3 ways to deal with deer in the garden
Four-legged, fur-covered garden pests are many. From voles and groundhogs to chipmunks and squirrels, sometimes it seems like backyard critters enjoy our gardens more than we do! But, no four-legged garden interloper is as problematic for Western Pennsylvania gardeners as deer.
As the white-tailed deer population expands and suburbia continues to encroach on their territory, deer have become more and more of an issue for many gardeners. If deer are regular residents of your neighborhood, use this three-fold approach to keep them from damaging your garden.
1. Choose deer-resistant plants
Your first line of defense always involves plant selection. Look for plants with fuzzy or prickly foliage as deer do not like those textures against their tongue. Another good bet is plants with heavily fragranced foliage. Herbs, for example, are largely deer-resistant (though I’ll never say deer-proof; there’s no such thing), as are ornamental members of the mint family, such as bee balm, calamint (Calamintha spp.), nepeta, mountain mint, annual and perennial salvias and the like.
As for deer-resistant veggies, plant cucumbers, garlic (Allium sativum), onions, chives, winter and summer squash, rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), eggplants and tomatillos for your greatest chance of success.
2. Fence them out
The only way to truly keep deer from eating your plants is to fence them out. Gardeners have a challenging (and expensive) task when it comes to fencing deer out of a garden or landscape, but it’s doable, with the right budget and technique. Fences should be at least 8 feet tall, and stockade fences work better than fences the deer can see through. Deer don’t like jumping over things unless they can see what’s on the other side.
If you find the deer are tasting some of the plants in your garden, you can fence in the entire garden or, to save money, you can opt to cover individual plants with plastic deer or bird netting. It’s easy enough to remove when you’re expecting company or when you want to harvest. If you’re growing mostly deer-resistant plants, with a few of their favorites tossed into the mix, covering the favorites with deer netting is often enough to eliminate deer browse damage completely.
3. Use deterrent products
There are dozens of commercially made spray deterrents that do a fairly good job of stopping deer from eating plants. Most of them use a combination of a foul scent and an icky taste to keep the deer at bay, but some use only one or the other. You have to apply spray deterrents religiously, though, because deer are persistent and the plant must be constantly covered in deterrent or they’ll manage to find it. The label of each different product indicates how frequently you’ll need to apply.
If you’re growing vegetables and other edibles, be sure to read the label of any product you use very carefully to determine if it’s safe to use on things you plan to eat. Because many of them are not, you may want to employ a different tactic to keep the deer from munching on your containerized veggie plants. If you do use a product that’s labeled as safe for edibles, be sure to wash your veggies very well after harvest; the last thing you want is a mouthful of deer deterrent!
There are several brands of hanging or clip-on deer deterrents as well, each of which has a different measure of success. Experiment with different brands to see which one works best for you.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.