Once deer discover your yard as a delectable deli, they will hop fences, ignore scare tactics, and show up like clockwork to devour plant after plant. They'll trot right up on a porch to chomp off the roses or stretch high to nibble the clematis you thought were safe on an arbor.
Hungry deer will eat almost anything—including the foods listed on our "won't eat" list. It partly depends on what else is available and how hungry the deer are. Deer in different regions have different palates. And the deer in your backyard might not be the only one in the neighborhood that enjoys gobbling morning glories.
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Deer often go for tender greens of lettuce, pansy, ivy, hosta, and most young plants. Spring and early-summer plants, including tulips, lilies, and roses, seem especially delectable to deer, even if they are planted in containers. They feast on fruits of all kinds, from strawberries to fruit trees and fallen fruit. Deer will eat bark, twigs, and leaves of most trees and shrubs. They damage woody plants, particularly during winter, when food is scarce.
Clues of deer visiting your garden include nibbled produce, roughly clipped leaves, buds and blossoms vanished overnight, hoof prints in soil, and small piles of round black droppings. Scrapes on tree trunks and woody shrub branches is often from deers antlers in the winter. Deer can reach leaves as high as six feet, so scoring on trees that high will eliminate smaller animals.
There are many deer deterrents that rely on odor, and effectiveness varies on how quickly your particular deer adjust to them. It's typical for many techniques to work for only a few days. Some common deterrents that are spread around the plants include:
Certain obstacles and items will keep deer far away from your gardens. Fencing is the most obvious barrier, but reflective surfaces and thorny branches can be just as effective. More physical deterrant options include:
The most effective technique to deterring deer may be a fence around the garden. To keep deer out, a fence should extend partly underground and not have gaps bigger than 6x6 inches where deer can squeeze through or crawl under. Enclose the entire garden or deer will go around the fence. A fence should also be at least 8 feet high. Some deer can clear an 8-foot fence unless obstacles—such as angled netting, tree branches, or thorny shrubs—prevent a clear take-off or landing place. Or try two 4- or 5-foot-high fences placed 3 feet apart.
Drape shrubs and small trees with garden netting—the same material used to keep birds off edible plants. You can also use netting and metal stakes to create a temporary fence around a small section of a garden. Black deer netting, also known as "invisible netting," won't block your visibility of your garden, but will keep deer out if it is 8 feet or taller. If you don't want fencing that high but still want to keep deer out of an area, practice double fencing. Set up two lower net fences a few feet apart. Similar to hanging pie pans to trees and shrubs, you can attach shiny streamers to netting to scare deer away.
Deer are easily spooked, and can be kept away using noise deterrents like whistles and windchimes. They also avoid electric wires because of the humming sound they make. Some other noise deterrant options include:
There are DIY deer-defying sprays for the plants, such as rotten-egg and water, soap spray, hot pepper spray, and there are also many types of commercial repellent sprays. Be sure to keep your deer repellant sprays as organic as possible. Some people even try to lure deer away by planting the animal's favorite foods in a remote part of the property, far from gardens and flower beds.
Deer—and their less common relatives, moose, and elk—usually leave a path of destruction in the landscape, and can destroy plants and trees in every season. It's not enough to apply a deer repellant spray once or twice a year. Deer learn from experience, so repetitive applications will give them the message that they are not welcome in your rose garden. Although you should keep using deterrents in every season, there are different methods to use in each that is appropriate for where the damage is worst and how the deer behave.
Mating season starts in the fall for the deer population, which means there will be larger groups of deer in one area (does and bucks are seeking each other out). Most flowers will be winding down from their blooming season, but it's the trees you need to worry most about. Fall is also when bucks start to scrape their antlers against trees to remove the velvety layer grown over the summer. The repetitive scraping can damage, and even kill, trees. Make sure to use deterrents to protect trees of any size.
It seems like winter should be your down time when it comes to deer, but they can be just as destructive in the dead of winter as they are in other seasons. When the grass and plants are covered in snow, deer look up for a food source and start chewing off twigs and leaves. Their eating habits can leave your branchy plants looking misshapen, can kill limbs, or even kill the whole plant.
After a winter of searching for accessible food, deer have huge appetites in the spring, and new shoots and buds are especially enticing. If you've had deer problems in the past years, they will probably return in the next spring. The folks at Bobbex, a natural deer repellent brand, recommend spraying repellent every two weeks or when one to two inches of new growth appears.
Lower growing plants are in the most danger in the summer, while trees and shrubs are the concern in the cooler seasons. Natural food choices are easier to find. But, when the weather turns hot and dry, natural vegetation in forests and fields can get scorched and die off, forcing deer to look to well-groomed landscaping for green.
Deer often steer clear of plants that are poisonous, fuzzy, coarse, spiny, bitter, or very aromatic. But if deer are unclear about liking something, they'll try it, so even things they don't like aren't always safe for you to plant. Start the design of your garden with known deer-resistant plants.