Deer-Proofing Your Garden – Don’t serve their favorites

Any time we see a deer or two, most of us just want to say, "Aw, look at the pretty deer," particularly if there is a fawn in the group.

But homeowners who have tried to keep a garden looking beautiful in a neighborhood often visited by deer has a few other choice words for these animals. Most of the time, the reason they are in our yards is that housing developments have encroached on their natural habitat. How can we find a way to co-exist?

As deer have adapted to the world of humans and the related daily activity such as fast-moving cars, they are also raising their young in the same environment, creating a new generation of animals that live in a suburban world without fear. But no matter where they roam, these animals have the same instinct – survival.

When deer are hungry, they will eat almost anything, so buying the so-called deer-proof plants may be a waste of money. Even juniper bushes, normally distasteful to deer, will be eaten in a phase of extreme hunger. They may even chew on the bark of trees, using that as roughage.

However, under normal circumstances, many plants are less inviting to deer, so adding those to your garden may be a way to maintain your home's curb appeal and still be kind to animals. Plants native to specific regions are often less appealing than carefully tended garden foliage and bushes. In Colorado, for example, shrubs less tasty to deer include Austrian copper rose, golden currant, lilacs and Oregon grape holly. Perennial flowers may also prove less inviting, such as lily-of-the-valley, Shasta daisy and Russian sage. Many ground-cover plants such as morning glory, English ivy or creeping mahonia are deer-resistant, as are herbs, including lavender and marjoram.

Most University Extension Service departments and municipalities have information on regional plants that are less likely to invite deer into your yard.

Other non-plant solutions include deer repellents, but these have varying degrees of success at keeping the animals away from your plants. They often have to be re-applied if it rains, or if irrigation occurs on a regular basis.

The other solution is to build a deer fence around your garden. using polypropylene mesh fencing, which blends in with the surrounding landscape, can be easily installed and is the most cost-effective choice. Like most deer fences, it should be at least six- to eight-feet high to be effective.