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Deterring Deer from your Garden and Landscape

By: Patrick Troyer, Education Specialist

One fact that everyone knows is that there are plenty of deer roaming around Ohio. We most often meet these creatures of nature on the roadways with our cars, but that is certainly not the only place they are seen. Anybody that has a yard bordering a woodland knows all too well that deer are a common visitor to these areas as well. You might think they are just lurking around, but they are actually doing some damage especially in your garden and landscaping.

Have you ever looked out and seen the plants in your garden nibbled away but cannot seem to figure out who is to blame? There is a rather good chance it was a deer who is at fault. Deer damage is certainly not a new phenomenon plaguing gardeners and landscapers but it seems we are hearing more and more about it nowadays, but why? At every turn, you see new roads and homes popping up which is replacing what was once a natural habitat for the deer. With these expansions, we are seeing more deer show up in areas that humans are relocating to.

According to Michigan State University (MSU) deer find just as much enjoyment foraging for food in your yard as they do in their natural woodland habitat and may even like the plants you have even better than their normal diet! Normally, deer prefer corn, alfalfa, grass, twigs, and leaves as part of their natural diet. What is it that we plant that they like better? How do we prevent them from eating our plants? Let’s take a look at the deer’s behavior to get a better understanding of the plants they love and ways we can prevent damage from them.

So let’s first take a look at some of the plants that are attracting the deer to your backyard. Michigan State University writes that feeding on plants will generally take place during the nighttime hours but it can also can also occur at any point on a host of plants when they are hungry. While many are apt to think that there are well defined plants which deer dislike, it is important to know that there is not one plant which is completely “deer proof”. Geography also plays a part in the plants that deer prefer, so that is another consideration to make. Lastly, one factor to take into account is that each plant species has different levels of damage which they can tolerate that will not outright kill the plant.

Michigan State University notes that many native cedars such as American Arborvitae, ornamental shrubs such as roses, as well as herbaceous plants who don’t lose leaves during the winter such as coral bells are favorites of deer while they are feeding during the winter months. As spring comes along, tulips, daylilies, and newly planted annuals are fair game for the deer. MSU writes that when summer rolls along the males (bucks) will move to woody plants, not necessarily for eating, but when they are in “velvet” to rub off the dried blood as their antlers are developing. It is not uncommon to see spots on trunks with scars that are two inches or more wide, which can damage the strength of the woody plant structure.

Repellents are available that can help to deter the deer from damaging your gardens and landscaping. There are a host of repellants available either via homemade or commercially available remedies. Most repellents are sold either as a smell deterrent or a bad taste for the deer. According to Michigan State University, most repellents contain capsicum pepper, putrid egg shells, and with garlic which can be grouped with motion-sensing noise-makers that give the message that your landscaping or garden is not a welcome location.

It is important to know that with any repellants used with any animal species that there is not going to be guaranteed effectiveness. Things like lawn irrigation or rainfall can dilute the repellants. Animals can get used to the repellent to the extent that it may not have an effect on them which is why Michigan State says it is a good idea to rotate your repellants between a bad taste, noise, or scent options. It is important to also keep the repellant freshly stocked in order for it to be effective. Once deer encounter these repellants enough times, it is common to see their traffic patterns change.

One additional option to help with deer damage is choosing the right plant species. According to Michigan State, deer will defer from plants that are fuzzy, coarse foliage like ferns, and also leaves or stems with foul odors or spines. Also of dislike to the deer are many ornamental grasses, ferns, and lavender. When it comes to trees and shrubs, Michigan State says that deer will steer away from pines, spruces, cypresses, and boxwood trees.

Another option to consider is possibly physical barriers such as wraps, netting, or perhaps some small fencing. This may be something to consider especially if there are newly planted trees in your landscaping. As more people start living in areas where animals are found, encounters are simply bound to happen. The key is understanding that animals are simply trying to find food and survive just like humans are also doing.

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