Posts Tagged ‘deer proof’

Deter Deer with Camouflage Gardening

A deer-proof garden is essentially non-existent, but a highly deer-resistant garden is attainable with a little effort and planning. One key is to practice “camouflage gardening“.

Camouflage gardening is the practice of using plants that animals don’t like to deter them from eating plants that they do like. Camouflage gardening is mostly focused on deterring deer, but can work for rabbits, squirrels, and even dogs and cats with appropriate plantings. I must point out and stress that this deters animals like deer from eating desirable plants, it doesn’t prevent them from eating anything.

Deer exploring my new vegetable garden area

Deer exploring my new vegetable garden area

Think of it as constructing a castle or defensive military position. The plant you want to protect is in the center of the defensive zone. It’s surrounded by a barrier of deer-resistant plants. For superior defense you layer zones with additional rings of protection. You’re not building walls to protect plants but using plants to protect plants.

There are certain plants that deer, and similarly many other animals, don’t like. Deer tend to avoid plants that are strongly aromatic or bitter tasting, that have a milky or sticky sap, or that have prickly leaves or are tough and hairy. When they encounter these plants they tend to ignore them and move on.

Deer are browsers that amble from plant to plant looking for something they like. If a plant isn’t on their list of favorites, they’ll keep looking for one that is. This assumes that they have an adequate food selection available. When conditions are bad, as in drought years or when habitat is reduced, they’ll eat almost anything to stay alive. In spring pregnant does will eat almost anything.

Deer by table

Deer will look everywhere for food

To get the best protection and to help minimize problems during bad years, the outside protective zone, which is the first that deer encounter, would have a plant that is highly resistant to deer. This layer should have plants that are aromatic with an odor that makes them walk away. You create a scent barrier that prevents them from smelling desirable plants. Lavender, mint, salvia, beebalm, rosemary, and cedar are some plants that have a smell deer avoid and are also rarely eaten.

Salvia and yarrow deter deer

Salvia and yarrow deter deer

The second layer of protection would include bad-tasting or toxic plants. The idea is that if they wander past or through the first protective zone they’ll come across plants that they don’t want to eat. Holly, juniper, feathergrass, zinnia, and barberry are rarely eaten. Plants like elderberry, poppies, bleeding heart, lobelia, and larkspur can be toxic. When deer encounter these plants they should go in the opposite direction.

A third layer of protection is to offer a suicide zone. This is a grouping of fast-growing plants outside the protected area that are less deer resistant. Honeysuckle, trumpet creeper, morning glory, and clematis are plants that deer will nibble without decimating the plant. Flowers that reseed prolifically fit in here too. Planted strategically, these plants can lead deer away from more desirable beds.
With a simple two-stage protection planting plan, deer will come across your landscape, realize they don’t like the smells and tastes, and keep on walking. If they’re curious or extra hungry, they’ll try nibbling on what they find but if they don’t like it they’ll realize this whole yard isn’t worth their time and effort and will move on to your neighbor’s yard. They never make it to the roses or tulips or young fruit tree that they would devour.

Adding a suicide zone gives them someplace else to go as they walk away from your garden. They may eat a few clematis or morning glory flowers as they avoid the aromas and tastes of the other zones. Asters, petunias, and small sunflowers give them something else to nibble, and will grow back soon.

Deer damage to my sunflowers

Deer damage to my sunflowers

As you plan a camouflage garden you don’t need to think in terms of clearly defined rings of plants. The first and second protective zones can be intermingled, with aromatic plants planted among bitter and toxic ones. The concept is that one plant deters the deer and when they move to a second plant it deters them too. Ideally every plant they encounter within a defined space is a deterrent and they never move through it.

When you have a mix of plants with many deer deterrent properties it creates a synergy where the entire garden becomes highly effective at deterring deer. A wide spectrum of aromatic plants can confuse deer to the point that they seek a more simple, clearly identifiable source of food… like the big expanse of tulips down the street.

To be most effective camouflage gardening needs to be as year-round as possible. If the plant you’re hoping to protect blooms or buds before the others, deer can find it. Your deterrent plants need to be in position and producing their deterring effect.

For example, for early spring your garden border is planted with dwarf juniper, rosemary, sage, or artemisia — plants that are still fragrant even when they’re dormant. A fragrant groundcover like thyme covers the area. A large planting of daffodils, plants deer typically don’t eat, brings early color and helps create another deer deterrent barrier. Irises come next, another plant deer typically don’t eat. At the center of your display for height and color are your tulips, a plant that deer love to devour. Depending on variety, you may have irises and tulips flowering together which adds extra confusion to the deer. It’s not a perfect solution. In a good year your tulips are spared; in a very bad year everything is eaten.

I’m planting my new landscape with entire beds of deterrent plants. One bed has lavender on one side and various spirea on the other. Miscanthus grass provides height and interest. Purple coneflower and yarrow add color. Apache plume fills the center for added texture color and interest. It’s highly satisfying to see deer tracks in and around the bed and not a single plant is disturbed.

Another bed has creeping phlox, artemisia, dwarf pines, salvia, yucca, columbines, irises, and daffodils; again, there are tracks but no damage. Next year’s new beds will have similar plantings.

My new deer deterrent beds cause deer to walk away

My new deer deterrent beds cause deer to walk away

We have a resident deer population. They even bed down among the gambel oak trees in our backyard. I’m hoping that they’ll get used to encountering so many plants they don’t like that by the time I plant young trees and a few other less-resistant perennials they’ll have learned to go some place else for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Already I’ve noticed more tracks walking around my deer-resistant beds than walking through them.

Get to know your neighbors

Get to know your neighbors

For your camouflage garden, research deer deterrent plants. You won’t need to sacrifice color, smell, texture, or height. Select plants that you like to grow normally. Then design your beds and landscape with those plants as the first barrier. Continue with plantings of other deer-resistant plants that you want in your landscape. Personalize the space. You don’t need to grow plants you don’t like.

Camouflage gardening isn’t foolproof. The only sure way to protect plants is with a physical barrier. For prized plants and young trees a fence or metal wall is the only sure deer proofing. Used together, camouflage and wire fences can allow plants that deer like to eat to become large enough and established to the point they don’t need a fence.

Camouflage gardening works best in a large landscape or garden with enough space to allow planting the necessary barrier plants, but even in small gardens the same principles can be beneficial. Make plants that deer and other animals avoid your first line of defense. Hide your other plants with smells and tastes that deter deer. With a little planning and a lot of luck you may be able to enjoy plants that you’ve had problems with before.

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Planning a Deer Resistant Garden

There is just one way to have a deer proof garden — plant everything within the borders of a strong fence eight feet tall. For the rest of us, the best we can hope for is a deer resistant garden. Like all animals, deer have foods they prefer, foods they tolerate, and foods they avoid. The key for gardeners desiring a beautiful garden that deer walk past is to select plants in the latter category.

Shasta Daisies are a beautiful deer resistant plant

Shasta Daisies are a beautiful deer resistant plant

Let me qualify what “deer resistant” means. A deer resistant plant is one that deer do not eat as a primary food source. They may chew a few buds and occasionally pull off a leaf or two, but the plant is allowed to reach maturity with little molestation. Deer are browsers and will nibble on what they find; deer resistant plants are the ones they test and then walk away from.

It’s important to acknowledge that deer, like all animals, will eat anything if they’re hungry enough. Deer resistant plants are not a normal part of their diet, but under drought and low vegetation conditions deer will devour plants they have ignored for years. A doe with a new fawn won’t venture far from it, so she will feed on less-than-desired plants nearby. Also, there are plants that hungry deer will only eat in winter and leave alone the rest of the year.

Deer usually leave Purple Coneflowers alone

Deer usually leave Purple Coneflowers alone

It’s also important to acknowledge that deer will go out of their way to indulge in a garden offering plants they consider delicious. A garden loaded with roses, azaleas, geraniums, hosta, tulips, and fruit trees screams to the deer that the smorgasbord is open. The problem is that many gardeners also desire those same plants in their garden. Trying to maintain this kind of garden in the presence of a local herd can be nerve-wracking.

A deer resistant garden can be abundant and beautiful, but it requires careful plant selection. As I begin planning the landscape for my new house my focus is on gardens that will give me everything I want while denying the numerous deer a tasty lunch.

They should avoid my Black-eyed Susans

They should avoid my Black-eyed Susans

As with all garden planning, there are important steps to take to get it right. An analysis of sun, shade, water, soil, USDA Hardiness Zone, and available space is critical to a good garden plan. Plants will do best when they’re matched with the proper soil and location for their growth habits. Once this analysis is done, plants can be selected.

Generally, deer don’t like plants with a strong aroma or with thorns or spines. They tend to stay away from decorative grasses. Many native plants are resistant to deer in areas where deer are native.

Salvia is a safe bet

Salvia is a safe bet

An assumption in growing deer resistant plants is that there are other food sources available to local herds. When deer have access to water and plants they like, they’ll leave less desirable plants alone. When their only food sources are deer resistant plants, then that’s what they’ll eat. That’s why there are so many conflicting discussions by gardeners as to whether a plant is deer resistant. For every gardener who has never had deer eat his plants there is another gardener who has deer eat every one of hers.

Let’s begin with deer resistant plants for full sun locations. Lucky for me, many of the plants I like to grow are naturally deer resistant; I have a minor deer problem at my current house and have never had a problem with these plants:

Agastache
Allium
Artemisia
Barberry
Columbine
Coneflower
Coreopsis
Daffodil
Dianthus
Foxglove
Gaillardia
Hens and Chicks
Lantana
Lavender
Penstemon
Potentilla
Rose Campion
Rudbeckia
Russian Sage
Salvia
Shasta Daisy
Snapdragon
Spirea ‘Magic Carpet’
Yarrow
Yucca

There is no lack of color, texture, and variety in this list. All of them are very resistant to deer in most landscapes. Many of them require little irrigation, which is a plus in my arid region.

Here are some plants for shade or partial shade areas.

Allium
Ajuga
Astilbe
Bleeding Hearts
Coral Bells
Fuchsia
Monkshood
Peony

I don’t currently grow these plants but will in my new landscape. I also plan to add:

Apache Plume
Buddleia
Fountain Grass
Miscanthus
Pampus Grass

The key to identifying deer resistant plants for your landscape is to conduct a little research. Many county Extension offices have fact sheets for local deer resistant plants. The internet allows cross referencing this government information. I easily found that New Jersey, Minnesota, and Colorado Extension information matches my own experience with the plants listed above.

Daffodils are on everyone's list of deer resistant plants

Daffodils are on everyone’s list of deer resistant plants

One of the best sources for local information about deer resistant plants is to ask a fellow gardener. Find out what your friends have trouble with and what they have success with when deer are involved.

I have a gardening friend who likes to grow Arborvitae and has to fence in each plant to prevent damage; Arborvitae is on the list of plants deer like to munch. I’ve tried to grow cherry, apple and plum trees in my current landscape and the deer have devastated them; they’ll even push through the protective netting to nibble the buds. Those of us who have built structures to try and keep deer out will gladly share our experience.

Asking for advice can save valuable time, energy, and money. Geraniums cover the gamut of deer preference. Some varieties of geranium are like candy to deer while others are like vinegar. Find out what your friends are growing and copy their successes. I haven’t seen Asian Lilies on any deer resistant plant list, but in my neighborhood they leave all of mine alone.

My lilies have never been on the menu

My lilies have never been on the menu

It’s possible to get away with tricking deer. A few plants that they might eat may survive if they’re planted among groupings of plants that they avoid. They’ll tend to leave the whole group alone when they see an abundance of deer resistant plants.

I also believe in creative sacrifice. If you want to grow plants that deer may like to eat, also grow plants that they definitely like to eat. Grow plants like wild strawberries, raspberries, Virginia creeper, and sunflowers as a friendly offering. When they venture into your yard they’ll gravitate toward those tasty morsels and are more likely to leave your treasured plants alone.

This is my sacrifice to save my vegetable garden

This is my sacrifice to save my vegetable garden

With proper planning and plant selection, maintaining a successful and beautiful landscape in the presence of deer is not only possible, but easy. Choose deer resistant plants and let your gardens prosper.