listed are less attractive to deer than others. For several comprehensive lists of deer-resistant plants see the links directory at the end of this article.
Bulbs and Perennials
Antirrhinum majus, Snapdragon
Acer palmatum, Japanesse Maple
Clematis paniculata, Sweet Autumn Clematis
Astilbe, False Spiraea; also called Meadow Sweet
Convallaria majalis, Lily of the Valley
Begonia x tuberhybrida
Magnolia grandiflora, Bull Bay
Lamium, Dead Nettle
Artemisia stellerana, Dusty Miller
Iris, All types
Pseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas Fir
Vinca, Periwinkle; also called Myrtle
Zinnia angustifolia, Zinnia
Wisteria, All types
A Few Deer Favorites These plants are often the first the deer will eat in your garden. Daylily (Hemerocallis) Plantain Lily (Hosta) Balsam; also called Touch-Me-Not and Snapweed (Impatiens) Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ) Rose (Rosa) Tulip (Tulipa) White Pine; also called Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Contact your local extension agent for information about deer-resistant plant lists or deer control.
Thanks to tall fencing, an attentive dog and a few deer-resistant plants strewn about our gardens the deer no longer frequent my yard. And my altheas are thriving once more.
Helpful Links Do the research. An internet search or trip to your local library will help narrow the list of deer-resistant plants to your particular region.
Photo Credits The thumbnail is courtesy of mrmac04 at morguefile.com. Thank you, mrmac04. All other photos are from my gardens.
About Stephanie Boles
Stephanie is a Floridian, transplanted to Missouri and married to a Missouri farmboy. She is a mother who enjoys the farm, teaching Sunday school, working as a church musician and a freelance writer. She spends a large part of her time helping the DH on building/remodeling their house. She designs the gardens and her DH helps to landscape them. She makes old fashioned bed dolls in her spare time. She is currently working on a historical romance book series. The first book of the series will be available for purchase in spring 2010. Book 2 in the summer of 2010.