By David Salman, Chief Horticulturist and Founder of High Country Gardens
Browsing animals and new transplants are a bad combination. Nothing is more disappointing than going out the morning after a day’s labor of planting, only to find all your plants bitten off at the soil line! Gardeners have a few different options to protect their landscapes. For best results, use a combination of different techniques to gain the upper hand. Read on for help keeping deer out of your garden.
Learn About Local Deer
Choose Deer Resistant Plants
Companion Planting To Deter Deer
#1: Deer Fencing
One of the most effective ways to protect your yard is to install fencing. This is also the largest investment of the seven strategies outlined here. Deer fences need to be at least 7 to 8 feet tall to thwart the deer who can easily clear lower heights. A deer fence can be very inconspicuous when using a thin-mesh fencing wire and small diameter posts to minimize its visual impact. Sometimes when deer pressure is simply overwhelming at all times of the year, a deer-proof fence is the gardener’s last resort.
#2: Deer Repellents
Experience has shown me that deer-resistant plants generally do not come that way from the nursery. Most plants that depend on aromatic oils and bitter compounds to repel animals need time to build up their natural defenses. After a few months of growing in your garden, transplants will accumulate these deer-resistant compounds in their leaves and stems, and their deer resistance increases greatly. I strongly recommend creating a strategy to deter deer while your plants establish to protect young transplants from being eaten.
Tips for using deer repellent:
Research on deer eating habits has shown that the most effective way to protect your plants with repellents is to rotate their use so the deer don’t become accustomed to any one repellent formula. Spray deer repellent on new transplants and established plants that are vulnerable to browsing, especially during the fall, winter, and early spring months.
Be sure and apply deer repellent to new transplants.
It is also important to remember to re-apply the spray as the plants grow and new leaves appear. So every 10 to 14 days is a good interval to spray the repellent.
Be sure to reapply as needed to prevent deer from getting a taste of your plants and coming back for more -- especially after rain.
#3: Scare Tactics
Some gardeners have also had success by hanging shiny objects from trees or other garden ornaments. This may help to deter deer temporarily while your plants establish their natural defenses. But note that deer can become accustomed to these objects over time.
#4: Physical Barriers
In times of drought and a lack of natural forage, additional measures may need to be taken, because browsing animals are simply too hungry to be put off by unpleasant tastes and odors that repellents. Physical barriers may be necessary. They'll help prevent other critters from nibbling, can be affordable and reusable, and are easy to use.
Poultry wire cages and bamboo stakes are effective
You can also cover plants with a light spun fabric known as row crop cover, used by vegetable gardeners to protect from frost and insects.
#5: Learn About Local Deer
It's also important to remember that the plants deer don't like to eat will vary somewhat from region to region. I always recommend checking in with local Agricultural Extension offices and Master Gardener organizations to verify that the plants on your deer-resistant list are not being eaten in your area.
#6: Choose Deer Resistant Plants
An essential deterrent is choosing plants that are unpalatable to hungry deer. Using deer-resistant plants as companion plants to more vulnerable varieties is another strategy. Fortunately, we offer a wide variety of deer-resistant plants, so you can plant a garden that's both beautiful and worry-free.
Companion planting deer-resistant plants with other non-resistant plants is also a good strategy. Deer smell the aromatic plants and leave the whole planting alone. I once attended a lecture given by an inspired gardener who is a rose specialist and loved to grow Roses and Clematis in Spokane, Washington, but apparently, deer are a constant hazard in that area and love to eat roses. She would always plant lavender in the planting hole with her roses, and this works quite well for her. Though not guaranteed, planting strongly aromatic plants alongside other more palatable ones can be an effective and beautiful way to prevent deer damage.
Planting Lavender alongside and around roses or Clematis vines, for example, is an effective and aesthetically pleasing strategy.