If you garden with deer (and you know who you are), then you know that this is a two-part post – at least.
Without a doubt, dealing with deer is the #1 (and maybe even #2, #3 and #4) most frustrating challenge I face as a landscape designer – and gardener.
And if you’re like me, you’ve used (or considered) every “tried and true” approach out there.
Coyote urine. Irish Spring soap. Pantyhose filled with human hair. Raw eggs.
“Deer-proof” plants? Books and the internet are full of lists. Unfortunately, deer don’t read the lists, and as the deer population has increased, they have adapted their tastes to include a wider variety of plants. Adding insult to injury, what they eat in one town they don’t touch even a few miles away, and what they ignored last season is their new favorite this year.
What to do? Well, before you start considering plastic plants, try this approach. It’s low-key and easy to implement, while minimizing the cost, labor and “ick” factor of other methods.
Re-think the concept of “impact”. When I started my business, I couldn’t wait to design gardens overflowing with all the plants that I had seen in my books and classes. But after a few seasons of seeing those gardens decimated by hungry herds, I now tell clients – if you have deer, there is a limit to the variety of plants that you can have in your garden.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have that “wow” factor – it just means re-thinking how you get there. Try using massings of plants (like, 5-7 of each), so that they have real impact when in bloom. Look for plants with striking or unusual foliage. And if you find a plant that works, install several varieties. Peonies, foxgloves and spireas, for example, are available in a wide range of sizes, bloom times and colors, which extends their season of interest. We can do this!
Use deer-repellants. When incorporated with other tactics, commercial deer-repellants can be very effective. I am a big fan of Deer Stopper – it’s organic, has a pleasant, minty scent and works well when applied immediately after planting (or as new growth emerges), and monthly thereafter. I wouldn’t use it on tulips and expect miracles, but on my “deer-resistant” plants I’ve had consistently good results. Bobbex is also very effective (it does NOT, however, smell pleasant).
Be a sleuth. The first thing I do when designing a garden is to make note of plants that are up and thriving nearby. This is typically a good indicator of the preferences of the deer in that particular neighborhood. Deer are habitual creatures and tend to traverse the same paths. If they are leaving a plant alone in your neighbor’s yard, chances are it will be safe in yours too (of course, next season may be a different story…..).
Next month I’ll share my own list of plants that deer consistently overlook, along with other tips to prepare you and your garden for the season.
Do you have trouble with deer? Anything you’d like to add? I’d love to hear it (assuming it’s not gross…)!