Oh, deer! We whisper and point excitedly when we see deer in our yard. But then we shake our heads and grumble when we see the lawn and garden damage caused by the same graceful animals.
Is it possible to invite deer into your property and still have a beautiful landscape? The answer is yes, if you take both your needs and the welfare of the deer into consideration. Deer-friendly habitats are disappearing, yet herds are larger due to the elimination of their top predators.
The result is unsustainable for both deer populations and every part of their environment. “We have an ethical dilemma in our landscapes — we don’t want to see deer starve and suffer, but we also want to reduce deer pressure,” says Kim Eierman, founder of EcoBeneficial!, and author of the book, “The Pollinator Victory Garden,” to be published in January 2020. “Restoring the natural balance in our landscapes is critical to creating healthier ecosystems that both humans and wildlife depend upon.”
Here are some humane ways to deer-proof your yard:
Good Fences Make Good Deer Neighbors
Deer are able to jump over tall fencing, so go high if you choose this method. Eierman suggests 8-foot fencing or two rings of 4-foot fencing with 4 feet of space between rings. “Deer have poor depth perception and tend not to jump if they think they may get stuck in between the two fences. Not all deer fencing is equivalent – use humane fencing that has large enough spacing in the fence itself, as well as gaps below the fence to allow other animals to pass through without getting stuck.”
Make Your Yard Taste Terrible
For homeowners who cannot use deer fencing for practical, budget or ethical reasons, the best approach is to landscape with deer-resistant plants. Eierman warns that no plant is completely deer-proof. “If deer are starving they will try to eat just about anything. Any plant with newly emerging tender leaves may be browsed by a hungry deer, especially young fawns.”
Use native plants that have adapted to your region and are suitable for your landscape. Use online tools, such as the plant database of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, to select deer-resistant plants native to their region. Or contact state and regional native plant societies and local cooperative extensions for deer-resistant plant information suited to your area.
Some deer-resistant plants are:
Deer-Resistant Plants and Where They Thrive
Common name Scientific Name USDA Hardiness Zone
Ageratum or Floss Flower Ageratum houstonianum 2-11
Allegheny Spurge Pachysandra procumbens 4-9
Catharanthus rosea 2-11
Artemisia Artemisia spp. 6-8
Autumn Crocus Colchicum sp 4-7
Bee Balm Monarda didyma 4-9
Bayberry Berberis sp. 4-7
Baronwort Epimedium sp. 5-9
Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis 3-9
Bluestem Andropogon sp. 3-10
Butterfly Bush Buddleia sp. 5-9
Boxwood Buxus sempervirens 4-8
Bush Cinquefoil Potentilla fruticosa 3-7
Catmint Nepeta sp 3-7
Common Foxglove Digitalis spp. 4-8
Coneflower Echinacea purpurea 3-8
Daffodil Narcissus sp. 4-8
Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria 8-10
Fountain Grass Pennisetum alopecuroides 6-9
Furman's Red Sage Salvia greggii 6-10
Goldmound Spirea Spiraea japonica 4-8
Japanese Sedge Carex morrowii 5-9
Lamb's Ear Stachys byzantina 4-7
Lily of the Valley Convallaria majalis 1-7
Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris 3-7
Millweed Asclepias incarnata 3-8
Moonglow Juniper Juniperus scopulorum 4-8
Mountain Mist Pycnanthemum muticum 4-8
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana 3-9
Ornamental Onion Allium sp. 5-8 (bulb)
Peony Paeonia sp. 3-8
Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia 5-9
Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus 7-10
Sweet Woodruff Asperula odorata 4-8
Tickseed Coreopsis grandiflora 4-9
Yarrow Achillea millefolium 3-8
Give Them a Side Salad
You still love seeing the deer, so how do you keep them in sight but out of your landscape? Eierman suggests that in more hidden parts of your landscape, you can intentionally include native plants that deer are drawn to and can eat – especially aggressive native plants that rebound quickly from deer browse.
Here are some deer-friendly suggestions:
Common Plant Name Scientific Name/strong> Cranesbill Geranium endressii 3-9
Daylily Hemerocallis spp 3-9
English ivy Hedera helix 5-11
Hosta Hosta lancifolia 3-8
Jerusalem artichoke Helianthus tuberosus 3-8
Jewelweed Impatiens capensis 2-11
Sea holly Eryngium spp. 2-8
Snowberry Symphoricarpos albus 3-7
Tulip Tulipa greigii 3-8
Yucca Yucca filamentosa 5-10
Other Deer Repellents
There are spray repellents available on the market that claim to deter deer from grazing on lawns and gardens. “Not all repellents work for all deer herds, and deer may acclimate over time to certain sprays or techniques,” warns Eierman. “Look at online reviews of products to see how they are rated and choose the ones that are OMRI-listed,” that is, blessed by the Organic Materials Review Institute as a listed organic product). “Under no circumstance should you buy coyote urine or any other product that is inhumanely collected, or that has synthetic chemicals. It is likely that over time, you may need to switch preparations and strategies to deter deer.”
A few options for do-it-yourself deer repellents include:
Deer apparently don’t like the smell or the taste of chili powder. Sprinkle liberally around the areas you would like deer to avoid. You will have to repeat applications because rain and chili-loving insects will carry it away.
Sometimes just the mere presence of dogs can deter deer, or they can be scared away by the barking. But other times, dogs and deer will become friendly neighbors, so your results may vary.
Human, that is. Ask your barber for hair clippings, and toss them around the base of the plants. Hair will naturally decompose into the soil, so you will need to replenish the supply.
Hang aluminum plates or metal CDs in your landscape so they turn in the breeze. Some say the reflective light will make deer steer clear. You may have to hang them closely together to keep the deer away.
Hang strongly-scented soap bars in mesh bags around your lawn and garden area.
Ultrasonic Deer Repeller
This is a simple noise-making machine that uses sound to deter deer and reduce deer damage. It emits sounds at a level that most humans cannot hear, usually ranging around 20 kilohertz. However, some people and many other critters can also hear the noise, so it may not be the best possible solution if you live in an urban area.