A delicious edible landscape for deer

A delicious edible landscape for deer

My peace with the deer came to an end this year, when the twins borne to a local doe began exploiting a territory that expanded beyond the lakebed to include the uplands where my fledgling barn garden was located.  Starting out naïve to the ways of deer and how to manage them, I went through the standard stages of grief:  anger, denial, sorrow, etc. Then I decided to get even.

Tomato plant browsed by deer

Tomato plant browsed by deer

I learned a bit about deer from my goats, which I sold in May for many of the same reasons as to why I combat the deer. Both are artiodactyls, members of a group of cloven-hooved mammals that include horses, deer, hippos, and peccaries. Deer are in the family Cervidae, while goats are members of the Bovidae. Both families consist of multi-stomached ruminants, which chew cud as part of their daily regime. Neither deer nor goats have no upper incisors, so they tear at vegetation leaving tell-tale evidence as to who ate your flowers.

Both the goats and deer act like garden dilettantes, never delving into one item but rather flitting from one place to another, nipping fresh growth. In that sense, they are somewhat useful for controlling meadows of creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and Himalayan blackberry by nipping back new growth. Continuing attacks on the new growth of more sensitive ornamentals, however, can severely stunt their growth. Both goats and deer delighted in my plantings far more than the lush growth on the rest of the acreage. Perhaps the concentration of edible delights was an attractant.

Research suggested that PlantSkydd(http://plantskydd.com/), initially developed in Sweden for commercial forest applications, works well against deer, and having tried it a few times I would concur. First, I tried it on the goats, and was satisfied with the vehemence of their reaction, stepping back from the offending substance as though it was threatening their very lives.  Consisting of a mixture of blood and sticking agents, the stuff smells horrendous but is relatively easy to apply from a spray bottle and is said to last for several months. However, I would recommend it only for small areas or specimen plants given the cost. A gardener at my local nursery suggested blood meal, a somewhat less-expensive though still pricey fertilize which I can only find locally in 3 lb bags. I sprinkle it liberally on the soil and leaves, and have thus far found no evidence of damage on treated plants.

For the garden, which is about 0.1 acre, I spent the summer trying a variety of fencing methods, from a mesh work of electric polytape to barbed wire jutting three feet away from the top strand. After watching my peas and beans disappear and my currents, raspberries and gooseberries loose their leaves, I determined that deer, like goats, are more than willing to step through fences. The goats were even able to break the welds on the mesh fence of their pen through sheer force of boredom and determination.

At last, I sunk the money into a five-foot high, 1”x2” mesh fence on top of the existing three feet of wide mesh field fencing for a total of 8’ of mesh to overcome. So far, so good; one month into it and my raspberries have new growth and I can harvest my chard and turnips. Sections of the five-foot fencing also make secure cages for fruit trees and bushesProtective plant cage, and cheap plastic bird mesh has saved my ravaged witch hazel from further damageHamamelis x intermedia .

However, as the growing season has waned, the eating rampage has grown less even on unprotected crops, so I cannot discern if it is my efforts or the declining palatability of aging plants that is affecting deer foraging choices.

The most recent addition to my anti-deer arsenal is the Scarecrow™ motion-activated sprinkler from Contech Electronics (http://www.contech-inc.com/products/scarecrow/).  The device gives a short burst of water when an animal is detected, frightening it away.  I’ve not had the pleasure of witnessing deer being deterred (see YouTube for that sort of entertainment), but I have two Scarecrows which I set up in various locations at different times so as to add to the element of surprise. I suspect the real test will come with this winter’s tender vegetable crop.

After I had spent the spring and summer months fighting for my right to grow vegetables and ornamentals, a fellow master gardener recommended the book Deer Resistant Landscaping by Neil Soderstrom.  This is an excellent resource not only for the control of deer but other pest mammals as well such as gophers, mice, rats, and, yes, armadillos. The author has done his homework interviewing numerous experts in the field, and delving into the life histories and habits of deer and other animals to help gardeners understand why they behave as they do. For instance, detailed information on how deer choose plants make it easier to select appropriate deterrents.  The book also features a comprehensive list of deer-resistant plants compiled based upon the experience of garden designers and growers. Take note, though, that plants can change in toxicity and palatability with the season, and that during periods of drought when natural food choices dwindle, plants that otherwise would be ignored become choice fodder. Or, as another local master gardener put it, “deer don’t read books on deer-resistant plants”.

Anything beats chasing deer around the garden at 4:00 am in bathrobe and slippers (true story), although I think my ‘crazy lady’ act has added to the deterrent effect. I can only hope.

A sampling of my personal list of what deer will and won’t eat:


  • Acanthus mollis – Acanthus
  • Acer circinaum – Vine maple (young tree)
  • Cercidiphyllum japonicum  – Katsura (young tree)
  • Cercis occidentalis – Western redbud
  • Cornus kousa  – Kousa dogwood (young tree)
  • Geum ‘Chiloense Red’
  • Hamamelis x intermedia   – Witch Hazel
  • Hemerocallis – Daylily
  • Penstemon ‘Garnet’ (young plants only)
  • Pyracantha koidzumii  ‘Victory’  – Firethorn
  • Prunella laciniata  – Self-Heal

DO NOT EAT (Not mine anyway)

  • Kniphofia uvaria – Redhot poker
  • Lavendula spp.  – Lavendar
  • Origanum vulgare – Oregano
  • Rosemarinus officinalis – Rosemary
  • Salvia officinalis – Sage
  • Senecio greyi – Senecio
  • Tagetes spp. – Marigold
  • Thymus spp. – Thyme
  • Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’
  • Yucca spp. – Yucca (green and variegated)


Resisting Deer

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