by Larry Hurley
Fall is the time to act to reduce deer damage to your landscape this winter. Increasingly, our customers are looking for deer management solutions. The most effective solution is fencing, and it has to be high, eight feet or more. For those of you with severe deer feeding pressure, this is probably your only real choice. For those gardeners like me that see an occasional deer track or a couple of dozen headless tulips (variety ‘Ichabod Crane’), your strategy is to encourage the deer to feed elsewhere. (Your neighbors will not thank you.) Remember: a deer’s job description is not particularly lengthy, and right up near the top is: “Eat.” So they are pretty good at it.
As seasons change, the preferred food sources of deer change, as well. The evergreen shrubs that the deer ignored while they were munching on your leafy hostas in the summer months suddenly look pretty appealing in the late fall and winter when most plants have either dropped their leaves or disappeared by craftily going dormant or dying. Deer develop new browsing trails as food sources change with the seasons, and repeatedly follow them through the season until new food sources begin to appear. By applying repellants before you see damage, you may encourage the deer to move along and not include your landscape in the current or next season’s browse buffet.
There are many repellents, all with advantages and disadvantages. I used recently called Deer Solution which smells of cinnamon rather than rotten eggs, which is a plus as far as I’m concerned. We had deer tracks through the tulip bed in the spring, but with several applications of the repellent, we did not experience any losses, while last year they ate every tulip we planted and during the summer nibbled the odd hosta. (“Odd” because they left only stems.)
So, was it the repellent, or some other combination of factors? I don’t know. Everything I have read emphasizes the need to rotate through different repellents to reduce the risk that the deer will adapt to them, so I know I should get out there with some other stinky repellent soon to increase my odds. Note that if the winter is severe, the repellents will not be effective as the deer become increasingly hungry. Dealing with deer is like predicting the weather: it all comes down to percentages and imponderables, and we tend to notice when things go wrong.
Fall is also a good time to plant deer-resistant plants (notice, this is “deer-resistant” and not “deer-proof”). Perennials will root out and continue to develop underground during the fall and over the winter and you will have a much bigger clump than if you wait until spring to plant. Our deer resistant plants are indicated with a logo on our signage. And click here to see the list of deer-resistant plants in the 2011 book 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Clausen.
An excellent list of deer resistant plants is available from Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center - just click here [pdf]. And here's a list from the authorities in West Virginia.
We wish you good luck in your “gardening with wildlife” adventures.