Written by: Patsy White, Master Gardener
Gardening and Deer? Is it Possible?
The first question every new resident to a deer populated area asks is “What can I plant that the deer don’t eat?” The short answer is nothing. Deer will eat anything when food is in short supply or there is a lot of deer pressure, meaning that the food supply is not sufficient for the population.
Don’t throw in the towel yet because as you drive around, you see lots of green shrubs around houses, with or without a fence. The short fences that you see around a subdivision do not keep the deer out because they can jump over 6’ from a standing position. However, there have seen some success with short fences IF, repeat IF, large objects are placed next to the fence and around landing areas. Deer do not want to break a leg or neck jumping fences so if there is not a safe landing space, they will move on.
There are a couple of critical times during the year when you MUST be diligent to protect vulnerable plants. In the spring, when the does (females) are pregnant, through early summer when they are nursing and again in the fall when the rut begins. All that running makes both the bucks (male) and females hungry and the rut coincides with the time when the bucks are rubbing the velvet off their antlers. In late summer and most of the winter, you can be less diligent with protecting your plants from deer.
Suggestions for a higher rate of success:
- When planting trees, protect them until the foliage is high enough that a deer standing on their rear legs cannot reach the foliage to eat and the bucks can’t rub against trunks and lower limbs. You can do this with a fence around the perimeter using fencing or chicken wire. It can be removed when the plant is larger.
- There is a spray on the market called “Liquid Fence”. It smells like rotten eggs and appears to work well. If we get a good rain, you will need to spray again. Buy the large size concentrate and mix it in a pump up sprayer.
Spray in early spring before the female drops her fawn, then you will be training them to by-pass your yard and move on. The fawns will also learn not to browse in your yard.
Some deer resistant plants you might consider planting. Remember they are deer resistant not deer proof.
Sweet Olive (may eat tender leaves at critical times)
Bottle Brush (standard is small tree and Little John is dwarf – 4’)
Junipers and Cedars
Viburnums (except Walters)
Texas Southern Wax Myrtle
Vitex (as a small tree or trimmed as large shrub)
Loropetalum (deer will eventually eat this if they can’t find something else)
Privets (can be large or dwarf)
Nandina (will sometimes eat the lower leaves, so better luck closer to the house)
Gardenias in part shade areas
Boxwood (Winter Gem is best variety)
Sago Palms – poisonous to animals
African Iris – almost all Iris are deer resistant
Society Garlic (white and purple bloom varieties, also there is a variegated variety that stays very small and looks like Aztec grass (which the deer eat)
Muhly Grass and most ornamental grasses are deer resistant. Ornamental grasses are come in a range of heights.
Part Sun or Part shade
Gingers in part shade areas (These come in size range from 8” to 8’ so read the label)
Variegated ginger (Gingers need about 3-4 hours sun a day to bloom, the variegated ginger is a shell ginger that needs 2 full years of growth without freezing to bloom)
Ferns (Holly Fern is more susceptible to browsing)
Flax Lilly or Dianella
Vinca aka periwinkles
Daffodils for color (plant in fall)
Dusty Miller (the leaves are gray/white)
Herbs: Plant in landscape and as a bonus, you can use them.
Onions & Garlic (not an herb, but you can mix into the landscape with full sun)