Dear Deer: Please Get Out Of My Garden

Patch's perennial garden extraordinaire shares her tips on how to keep the four-legged visitors away.

Oh deer!

What is a gardener to do when you walk into the garden following a trail of hoof prints that lead to chewed-off flower heads and plants sheared down to the ground?

Having just returned from a month long hiatus in Florida, I was surprised to see such a profusion of color. There were yellows and pinks and purples everywhere as spring blooming bulbs and bushes sprung into action.

I was also surprised to see deer staring at me as I went to the mailbox. They were happily munching away at my neighbors plants and saw me as a mild distraction. Neither ran away, just looked at me then put their heads down for more morsels of greenery, but not for long. My neighbor came running out from her garage, clanging a large cow bell. The deer continued eating and watched out of one eye till she got close to them, and then as if to say “you’re interrupting our lunch”, they sauntered off, only to return a while later when the coast was clear.

With so much development taking away our green areas, the wildlife has become ‘urban’ life. They are sharing our spaces for food and habitat. So how do we co-exist and still have the gardens that bring us food and pleasure? Gardening magazines are filled with ideas shared by readers of things that work for them … temporarily. Ideas like hanging white plastic bags from branches and fences to scare them away or tying bars of fragrant soap to sticks around plants that need protection. The Japanese fashioned “deer scares” from bamboo pipes that involved water flowing through the pipe causing it to fall down on one end making a clanking noise that would scare the deer away. Scientists have fashioned powders made of blood meal that supposedly is a scent deterrent. Deer are smart. They watch and they listen. And determine for their existence what a threat is or isn’t.

Planting plants that are deer resistant is certainly a deterrent. Listings of deer resistant plants and deer control measures can be found at the master gardener website: gardening.wsu.edu. For those gardeners whose edible crops or flowering plants are gourmet dinners to deer, six to seven foot wire fencing will probably be your only sure fire deterrent. Most deer can leap over a five to six foot fence from a standing position right next to it with ease. Yesterday I watched them do it. Amazingly graceful, they are hungry and cultivated gardens are their meal replacements for what is now covered in concrete.

The picture of the red flower is ribes sanguineum (red-flowering currant) and the yellow flower is mahonia aquifoluim (oregon grape) both native plants in my yard that produce beautiful spring color and are deer resistant. That is why the deer go to my neighbor’s yard and eat her plants!

If you’ve had “deer” experiences and have creative solutions to keeping your plants out of the mouths of deer please share them in the comment section.

Mark your calendars for Saturday April 30 and Sunday May 1st for the annual Friends of Homestead Park Rhododendron and Plant Sale. Next week I will be doing a feature article on the history of the park and the man behind the rhododendrons.

Happy gardening,


Howard and Barbara Lee April 05, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Sharon thanks for your tip. Well, I spoke too soon! Sunday I spent the day cleaning up garden beds. My tulips were eaten to the ground and so were the scilla! I'm okay with it as my yard is a designated Backyard Wildlife Refuge. However, I will miss that fleeting moment of color the spring bulbs bring. Barbara.
Christie Anderson April 06, 2011 at 08:03 AM
Great article Barbara....and thanks for the plug on The Friends of Homestead Park's Plant Show and Sale!
Jared Finkelstein April 06, 2011 at 01:30 PM
My company, Teich Garden Systems, designs and installs law maintenance, animal-resistant garden systems. Our system is based on a variety of fencing – we use heavy gauge fencing that isnt typically available at retail stores. Our systems have been very effective at keeping deer and even burrowing animals out of the garden. In addition to the practical aspects of our system, they look good too.
Howard and Barbara Lee April 06, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Jared, how would someone contact you? Are you located in UP? Thanks for your comment. Barbara
Lorna Smith April 06, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Good article!! I have had people tell me their roses are eaten by deer, and I usually say, plant rhododendrons! I'm glad we still have the deer and other kindly wildlife in University Place. It makes living here special.


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