The garden is your labor of love, an investment in time and toil, and it’s hard to watch it be nibbled and trampled by deer. Loss of habitat for deer and their predators has forced them into the edges of suburbia, where they dine on the delights of our lawns and gardens.
The tender new growth and high water content of spring bulbs, flowers and young trees is just what hungry deer favor.
As with any gardening problem, there are many techniques and strategies to protect your plants.
The first thing to know is that there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant. Especially during stressful drought conditions, deer will eat plants that otherwise may be unappetizing. And, maddeningly, plants that may go untouched at your neighbor’s down the road can be deer candy when planted at your house.
A lot depends on placement in the garden; as you plan your landscape, be sure to plant deer favorites close to the house. Plant less appealing varietals, the ones deer will not touch unless they are ravenous, increasingly farther from your home.
When choosing plantings that will deter deer, look for:
- Thorns, prickly leaves and stems
- Strong-smelling and pungent-tasting plants, such as herbs
- Plants with hairy leaves or thick sap
- Ornamental grasses and ferns
- Bleeding heart
- Lamb’s ears
- Lily of the valley
- Russian sage
More deer-resistant plants can be found in horticultural expert Ruth Rogers Clausen’s 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Shrubs That Deer Don’t Eat.
Sometimes, it’s impractical to move plantings, and tactics such as repellents are used. Some folks swear by placing bars of soap or bags of human hair throughout the landscape. If you try these, be sure to replace the bags at least monthly.
When purchasing repellents, there are several varieties to look for:
- Contact repellents are applied directly to plants and give them an unpleasant taste.
- Most area repellents use powerful smells to repel wildlife.
- Electronic pest repellents emit ultrasonic waves that deter animals.
When applying repellents, be sure it’s a dry day when temperatures are above freezing. Hang or apply repellents at the bud or near ground level of the plants you wish to protect.
If deer and other wildlife are a nuisance, an enclosed garden is a practical DIY solution. Raised beds surrounded by 6-foot walls ensure that the critters won’t come close to your prize plants.
Protecting your plants from deer and other wildlife isn’t just a problem for homeowners with lots of land. Urban gardeners have their own battle to fight — against squirrels. The rascally rodents may have endearingly human-like characteristics, but can be tiny terrors.
Some squirrel-defense strategies to apply:
- Because squirrels prefer nuts and seeds to tender greens, set up a squirrel feeder.
- Cover the soil in raised beds with chicken wire (staple the edges to the frame) to keep squirrels from burying excess nuts and seeds.
- Try animal repellents such as sprays or sound wave repellents.
And remember that man’s best friend, a dog, will deter deer and other pests.