Trowel Talk

Yes, you can deer-proof your garden: Remember, you’re supposed to be smarter than they are.

By Victoria M. Elder - March 2014

Tips to deer-proof your garden

Yes, you can deer-proof your garden: Remember, you’re supposed to be smarter than they are.

By Victoria M. Elder - March 2014

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Deer: In this region, they’re everywhere, from the rural woods and fields of Howard County to the suburban developments north of Towson and even the outer neighborhoods of Baltimore City. And boy, can Bambi do some damage.

Of course, there’s the obvious millions of dollars in repairs to autos annually when they try to cross interstates, and the fence damage a leaping doe can do in the fall rutting season while escaping Billy Buck’s unwanted advances. But they also can wreak havoc on gardens, from trampling flower beds and nibbling the blossoms off roses to damaging young trees with their antler-rubbing routine.

But those who’ve been visited by deer might have noticed they didn’t touch the herb garden, or the sunflowers, or the purple coneflowers. So, you might ask, what do they eat, what do they stay away from, and how can homeowners protect a season’s gardening work from these 200-pound, hoofed invaders?

We should probably try to look at it from their point of view: Since humans are forever entering their domain by building farther out, cutting down trees, and destroying woodland settings, deer have no choice but to enter our suburban gardens. And here, they pretty much eat anything that’s available to survive. But, there are a number of things we can do to deter them and minimize the damage.

The most effective barrier is putting up a tall stockade fence, which can be fortified with added wiring at the top. In some neighborhoods, metal grate fencing is more aesthetically acceptable. Of course, many homeowners are restricted by zoning laws and covenants from erecting certain types of fences. So what about the deer deterrents sold at nurseries and garden centers?

They can help, but savvy gardeners know from experience that they’d have to rotate products and their scents repeatedly, only to find that this highly adaptable animal may outsmart them eventually and eat the plants anyway.

The good news is deer strongly dislike plants with leaves containing a milky substance, a bitter taste, hairy or prickly stems, or rough, leathery leaves. They usually avoid strongly scented plants, including almost all herbs. And it’s easy to use these secrets as you design an almost-deer-proof garden.

Include a good mix of aromatic herbs, such as chives, onions, dill, fennel, anise, rosemary, mint, lavender, and thyme. Plant them in groups of three in a sunny location in well-drained soil. Position plants either in front of vulnerable vegetation or mix them in to confuse the deers’ sensitive noses. Among species that deer tend to avoid are yarrow, columbine, foxglove (which is toxic), Joe-Pye-weed (it’s scratchy), baby’s breath, Lenten rose (toxic), shasta daisy (it has rough leaves and stems), rugosa rose (extremely thorny stems), and Russian sage (highly fragrant).

There, you’ve done it: If there was a Michelin restaurant guide for deer on the top 10 places to avoid, you’d make the list.

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