I’m a sucker for Bambi. Baby animals are cute and heart-warming. However, while I do appreciate the beauty of adult deer, they can wreak havoc on a garden or landscape. Last year at the Carson City Community Garden, we had regular destructive visits from the deer. Anything that wasn’t covered with netting was eaten down to stems daily. My friend Marie in Lakeview reports that the deer are eating everything in her yard, particularly her candytuft, which is supposed to be deer-resistant. She worries that she won’t have any plants left come spring.
Are there any deer-resistant plants? Well, it depends. A sufficiently hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable. The Sunset Western Garden Book states “deer in different areas may have different tastes.” It reports that deer seem to shun the following perennial plants: aster, big sagebrush, beebalm, black-eyed Susan, boxwood, broom, buckwheat (Eriogonum sps.), butterfly bush, coreopsis, crocus, currant, daffodil, daylily, foxglove, heavenly bamboo, iris, juniper, Jupiter’s beard, lavender, lilac, lupine, Oregon grape, penstemon, phlox, poppy, potentilla, pyracantha, quince, red-hot poker, Serbian bellflower, smokebush, snow-in-summer, spiraea, St. John’s wort, sweet woodruff, sumac, tulips, viburnum, vinca and yarrow. Sunset also lists ash, cedar, cypress, fir, hackberry, hawthorn, oak, pine, spruce and western redbud as deer-resistant trees. Other references list a few additional plants.
While planting a landscape with plants less appetizing to deer is a great beginning to deer-proofing your yard, fencing and exclusionary tactics are the best ways to ensure that deer stay away from plants. Not just any fence will do. An 8-foot fence, a double offset fence, slanted seven-wire fence or electric fence are recommended. Fencing has to be properly constructed. Individual plants can be protected with woven wire cages. Scare tactics, such as dogs, only provide temporary relief. As soon as the dog is gone, the deer return.
A wide variety of repellants is available. Some repel by smell, others by taste. Some are applied directly to plants, while others are applied over an area. Area repellants are usually less effective than contact ones. Dormant application is sometimes recommended. Because regular applications are required, costs can be high and effectiveness is variable. Rainfall can reduce the benefits of a repellant. Repellants reduce damage but rarely eliminate it. If a deer is hungry, bad taste or strong odor won’t keep it away from your plants.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.