Photo courtesy of seppen7 at Flickr.com.
Deer show up in the strangest of places - including suburban lawns. They also enjoy munching on some plants more than others. If you have plants that deer like to chow down on, it's time to consider planting something new or doing something to limit the damage.
Here are a list of plants that are like catnip to deer:
Wintercreeper vine (Euonymus fortunei)
English Ivy (Hedera helix )
Fir (Abies nordmanniana and other species)
Eastern Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis)
Atlantic White Cedar tree (Chamaecyparis thyoides)
Crabapple (Malus coronaria and other species)
White Mulberry (Morus alba)
White Pine (Pinus strobus)
Cherry trees (Prunus avium and other species)
Plum trees (Prunus domestica and other species)
Peach trees (Prunus persica)
Apricot trees (Prunus armeniaca)
European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis and other species)
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Yew (Taxus baccata)
Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa and others)
Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Plantain Lily (Hosta plantaginea and others)
Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Stonecrop (Sedum acre)
Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana )
Green Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris )
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia and other
Photo courtesy of ErdbeerKiwi at Flickr.com.
So, if you have these plants and don't want to give them up, these are several things you can you do to protect your plants. Your options fall into 4 categories:
1) Scare the deer away
If you can convince deer that your lawn is dangerous, they'll usually go away and find somewhere safe to get their munchies. Think about how deer see the world: they're looking for a sheltered place without any predators and many easy escape routes. Put yourself in their hooves - imagine how your yard looks through their beady little eyes, how your bushes smell through their cute/evil little noses, and how your neighborhood sounds to their super-sensitive ears. Then think about ways to make your yard scary to all those senses.
A deer's sense of smell is particularly strong - if you can make your plants smell scary, that will protect them from getting eaten. One way to do this is to use predator markers that deer are afraid of. Various forms of urine are available for marking your yard, such as bear or coyote spray (I don't even want to know how they harvest them!). Dogs and cats can also be trained to spray plants. A word of warning: some plants may be harmed by urine, and if you have those plants a better options is to spray the boundaries of your property or common entry points like gates and sidewalks.
Human hair also has strong smells that deer associate with danger. If you have a dirty hairbrush, just pull some hair off and mix this in with the soil around your plants. Hair salons have piles of hair trimmings available, but that hair can have unknown chemicals or even disease. I'd steer clear of it.
Another scary scent is the scent of bloodmeal
. When deer get even the faintest hint of blood, they run away in fear. Blood meal is often found in organic fertilizers - it's earth friendly and will help your plants grow (in addition to keeping them from getting eaten). The smell of treated blood meal is very mild and few people will notice it. Deer associate the smell of blood with wounded animals, but the smell of dead deer
can be even more effective. Dead deer are often found in the lairs or big, hungry predators, and even the dumbest deer knows to avoid those places.
Putting any of these scents in your yard is like hanging up a sign that says "Come here and I'll eat you." They're even more effective than a sign, since the average deer can't read. You can send the same message by chaining up a guard dog in your yard, or setting up an electronic alarm. Some alarms use loud noises and flashing lights
to scare away deer. Other alarms use ultrasonic sound to repel deer
. Ultrasonic alarms seem to be silent to humans - we can't hear the noise they make, but garden pests can. There are even some systems that use motion detectors to fire paintballs or spray water at deer
. Those systems can also tag small children and door-to-door salesmen, which is generally a good thing, but they are illegal in many areas.2) Make the plants smell and taste bad
Like most animals, deer rely on their taste buds to pick dinner. This is another sense that you can turn against them - if you put nasty flavors on the leaves, deer will often move on and look for something else to eat. Some of the most effective flavors come from ground peppers - Jalapenos or Habanero Peppers are easy to sprinkle on your garden and they're sure to give deer heartburn. Deer urine is something else that deer really don't like the taste of (imagine that!). There are also custom made repellents that irritate deer's mouths and burn their noses
Did you know that deer have no incisors in their upper jaw? That means when they bite a plant they often tear off jagged strips of foliage. So, even when these irritants work, your plants often suffer damage in the process.3) Use plants to repel or redirect deer
Deer are attracted to certain plants, and they can be repelled by other plants
. Most plants in the mint family disgust deer, as well as anything with fuzzy or hairy leaves. Plants with a strong strong herbal scent, such as Lavender, Oregano, Thyme and Wormwood often cause deer to leave an area. So, you might want to consider planting more of these deer repellent plants alongside your house, or planting rows of them along the edges of your property. You could also use plants that attract deer
to your advantage. Deer will generally taste the plants they like first. So, plant a row of those plants on the downhill side of your property and get them to move away from your house, or give those tasty plants special attention with repellent chemicals, sprays, and alarm systems.4) Physically protect your plants
A physical barrier if generally the most expensive option, but it's sometimes the only option that works. If deer are hungry enough, they'll go into scary places, eat plants they normally wouldn't touch, and even eat plants that are smeared with really nasty flavors. On the other hand, a sturdy fence can stop them in their tracks. Generally, only very tall fences will work because deer have impressing jumping powers. 8 feet is a good height, but a 6 feet tall with two strands of electric wire at the top will also work. A less expensive solution is to put netting around your plants. Chicken wire is very effective, because deer can't bite through galvanized steel.
If that doesn't work, it's time to consider land mines or to get a deer hunting permit!
Photo courtesy of tom.comet at Flickr.com.