Oh “Deer” What’s Eating My Garden?

By Michael Stanley

So who doesn’t love those cute, adorable woodland creatures we all know as deer?  Well if you have ever taken a stroll through the garden to find a new planting of knock out roses mowed to the ground or that long awaited harvest of fresh vegetables mysteriously missing amongst a herd of hoof prints, my guess would be, plenty of homeowners and gardeners in Eastern NC.  Although they can be cute and fun to watch, they can be devastating to a landscape or vegetable garden.

There are several factors that have caused deer to become such a problem for the garden and landscape.  The growth in population and the number of new housing developments in our area have resulted in an encroachment on there habitat.  Also there is not as much hunting as a result of this population growth which results in a larger population of deer.  As deer become used to humans being around they become bolder in how close they will come to the house to eat and how long they will stay without being spooked.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a deer proof plant.  When hungry enough a deer will eat just about any kind of vegetation to survive.  During periods of drought, deer may begin feeding on plants that are usually avoided.  In the Spring, deer will feed on almost everything as new, tender, juicy foliage emerges.  Also over watered and over fertilized plants become irresistible to deer, especially during periods of drought, because this encourages lush tender growth.  An irrigated landscape or garden can become an oasis for deer looking for tender vegetation to eat.

pumpkins2As I mentioned earlier there is no such thing as a deer proof plant, however there are some deer resistant plants you may consider planting.  These are plants that deer usually don’t prefer to eat.  Some common characteristics of deer resistant plants include prickly leaves or stems, plants with pungent tastes or fragrance, plants that are poisonous, plants that have hairy leaves, or plants that produce thick latex-like sap.  Some deer resistant plants include: Crape myrtle, southern magnolia, Japanese barberry, yaupon, oleander, Chinese holly, confederate jasmine, lantana, angels trumpet and many others.  Most herbs because of their strong fragrances will be avoided by deer.   For a list of deer resistant plants stop by your local garden center or visit the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service website (www.ces.ncsu.edu).  Just type in “deer resistant plants” in the search bar.

Besides deer resistant plants, there are some other options available.  Deer repellants can be effective at controlling deer if used as directed.  Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Repellant is very effective when used as directed.  Deer repellant products should be reapplied every 30 days for best results.  Repellant products usually contain ingredients like putrescent egg solids, garlic, hot pepper, or other herbal extracts.   Motion activated devices such as sprinklers, radios, and motion lights can also be effective.  Human hair is another means of controlling deer in the garden.  Fresh hair is readily available from your local barber or hair salon.  Bars of soap can also be a means of repelling deer.  One bar of soap can protect about a square yard of garden space.   Fences are probably the most effective means of keeping deer out of vegetable gardens.  Another option is to plant food plots or offer corn for deer to eat instead of your prized plants, but you run the risk of attracting more deer.

There is probably not just one thing we can do to keep deer out of the garden, but using a mixture of some or all of these methods may help protect your garden from damage caused by those cute little woodland creatures.