Browsing animals and new transplants are a bad combination. Nothing is more annoying than going out the morning after the previous day’s labor of planting, only to find all your plants bitten off at the soil line. The lesson here is that it’s important to understand that deer resistant plants need some initial protection from our hoofed neighbors after planting.
Experience has shown me that deer resistant plants generally don’t come that way from the nursery. This is because nursery grown plants are grown in soil-less mixes that use ingredients such composted bark, sphagnum peat moss , perlite, vermiculite, coir, rice hulls and soluble nutrients to create a well drained, well aerated mix in which we can grow potted plants. Most plants that depend on aromatic oils and bitter compounds to repel animals don’t seem to be able to synthesize them in sufficient quantities when grown in non-soil growing environments. But transplants, after a few months growing in real soil, begin to accumulate these deer resistant compounds in their leaves and stems and their deer resistance increases greatly.
So I strongly recommend deer repellent sprays when it comes to protecting young transplants from being eaten.
Research on deer eating habits have 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. 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.
I once attended a lecture given by an inspired gardener who is a rose specialist and loved to grow Roses and Clematis in Spokane, WA. But apparently deer are a constant hazard in that area and love to eat roses, so she would always plant lavender in the planting hole, and this works quite well for her. So planting strongly aromatic plants alongside other more palatable ones can be an effective and beautiful way to prevent deer damage.
Here are some of my favorite hardy herbs with strongly scented leaves that deer hate:
- Salvia officinalis (Little Leaf Garden Sage) – fabulous deep blue flowers and gorgeous, culinary quality leaves.
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’, ‘Alcalde Cold Hardy’ (Cold Hardy Rosemary) – two of the most cold hardy Rosemary cultivars. Gorgeous and culinary.
- Lavandula angustifolia cultivars (English Lavender) – choose twice blooming English cultivars like ‘Sharon Roberts’, ‘Buena Vista’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’ to have blooming lavender in late spring and early fall.
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 smells that repellents use to detract the animals. Physical barriers are necessary. Poultry wire cages and bamboo stakes are effective as is covering plants with light spun fabric known as “row crop cover” used by vegetable gardeners to protect from frost and insects.
Sometimes when deer pressure is simply overwhelming during all times of the year, a deer-proof fence is the gardener’s last resort. A deer fence can be very inconspicuous when using a thin-mesh fencing wire and small diameter posts. It typically needs to be 6 feet in height to keep the deer from jumping the fence.
Text and Photos by David Salman