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The white tail deer population in our region is booming. This is evident by deer presence in both rural AND residential areas.
As we encroach upon their habitat, it is up to the deer to learn to adapt. Much of the landscaping that surrounds our home is edible to deer, and in some cases, irresistible. It should be said, specifically during the summer months, not all plant browsing can be blamed on deer. Deer have no upper incisors, so the plants violated by deer will have a jagged edge to the eaten leaves or torn stems. If it is a clean cut, the damage is from another invader, such as a rabbit or woodchuck.
The nutritional needs of deer change seasonally, and deer feed most actively in early spring and early fall. Forbs and grasses remain their primary source of nutrition, but cultivated crops can also be a target. During the harsh reality of winter, deer often will consume plants they wouldn’t otherwise consider, as they struggle to survive through the harshest season. During this season, specifically February and March, it is common to see evergreens stripped of their green from the ground to as far high as a deer can reach (browse line). This is usually an indicator that they have exhausted their browse, along with other food sources (acorns and grass buried beneath the snow), and are now forced to eat least desirable items due to hunger and starvation.
There are many approaches to protecting your landscape investment…by being proactive versus reactive.
It makes the most sense, when starting with a fresh landscape project, to plant ONLY deer resistant plants. This will significantly reduce the chance of deer damage, and protect your financial and labor investment.
Plants deer avoid are often those those that have a strong aroma, fuzzy/prickly texture, or a bitter alkaloid taste; and they always avoid poisonous plants. However, when confronted by starvation, deer will revisit plants that may not have appealed to them in the past, except for the toxic varieties. If you choose toxic plantings to discourage deer, you must consider the danger of these plants to your family members and pets.
The factors contributing to the plant’s toxicity levels could be one or all of the following:
- Part of the plant ingested (bulbs, roots, leaves and branches, seeds or fruit)
- Growth stage (immature, new growth versus mature plant)
- Dry versus fresh (green)
Is it your dream to have a spring full of flowering bulbs? Get rid of the tulips (or the deer will do this for you), and replace with an army of daffodils!
Do you want a privacy hedge? Don’t waste your money on Yew, only to see it marred with a browse line. Plant Boxwood!
Deer Resistant Plants…
*Denotes that plant may be susceptible for food during harsh winters with high deep populations approaching starvation.
**Denotes that these plants have proven particularly resistant.
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)*
Maple (most Acer)*
Oak (most Quercus)*
Thornless honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis)*
California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)*
Spruce (most Picea)
Western and Oriental arborvitae (Thuja plicata and T. orientalis)*
Deciduous and Evergreen Shrubs:
Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica)*
Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
Bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
Japanese and mountain pieris (Pieris japonica and P. floribunda)
Lilac (most Syringa)*
Magnolia (most Magnolia)*
Pfitzer juniper (Juniperus pfitzeriana)
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)*
Spirea (many Spiraea)
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)*
Viburnum (many Viburnum and their cultivars)
Aaron’s beard (Hypericum calycinum)**
Alum root (Heuchera)
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata, G. repens)
Bee balm (Monarda)**
Big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum)** mildly TOXIC
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata, G. x grandiflora)**
Blazing star (Liatris)**
Bleeding heart (Dicentra)** TOXIC
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)** TOXIC
Blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana)**
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)**
Buttercup (Ranunculus )** TOXIC
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) TOXIC
Campanula (C. Carpatica, C. rotundifolia)
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)** TOXIC
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum) TOXIC
Columbine (Aquilegia)** TOXIC
Comfrey (Symphytum)** TOXIC
Common globeflower (Trollius europaeus)** mildly TOXIC
Common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)** TOXIC
Coneflower (Rudbeckia) moderately TOXIC
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum)**
Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
Dead nettle (Lamium)**
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)** TOXIC
Evening primrose (Oenothera)
False indigo (Baptisia)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Ferns ** some species are TOXIC
Field scabious (Knautia macedonia)
Fleabane (Erigeron) mildly TOXIC
Foxglove (Digitalis) TOXIC
Foxtail lily (Eremurus)**
Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)**
Germander (Teucrium canadense, T. chamaedrys)**
Globe thistle (Echinops)**
Gold bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea)**
Golden groundsel (Ligularia)**
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) TOXIC
Hellebore (Helleborus)** TOXIC
Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)**
Hepatica (Hepatica)** TOXIC
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)**
Hollyhock mallow (Malva alcea)
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)**
Horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) TOXIC
Iris (Iris germanica, I. cristata, I. sibirica, I. ensata, I. pseudocorus, I. tectorum) TOXIC
Irish moss (Sagina subulata)
Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)**
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema)** TOXIC
Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)
Jerusalem sage (Phlomis)**
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)**
Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber)**
Knapweed (Centaurea) TOXIC
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)**
Ladybells (Adenophora lilifolia)**
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina, S. officinalis)**
Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)**
Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) TOXIC
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)**
Leopard’s bane (Doronicum) TOXIC
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)** TOXIC
Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)**
Lobelia (Lobelia) TOXIC
Lungwort (Pulmonaria)** TOXIC
Lupine (Lupinus and hybrids) TOXIC
Madwort (Alyssum)** TOXIC
Meadow rue (Thalictrum)
Meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa)
Milkweed (Asclepias)** TOXIC
Miniature hollyhock (Sidalcea malviflora)
Mint (Mentha)** TOXIC
Monkshood (Aconitum)** TOXIC
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum)**
Mugwort (Artemisia)** TOXIC
Mullein (Verbascum) TOXIC
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) TOXIC
Ornamental rhubarb (Rheum)** TOXIC
Ox-eye daisy (Telekia speciosa)**
Pachysandra (P. procumbens, P. terminalis) TOXIC
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)**
Peony (Paeonia)** TOXIC
Perennial blue flax (Linum perenne)** TOXIC
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) TOXIC
Phlox (P. divaricata, P. stolonifera, P. subulata)**
Pussytoes (Antennaria)** TOXIC
Rose mallow (Hibiscus) TOXIC
Rue (Ruta graveolens)** TOXIC
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)** TOXIC
Sea thrift (Armeria maritima)** TOXIC
Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia)**
Soapwort (Saponaria) TOXIC
Speedwell (Veronica austriaca, V. spicata)**
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)**
Stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum, S. spurium)
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)** mildy TOXIC
Toadflax (Linaria) TOXIC
Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica)**
White gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
Wild ginger (Asarum) TOXIC
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)**
Yarrow (Achillea)** TOXIC
Yellow waxbell (Kirengeshoma palmata)
Bulbs & Corms
Arum (Arum italicum)
Colchicum (Colchicum autumnale)
Daffodil (Narcissus) TOXIC
Dalmatian crocus (Crocus tomassinianus)
Ornamental onion (Allium)
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
There are several ways to protect your landscape plantings, when you decide to use plants that may be targets for deer. Here are a few options:
Deer Defeat® is an application that can be used to protect your plantings all year round. Not only does it act as a deterrent, it also has an anti-desiccation property which is essential for evergreens through the dry winter months. This application is offered as a service through Countryside Landscape & Design Inc.
Heavily scented soaps that have tallow as a component (animal-origin fatty acids) work to discourage deer. Avoid soaps with edible oils as the main ingredient. Soap will last longer if left in its wrapper and will still be noticed by deer, with their acute sense of smell. Another method, is taking soap out of its wrapper and hanging in an old nylon stocking which is then hung 3-6′ high. The scent will be more intense. Spacing is about 3′ for optimum efficiency.
Cayenne Pepper Mix: 1 gallon water + 4-5 tablespoons cayenne pepper + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Transfer mixture into a spray bottle, shake and apply to foliage. Reapply as needed.
Tabasco Sauce Mix: 1 gallon water + 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce + 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap. Transfer mixture into a spray bottle, shake and apply to foliage. Reapply as needed.
Rotten Egg Mixture: (do not use on plants meant for consumption) In 2 cups of water, add 4 garlic cloves, 2 eggs, and 2 tbsp of Tabasco. Blend in a mixer and allow to rest in a covered container several days prior to application.
Install a barrier, such as deer fencing. Countryside Landscape & Design offers a few options for deer-proofing with fencing.
Wrapped deer netting: wraps around your shrubbery giving it some protection, although deer have been known to push on it to get to the edible parts that can poke through.
Black poly netting mounted on 7′ metal stakes: provides a buffer of space between the shrub and the deer are not able to access the planting by pushing on it. These mesh-like fencing options virtually blend into your landscaping.
Burlap: is an option for smaller shrubbery (burlap comes in 4′ or 6′ widths), and will also protect broad-leaf evergreens from windburn, but will not blend into the landscape. The other negative with burlap is that it will hold snow and can potentially crush what it is protecting, while the mesh options allow snow to pass through.
When your goal is to deter deer, you are best served if you employ several tactics, and rotate/alternate these tactics throughout the season. Deer are afraid of new things, so utilizing this rotation does not allow them to adapt.
If you are one who enjoys seeing nature in your back yard, there are many ways to offer habitat to these beautiful creatures. Many states prohibit or discourage actively feeding or baiting deer, and for good reason, as it can cause them harm or even death when consuming foods they are not acclimated to.
The best way to encourage deer to visit you, is to recreate their habitat. Start by planting a deer garden, or food plot, and choose plants that deer seek out, such as red clover, chicory and/or orchard grass. Along the perimeter of your deer garden is a good location for apple and oak trees. The apples and acorns provide another very desirable and natural food source for deer populations. If your property is surrounded by forest, softening the transition from the forested area to your lawn area, by allowing grasses to grow tall along the wood-line. This provides a sense of security for deer.
Resources: Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden, author: Rhonda Massingham Hart