How to Deer-Proof Your Garden and Yard
Don't let your prized flower beds become Bambi's buffet. These deer-deterrent strategies will send unwanted woodland visitors scurrying.
Whether you've been planning your perfect garden since last fall or simply tossed some potted herbs into a raised bed in June, keeping hungry or curious deer from ravaging your flora and fauna is often a top priority. "Without a doubt deer, other herbivorous mammals, insects and birds are often a cause of concern for gardeners, whose focus is, of course, on making sure that their plants grow, produce, and are harvestable!" says John Griffin, senior director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States.
But nature—even the nature you grow intentionally—isn't just aesthetic. "Another concern that people have about plants in their yard is connected to the idea that these landscape plantings should stay attractive and perfectly un-browsed," says Griffin. "But it's critical to remember that plants are part of an ecosystem that nourish wildlife, no matter where we live, and are meant to be consumed."
Still, there are ways to work within your landscape's ecosystem to discourage these creatures from munching. Deer-resistant plants (like cleome, verbena bonarensis, lavender, and more) aren't usually poisonous, but rely on pungent oils and displeasing textures to send wildlife looking elsewhere for a snack. They're meant to be used as fillers throughout your garden, so accounting for them in the planning stages is the easiest way to go; if deer trouble erupts midseason, try replanting them whole. And while choosing strategic varieties is one way to keep curious animals at bay, there are others—you can build a physical barrier, for example. Ahead, more tips for deer-proofing your garden.
Know Who You Are Dealing With
Before you decide how to dissuade wildlife from snacking on your herbs and flowers, it's critical that you know exactly what type—or types—of animals are visiting. "Twigs browsed by rabbits may be identified by their neat, clipped appearance, and plants browsed by deer appear ragged and torn," says John Griffin, senior director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States. "The nearly spherical, pea-size droppings scattered around the area or sometimes left in small piles are from rabbits, while deer scat, although similarly shaped, is substantially larger."
Remote cameras on your property can also catch nighttime visitors who use your yard as a buffet and help you plan your approach. "It seems basic, but identifying the mammals, birds, and insects sharing your backyard is crucial in informing your strategies to help reduce unwanted damage to landscape plantings and gardens," says Griffin, "as well as providing perspective regarding how important these habitats are to the many creatures we share our neighborhood with."
Place Your Plants Strategically
Every region has native plants that are "resistant, and even resilient, to animal browse," says Griffin; check plant and garden stores, cooperative extension services, and native plant databases for ideas specific to your area. Then, carefully consider how and where to place your plants. "The keys to increasing your success are found in plant selection and placement—planting strategically and with abundance," says Griffin. "Fundamentally, anything out in the open, by itself, will always be vulnerable, so arranging a variety of plantings in higher densities will improve any impact from browsing wildlife. Plants allowed to grow and weave together naturally have more success in resisting browse pressure of deer, rabbits, and other animals."
Build a Barrier
If you need a more aggressive strategy, block animals' access with a physical barrier. "Where deer browsing and burrowing from other animals is a serious problem, especially in terms of protecting fruit and vegetables, the only completely effective way to protect them is with fencing," says Griffin. "Because deer that are really interested in entering the garden can jump fences up to eight feet high, woven wire fencing at this height stands out as the most effective deer barrier, often lasting more than 20 years." Smaller fences—like electric fence garden kits—netting, and tree tubes can also help. "The best type of fencing depends on how large an area you need to protect and for how long—and also from what animals—so check with your local garden store or local cooperative extension agents before buying anything," says Griffin. "The use of physical barriers such as netting of certain plants and tubing of young trees can reduce damage of specific plants in your landscape."
Address Their Senses
Griffin also recommends multi-sensory repellents, which make your plants less attractive to deer in several ways: by making them taste bad; incorporating hot pepper or peppermint that makes eyes and mucous membranes sting; giving off the smell of sulphur, which deer are believed to connect with predators; or causing gastrointestinal distress that reminds the animals not to munch on that particular plant again. On the following slides, you will find several varieties that don't taste, feel, or look appetizing to deer.
Plant Aromatic Herbs
As much as we love lavender's lush, heady aroma, deer don't seem to share the sentiment.
Integrate Spiky Varities
Cleomes and asparagus ferns (pictured) are awkward to chew—a bonus effect of the visual interest they'll give your garden.
Try Fuzzy Plants
Deer don't love things that tickle their throats. Try verbena (shown here) or ageratum, which has petals that grow in wispy clusters—or ballota, which has velvety silver leaves that make a nice edging accent.
Plant Zinnias in the Summer
Zinnias are avoided by deer for their heartburn-like aftereffects; opt for flame-colored blooms for a pop of color or a different shade altogether. Often, however, the best results come from combining all of the aforementioned solutions—and keeping in mind that blocking all wildlife from your garden isn't entirely beneficial in the long run. "Utilizing multiple approaches can provide an adaptable and tailored approach to any scale garden or landscape conflict," says Griffin. "Whether out in the countryside or in an urban space, a humane backyard can support local wildlife and successful gardening strategies simultaneously, improving quality of life for all."