The Garden Scene: The deer have come to dinner

By The Show-Me Master Gardeners

March 21, 2014

Deer are one of the many menaces of a gardener. They love to come to your garden for dinner — especially at this time of year when young plant shoots are coming up. Some of their favorite dishes are hostas, daylilies, and of course most of your vegetable garden.

There are some plants that are classified as deer-resistant plants. This doesn’t mean that deer won’t try them. They may nibble a while and decide that the plant tastes bad then move on to another plant. However, by the time they find one they like, a lot of your garden will look pretty tattered.

A partial list of deer-resistant annuals include ageratum, pansies, marigold, vinca, dusty miller, larkspur, tansy, foxglove, gaillardia, sunflower, nicotiana, (better known as flowering tobacco), poppy, zinnia, and black-eyed Susan. Most of these plants are either toxic, have rough foliage, or just plain taste bad. Some of the more-common deer resistant perennials are yarrow, monkshood, anise hyssop, amsonia, columbine, Artemisia, wild ginger, native butterfly weed, astillbe, false indigo, threadleaf coreopsis, bleeding heart, native purple coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, iris, peony, daffodils. In addition, most herbs are not on a deer’s menu; perhaps they just don’t have gourmet taste buds! Keep in mind that neither of the above lists is all-inclusive.

Companion planting is another suggested means of discouraging deer from visiting your garden. Companion planting means to plant an unappetizing plant that the deer don’t like next to or among the “tasty” ones. Some of the most effective companion plants are oregano, hyssop, rosemary (common herbs), and catnip (of course, then you have to contend with the cat). The only problem that can arise with interspersing herbs with other plants is that a lot of the herbs can become a little invasive, especially the ones in the mint family.

Although deer may try any of the unappetizing companions that you have planted, there may be enough of the sampled plant remaining that it will survive. Whether it lives or dies depends on just how much of the plant has been eaten before the deer decides to move on to something more to its liking. The sampled plant may not return to a presentable shape for a while, but have hope that it should live through the deer’s munching.

There are numerous chemicals that you can spray on plants to deter deer from eating them. Begin spraying in late March to discourage Mama Deer from bringing the rest of her family to dinner. Spraying in April on the most susceptible plants will help teach Baby Deer that your garden isn’t the dinner table and to look for another diner. You will need to re-spray every seven to 10 days or after a rain. A few suggested sprays are Liquid Fence, Deer-Off, No Deer Zone, and Imustgarden Deer Repellent. You might also want to consider spreadable materials such as blood meal, mothballs, and bar soap to discourage deer from your garden. (These may not be completely effective, but they have been suggested by some sources). Don’t think that strewing human hair around your plants works because it doesn’t; it makes a mess instead. However, hair in your garden does supply nesting material for the birds. It’s your choice.

If none of these suggested plants or chemical-based deterrents suits your preferences or work in your garden, search the Internet. You’ll find numerous websites with suggestions. Of course, you can always check with a Master Gardener or contact the local extension office at 827-0519. Either source will be glad to help you.