living a well tended life... at any age

dealing with deer, part 1: the basics

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.

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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.

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Shall we?

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.

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Do you have trouble with deer? Anything you’d like to add? I’d love to hear it (assuming it’s not gross…)!

6 Comments

  1. Lacy on May 20, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Great tips! We are needing some keep-the-deer-out ideas now that we live on 90 acres. Kind of impossible, I imagine. For our veg garden, we’ve heard that urinating close by keeps them away. Really gross, yes. But we have a big fence around the garden (so it won’t get on the plants themselves!) so maybe it’s a decent idea. It’s supposed to keep them away from the chickens too. I leave this job to my husband, of course. 🙂

    • sherisilver on May 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Let me know if it works! If they jump the fence you can try running another fence around the garden that’s parallel to the original – about 1-2 feet apart. Deer have no depth perception and won’t jump a double run of fencing – even if it’s 5′ high!

  2. Kathy Radigan on May 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    What a great post, I’m sending this to my sister right now, she has a awful deer problem! Thanks!!

    • sherisilver on May 20, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks Kathy – I hope this helps! Tell her she can reach out directly if she has any questions! xo

  3. Tiffanie on May 20, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I will remember this post for that blessed day that we actually have more than just a container (gutter) garden. I know SO many people dealing with the deer situation!

    • sherisilver on May 21, 2013 at 9:20 am

      It’s such a problem everywhere – I hope this is helpful! 🙂

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