Tag Archives: deer

Got Deer? Try These Tactics to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

Newcomers to the Washington DC metro area will eventually see deer standing on the roadside or coming out of the woods at dusk. At first, it is a lovely bucolic sight, gentle beautiful deer, twitching their tails, flicking their ears back and forth. But as the newcomers settle down into their homes and try their hand at gardening, they quickly learn that the deer are not as cute as they once thought. In this area, the suburbs provide ideal conditions for deer. There is plenty of food and water in the landscape and ample cover. The deer’s natural predators–bobcats, coyotes, and panthers–have long been eliminated. Many new homes have common ground for easier mowing, thus eliminating fencing. As homeowners sleep at night, families of deer wander in and help themselves to luscious hosta, delightful roses, and all the vegetables they want. Fortunately, there are multiple methods to deal with deer, depending on one’s budget and time.

Repellents

Those who have had their gardens ravaged by deer are tempted to try homemade repellents such as human hair, deodorant soap, and stinky garlic/pepper sprays. The truth is, they really offer little relief. If the smell does not end up repelling you, rain will wash the odor away so they will have to be re-applied. Commercial sprays are more effective but are not cheap. You have to determine just how often you will have to apply in one growing season multiplied by the number of years you intend to live on that property. Or you can weigh the damage versus the cost and time spent on the commercial spray. In my home, the deer will run through the tomato patch once in the spring and then they are gone for the rest of the season. The tomato plants grow back in the summer so I have learned to grow plenty of tomatoes (from seed) and forgo the cost of a repellent spray.

Deer Resistant Plants

Deer resistant demonstration garden with bluestar (Amsonia) in background

The term “deer resistant plants” refers to plants that deer usually won’t bother because of taste or difficulty to consume. However, if there is a summer drought or an unusually large number of deer, the limited food supply may drive them to eat plants that they would normally not eat. These lists of plants are actually more helpful when you use them to not buy the plants deer are known to love. For example, it is well known that deer like hostas so unless you have a plan to thwart the animals, you may not want to invest in hostas.

Daffodils are poisonous so deer do not eat them

Some of the deer resistant plants include pungent, poisonous, or highly textured plants. The deer never bother my highly aromatic rosemary, sage, and oregano herbs. Deer are not interested in poisonous daffodils, Christmas rose (Helleborus), foxglove (Digitalis), and monkshood (Aconitum). Plants that have hairy, fuzzy, or gray/silver leaves are usually ignored by deer. Plants that produce paper-dry flowers such as gomphrena also are not bothered. Thorns don’t seem to deter them though, they eat roses like candy. If you are trying to plan a deer resistant landscape, plant more woody shrubs and less herbaceous perennials, which are soft and succulent to a family of deer.

Deer Patterns

Another trick is to learn the roaming patterns of the deer in your area. Disrupt their patterns with either plants they won’t bother or with structures. Deer are creatures of habit so once you learn their habit you can foil them. At my home, deer usually jump the fence in front of my house to go through the backyard and over the low fence in the far right corner. They never go to the left corner because it is an intersection of three different fences, all various heights and visibility. Therefore, I can feel safe planting shrubs in the left corner. Deer may walk on the front lawn up to the front strip of plants but never walk up the concrete steps to the door. And they never walk on to the wooden deck in the back of the house. This means I can plant the aromatic herbs in the front strip and the hostas toward the front door. I can plant anything in containers on the wooden deck because they won’t walk up on to the deck.

Scare Tactics

There are scare tactics as well like motion-activated watering devices, lights, and sounds. Usually these are not practical in a suburban area, especially with homeowner association rules. It does not do to wake up the neighbors with flashing lights because deer are roaming in your territory.

Fences

Fencing is more of an investment but it is a long-term solution. The fencing does not have to be for the entire property. A fence around the vegetable garden might be all you need to keep them out of the edibles. A fence should be at least 8 feet tall, or us a slant fence, or a double fence. Unless scared, deer won’t jump blindly. They need to know they have a safe place to land. A slant or double fence makes them realize they cannot land safely on the other side. Fencing can be made of metal or polypropylene or can be electric. There are professional deer fencing companies that either sell do it yourself kits or can install a fence for you. Of course, local hardware stores have supplies for you to install a fence yourself.

When erecting a fence, keep in mind that deer do not see well and may accidentally run into the fence. Therefore, the fence has to be strong enough to resist this type of damage. And, if a deer does jump over the fence and land in an enclosed area, have a plan to be able to release the presumably wild and panicked animal. Make sure you construct a door or opening so the deer can come out on its own.

If you have a deer problem, don’t be disheartened, there are solutions and it may be a combination of solutions that work best for you. Below are sources for deer resistant plants, deer repellents, fencing options, and books.

 

Deer Resistant Plant Lists

Rutgers, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Landscape Plants Rated by Deer resistance

Deer Resistant Shrubs and Trees (both Native and Non-Native Species to Virginia), the State Arboretum of Virginia

Cornell Cooperative Extension Deer Resistant Plants

Maryland Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet 655, Wildlife Damage Management, Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage

Commercial Deer Repellents

Maryland Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet 810, Using Commercial Deer Repellents to Manage Deer Browsing in the Landscape

Deer Fencing

Virginia Cooperative Extension, Low-Cost Slant Fence Excludes Deer from Plantings

University of Maryland Extension, Low-cost Deer Fence Alternative

University of Maryland Extension Fencing for Your Garden

Books

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs that Deer Do Not Eat by Ruth Rogers Clausen, 2011

Solving Deer Problems: How to Deer Proof Your Yard and Garden by Peter Loewer, 2015

Deer Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals by Neil Soderstrom, 2009

Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart, 2005

Now Is The Time For All Gardeners To Plant Spring Blooming Bulbs!

 

snowdrops

snowdrops

Now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs! Chances are you will see a wide variety of bulbs at your local garden center but how to choose?

For those of you who are troubled by deer and rodents, try daffodils (Narcissus), snowflakes (Leucojum), and snowdrops (Galanthus). Members of the Amaryllis family, these bulbs contain a bitter poisonous chemical that mammals will not eat. In our Washington DC area, these are the easiest to grow: they are tough plants that will bloom year after year, untouched by deer and squirrels. Other bulbs that deer don’t favor (but may take an interest if food is scarce) are species of Fritillaria, blue squill (Scilla), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), starflower (Ipheion), winter aconite (Eranthis), and camassia (Camassia).

tulips

tulips

Tulips are beautiful and popular: flowers are deer candy and bulbs are squirrel food. Tulips have a reputation for being short lived and misplaced but one trick to prolong their life is to buy hybrid Darwin tulips and plant them about10 inches deep, deeper than recommended, to ensure adequate insulation and protection from squirrels. Still, deer have been known to nosh on the flowers at night, leaving green stalks and frustrated gardeners in the morning.

Another factor to consider is the sunlight and soil moisture. Most bulbs need to be planted in a well-drained area with full sun. There are “woodsy” types that tolerate some shade and moist soil such as snowdrops, winter aconite, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides), squill, and glory of the snow. Usually the smaller bulbs can tolerate the shade under a deciduous tree in early spring before the tree leafs out.

Cost is also a factor. You want the bulb to be as big (for its particular type) as possible so don’t settle for bargain basement deals, get high quality, healthy bulbs. That being said, spring blooming bulbs always look better in groups or masses so count on buying a bunch of high quality, healthy bulbs, not just one.

daffodils

daffodils

Larger bulbs need more space between them than small bulbs so allow about 5 inches between large bulbs and two to three inches between smaller bulbs. The rule of thumb is to plant down 2 to 3 times the width of the bulb so if a bulb is 2 inches wide, plant so the base of bulb is 4-6 inches below the soil line (with the exception of the Darwin tulips as mentioned above).  With something like a daffodil, which has a tear drop shape, it is easy to find the nose which is planted upward. Look for a smaller pointier top and a wider base to figure out which end is up but if you can’t tell at all, plant it sideways and it will sort itself out.

Once you have bought your bulbs, simply dig, drop, and cover with soil. After planting, water well. In our area, the best time to plant is October and November, when the soil temperature is cooler but not frozen. The roots need time to get established before the soil freezes. It is possible to plant later but not after the soil has frozen and the later one plants, the less likely the plant will become established enough to withstand winter.  There is no need to fertilize but keep track of what you planted where you planted so you don’t accidently dig them up in the spring when you start to plant the cool season annuals such as pansies.