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Deer-Proof Garden: Deer-Resistant Plants and Deterrents

In many areas, deer have become lawn and garden pests. Learn about deer-resistant plants and how to keep deer out of your garden with deterrents.

Dealing with Deer in the Landscape

Selecting Deer-Resistant Plants

First, here's a short list of what not to plant: azaleas and rhododendrons, fruit trees, euonymus, roses, hostas and lilies are all delicacies to the deer palate.  Some plants are less appealing to deer. These plants tend to have an odor, taste or texture that deer are not fond of.  You might be pleasantly surprised by some of the plants on the list. You don't have to resort to a stark, ugly landscape. Try some of these:

  • Deer-resistant annuals: Ageratum, Alyssum, Begonia, Dusty Miller, Forget-Me-Not, Foxglove, Gaillardia, Heliotrope, Marigold, Morning Glory, Nasturtium, Ornamental pepper, Poppy, Salvia, Scented Geranium, Snapdragon, Stock, Vinca, Zinnia.
  • Deer-resistant perennials: Alyssum, Artemesia, Astilbe, Aster, Baby's Breath, Balloon Flower, Bellflower, Bergenia, Buttercup, Candytuft, Chrysanthemum, Coreopsis, Columbine, Daffodils, Dianthus, Fern, Lamb's Ear, Heather, Heuchera, Purple Coneflower, Hellebore, Lily-of-the-Valley, Lupine, Monarda, Poppy, Primrose, Salvia, Shasta Daisy, Snow-in-Summer, Sundrops, Statice, Viola, Yarrow, Yucca.
  • Deer-resistant herbs: Basil, Catmint, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary.
  • Deer-resistant vines and ground covers: Ajuga, Boston Ivy, Pachysandra, Sweet Woodruff, Virginia Creeper, Wisteria.
  • Deer-resistant shrubs: Barberry, Boxwood, Cotoneaster, Deutzia, Forsythia, Gardenia, Hawthorne, Holly, Kerria, Mahonia, Mock Orange, Nandina, Oleander, Pieris, Japonica, Quince, Spirea.
  • Deer-resistant trees: Beech, Birch, Crape Myrtle, Gingko, Hawthorne, Maple, Palms, Spruce.

    While these plants have shown to be less desirable as deer food, they are not guaranteed to be deer-proof. If deer get hungry enough, they're liable to try anything at least once. Also remember that some of these plants can become invasive if not kept in check.

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Deer Deterrents

Keeping pests out is one way of preventing damage. Frightening them away is another. You can choose between man-made or natural methods. Use caution however — remember that pets and children may also be affected by these.

  • Netting can deter deer. Look for products specially designed, woven and sized for use as a deer deterrent. Deer netting is easily installed to protect shrubs and trees.
  • Fencing can also keep deer away from your plants. Build it at least eight feet high to keep them from jumping over it. If you use a mesh fence, bury it one foot deep for maximum efficiency. Obviously, fencing of this magnitude can be expensive. You may want to enclose just your vegetable or flower garden. If you have a few specimen plants to protect, wrap them with a mesh barrier to keep the deer a safe distance away. Remember that a mature deer can graze up to a height of 7-8 feet.
  • Motion detectors that trigger a high-pressure water spray can be a deterrent.
  • Noise and lights alone or combined can provide an element of surprise to drive deer away.
  • Fishing line or rope encircling a garden perimeter may be a deterrent, but may also injure animals (including pets) that may become entwined.
  • Organic deterrents can be an option. As unpleasant as this list reads, various applications of the following have been tried with mixed success. Unpleasant odors or odors associated with danger can keep pests away. As with many of the mechanical deterrents, a persistent deer is likely to become accustomed to these and resume feeding. Options include: feces or urine from predators (such as lion or coyote), hot pepper, garlic, rotten eggs, human hair

Last but not least, don't underestimate the family dog. The mere presence of another mammal will do a lot to keep deer off of your property.

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Deer are not as meek as they may seem. In rutting season especially, the males can be quite aggressive, so think twice before you try to chase them out of the yard or sic your dog on them. As any cornered animal will do, they will defend themselves. Antlers and hooves are a combination you really do not want to deal with.