(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.
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.
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.
Annuals Bulbs and PerennialsShrubsTreesGroundcovers and VinesAntirrhinum majus, Snapdragon Aquilegia, ColumbineBerberis, BarberryAcer palmatum, Japanesse MapleClematis paniculata, Sweet Autumn Clematis Astilbe, False Spiraea; also called Meadow SweetDianthus, PinksBuxus, BoxwoodCedrus, Cedar Convallaria majalis, Lily of the ValleyBegonia x tuberhybrida Geranium, CranesbillIlex, Holly Magnolia grandiflora, Bull BayLamium, Dead NettleArtemisia stellerana, Dusty Miller Iris, All typesPotentilla, CinquefoilPseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas FirVinca, Periwinkle; also called Myrtle Zinnia angustifolia, ZinniaNarcissus, Daffodil Syringa, Lilac Quercus, OakWisteria, All types
A Few Deer Favorites
These plants are often the first the deer will eat in your garden.
Plantain Lily (Hosta)
Balsam; also called Touch-Me-Not and Snapweed (Impatiens)
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia )
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.
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.
- Dave's Garden community http://davesgarden.com/community/
- Dave's Gardening Forums http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/
- Deer repellant study http://www.walnutcouncil.org/deer_repellent_study.htm
- Deer-resistant plants http://www.almanac.com/garden/pests/deer.php
- The best deer-resistant landscape plants http://www.natorp.com/RW-ZooDeerResistant.pdf
- Deer-resistant plants http://www.deer-resistant-plants.com/
The thumbnail is courtesy of mrmac04 at morguefile.com. Thank you, mrmac04.
All other photos are from my gardens.