There are three main ways that deer can cause damage or be a nuisance in a garden: Eating your plants, pooping on the lawn and other areas and damaging trees and shrubs as bucks attempt to rub the velvet off of newly emerging horns. Each of these will be addressed below.
The simplest and most straightforward approach to all potential deer problems is to fence them out of all or a portion of your garden. A seven foot high transparent fence, which can be constructed of wire and netting attached to various frameworks, or an opaque six foot high fence will generally do the job. Variations on this can include a four foot transparent fence placed immediately on top of a three foot wall, creating a total jump height of seven feet etc. Depending on the site and budget it is quite possible to create a variety of fences, including wrought iron. The important thing is to insure that there are no gaps wider than six inches and twelve inches tall.
The second strategy is more involved and experimental. Bucks tend to want to scrape the velvet from their horns in winter/spring. Mini-fences five feet tall or sticking six foot long bamboo stakes in the ground around the tree every four inches during this period usually works. Creating a
garden that features stone, art and sculpture and the most deer resistant plants takes care of the biggest problem, which plants being eaten.
It’s important to be aware that deer will eat almost any plant if there is no alternative – even plants on most deer proof lists. It is important to pay attention to your neighbors and what is working for them, as dear in each area behave differently. What is eaten a mile away may not be eaten in your garden and vice versa. The list of plants I have never seen a deer eat grows ever smaller!
It is often a combination of factors that insure that a deer does not eat a specific plant, any one of which may not be enough alone. Having a dog helps if they bark or spend a lot of time outside, along with being closer to town in higher-traffic areas. A pet lion would almost certainly do the trick. Featuring plants on deer resistant lists is also a big factor. Plants closer to a house will tend to be bothered less than plants further away and deer are somewhat discouraged by having to walk up steps or over decks that make a lot of noise. Then there are the various commercial deer deterrents, such as liquid fence, soaps and socks filled with blood-meal. While all of these things discourage deer,
it all depends on how hungry they are and whether or not there is easier food nearby. Your job is to make the deer dining facilities of your garden less attractive than the establishments offered by your neighbors.
If you don’t mind a bit of deer poop on your lawn, have relatively mature shrubs and trees that can survive a bit of antler scraping and choose your plants carefully deer and gardens can fairly happily co-exist. In this garden I designed next to a forest without any fence in Mill Valley the Weeping Rosemary, Mexican Sage, Acorus gramineus, Japanese Boxwood and Stipa tenuissima make a serene composition with no deer damage so far (cross your fingers). The rubber liner for the water feature partially visible in this image is protected from deer-hoof punctures by a foot of coarse clean sand at the bottom of the pool.
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