Garden Q&A: Can you steer deer clear out of your garden?

·4 min read
Coneflower is one of the popular shrubs in Northeast Florida that's considered less palatable to deer.
Coneflower is one of the popular shrubs in Northeast Florida that's considered less palatable to deer.

How do I steer the deer clear out of my garden?

Oh, my deer. Such sweet and gentle creatures that do no harm to others. You forage the land in search of plants, fruits, nuts and vegetables, and apparently, my prized agapanthus. Look! While I know you laid claim to this place long before my house ever existed, it was never my intention to install plants for your dinner. So, on behalf of my landscape, how can we coexist and keep my landscape intact?

Have you had a similar situation on your property? The first step is confirming the damage has actually been done by a deer when there have been no sightings of any.

Rabbits, rodents and other mammals also lurk in the garden, but a few clues left at the crime scene and narrow down your suspect list. Deer tear plant leaves leaving behind ragged ends. Also check the immediate area for foot tracks and droppings and the height from ground level. Expansive urbanization has reduced deer’s natural habitats, so it is no surprise that our gardens double as vegetarian buffets for them.

It has been my experience that mitigating wildlife above ground is less complicated than the creatures below the surface. Deer have a keen sense of smell, much more diverse than humans. So, the list of edible plants, vegetables, ornamentals and fruit trees that deer feed on, is in the hundreds. If your landscape is new or recently tilled, identifying which plants attract and deter deer is an important consideration when planning.

In our growing zone, the following trees and shrubs are considered less palatable: pine, palms, olive (Olea europaea), fir (Abies), magnolia, cypress (Cupressus) and oak (Quercus). Popular shrubs include: podocarpus, boxwood (Buxus), holly (Ilex), mahonia, senna (Cassia), buddleia, ornamental grasses, ferns, bee balm (Monarda) and coneflower (Echinacea), to name a few. And more good news: Deer have little interest in scented herb plants.

But avoiding these types comes with caution. Some deer resistant plants on the list may have also made it on the state’s invasive list. Two varieties of lantana, shrub lantana (camara) and trailing lantana (montevidensis), in addition to three varieties of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica, cv Gulf Stream and cv Jaytee Harbour Belle) fall under these distinctions.

Another favorite bloomer, bigleaf and common periwinkle (Vinca major & minor) may turn off a hungry deer but restart new plants at a rate faster than you can remove them. UF/IFAS produces and routinely updates a spreadsheet of the not recommended and prohibited plants every year. By going to https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/assessments/?zones=1028, you can view names plus photos of the 884 North Florida invasive plant species.

If purchasing new plants is not friendly for your budget, the question is how to protect what you already have in place? Plants further from the house or street where traffic is low makes them vulnerable as meal selections. The first thing I did after finding my agapanthus chewed to the ground, was to uproot them and relocate them to my fenced in backyard. It's an easy fix for something small, but it’s not a reasonable suggestion for mature trees and shrubs

For smaller gardens and planting areas, repellents can reduce deer damage but will not banish them entirely. The costs and ingredients vary between contact and area repellents. Chemical sprayed onto a plant is to repel deer by taste and chemical applied around the plant emits an undesirable odor. After a single season, the visiting deer can develop an immunity to what was applied so using a combination is usually more successful.

There are alternative approaches to repel without the use of an active ingredient. In the late 1970s, gardeners began hanging mesh bags and nylon stockings filled with human or dog hair balls and soap bars from plant branches. Deer regard the smell of these household items offensive. Others have used rotten eggs and garlic to prevent plant damage. The slow-release fertilizer, Milorganite, is another smelly repel option that doubles as a non-burning fertilizer.

Some have found success with water sprinklers that double as motion detectors. Irrigation clicks on motion is detected whether that be a deer or anything else that moves after dark.

What does not exist is a 100% deer proof plant. The suggestions made here are the friendliest methods but more drastic and expensive options are out there. For a detailed report on how to cope with deer damage in Florida, please visit the following link: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/UW/UW12800.pdf.

Candace Barone is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and ask for a Master Gardener Volunteer.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Garden Q&A: Tips for trying to steer deer clear out of your garden