Q: I’m always looking for advice on dealing with deer in my garden. Any tips? Please?!?

A: Deer. So nice to see in nature, but who wants them in their garden? Those “cute” mammals can wreak havoc in our landscaped yards. It’s like a salad bar to them, all those tender, green plants we so carefully put in the ground, water, trim and tend to all year long. In a matter of minutes, deer can destroy what we’ve worked so hard at. It can be very frustrating.

Unfortunately, deer live in Colorado, and they may even live in your very own neighborhood. When numbers of deer increase, or their natural habitat decreases, deer may move into yards in search of food. It’s difficult to move them out of areas where they are not wanted.

Deer don’t have upper incisors, so they “browse” and the twigs and stems left behind will be rough or shredded. Deer may strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. By comparison, damage caused by rabbits will have a neat, sharp 45-degree cut.

My philosophy is to learn to live with deer. However, I believe in using methods to try to discourage them from destroying my landscape.

The only sure way to exclude deer is with adequate fencing. This can be very expensive. To be totally deer-proof a fence has to be 8 feet tall. If you’ve got a large yard, this may be cost-prohibitive. However, if you’re protecting a small vegetable or flower garden, this could be a practical solution.

If you’ve got newly planted trees or shrubs, you can surround them with netting. This is a quick and economical way to protect individual plants.

We’ve all heard of the infamous deer-resistant plant list. It’s true that deer will avoid some plants, but even some of those listed as deer-resistant have been eaten by deer. They tend to avoid highly aromatic plants, or plants with fuzzy leaves/texture. I’ve have some luck by surrounding plants with some that deer tend not to like. This isn’t an exact science, but done by trial and error.

Here are some plants that deer tend to avoid:  rabbitbrush, artemisia, santolina, yarrow, lavender, thyme, marjoram, salvia, oregano, purple coneflower, blanketflower, and apache plume. Again, no plant is 100% safe from being browsed by deer. You can search the internet for more complete plant lists.

There are many brands of deer repellents on the market now. These are products that are applied directly to the plant, which causes them to taste bad to deer. Other repellents may be sprayed around an area. These area repellents have a foul smell, probably to both the deer and you!

Treat tall plants/trees up to 6 feet high with the repellent. Deer browse from the top down. If you buy a repellent, read the label carefully and follow the directions listed.

If you want to save some money, you can try making your own solution by mixing 20% whole eggs with 80% water. Spray this like you would any other repellent. You’ll have to reapply this about every 30 days.

We can learn to live with deer. With careful plant selection and placement, maybe a fence or some repellent, it can be possible to have a garden and big, hairy four-legged critters in your yard. (Next week – One gardener’s review of deer repellents.)

Contributed by Jan Roes, Certified Colorado Gardener
Photo by Leslie Holzmann

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