How do I keep deer from eating my plants?
The beautiful landscapes we've been creating aren't just attractive to us... deer love them, too.
In fact, unwittingly, humans have created more and more deer habitat in our cities. When we bulldoze green areas to create more development, we're not only pushing deer out of their natural habitat -- but we're also recreating more lush, more desireable living environments for them in our cities. And, the plants we put in our landscapes feed deer better than what they could get in the wild, contributing to their survival and reproduction rates.
Wildlife experts have shown that when we increase forage abundance, we increase the number of deer. So conversely...
So what do we do?
Besides considering green space when expanding (and a plan on what wildlife will do when we displace them), individually there is a lot we can do to keep deer from eating our plants and reproducing.
Sandy Baker, known nationwide as "The Deer Doctor" for her expertise in protecting gardens, gives 5 easy steps to deer proofing your garden:
1. Understand deer characteristics and behavior
Deer are afraid of anything new. However, once they become accustomed to something, they'll accept it as safe. This explains why one technique to deter them (e.g., Ivory soap) may work one week, but not the next. Therefore, you can change the technique (e.g., a different smelling soap like Irish Spring) every 10-14 days so that they do not become accustomed to it.
2. Select appropriate plants
There are many deer resistant plants; deer tend to avoid plants with aromatic foliage, tough leathery and/or hairy or prickly leaves or plants with milky latex or sap. They also tend to not like yellow flowers! The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a list of over 350 plants that are deer-resistant, and you can sort it by growing season.
It's important to understand that deer are individuals, and what one doesn't like another may like. So before planting a bunch of expensive plants, be sure to try one or two to see if the deer in your area avoid it.
3. Use repellents and deterrents as directed on the container
Some repellents recommended by master gardeners are: Deer Out, Ropel, and Deer Busters. It's very important that you follow the instructions exactly as written. There are also repellents you can create from hot pepper or rotten eggs.
Deterrents work by startling deer, either visually or auditorally. Check out the Smart Scarecrow; it's received rave reviews by gardeners.
4. Use fencing wisely
Deer can jump up or across-- but not both-- that is, they cannot physically make a high and broad jump-- only one or the other. They also won't jump over a fence if they don't believe they'll land on a safe surface. And they also won't jump over something if it spooks them -- check out these videos on cheap, easy and sightly fencing and this one that a Michigan blueberry farmer swears by!
5. Make a strategic plan based on your needs and the specific area
The Humane Society of Huron Valley recently brought Sandy Baker, the "Deer Doctor" to town to present information to area residents interested in deer proofing their gardens; over 75 people were in attendance! If you didn't make it, you can purchase the booklet on "How to Deer Proof Your Garden in Five Easy Steps" from her website, DeerProofYourGarden.com.
And find out more information on non-lethal methods of deterrring deer here.
The Humane Society of the United States has an informative, free webinar on making your garden deer and woodchuck resistant.