Gotta Deer Problem?

Tips for Tuesday takes a look at deer.  My tip is directed mainly at developers and builders. It is simple. Do not keep building in areas populated by deer. Not so much a tip as a strong suggestion. But, there is useful information for homeowners here as well, plus a couple of cute images.

I get called to design properties that are smack dab on deer trails. And with the increasing deer population, it leaves many of them in search of a meal right to your front yard. Unfortunately for the homeowner, that often means their landscape plants will be in jeopardy. Deer will browse an arborvitae or yew down to mere sticks. Boxwood is usually safe, but how many of them can you realistically have?

This damage was done by deer to Taxus. Granted, it is not a nice landscape, but the deer are not going to care how pretty your space is, just how tasty and desirable.

No matter what we plant as deer resistant vegetation, the deer will eat just about anything when they are hungry. They will also come right up to your front door early in the early morning hours. This did not use to happen, but again, with rising populations and more homes being constructed in deer habitat, deer are becoming more desperate and brazen.

As deer and human populations increase, so do the conflicts between the species. Urban sprawl has created suburban environments conducive to creating deer habitat, abundant with food and, more important, protection from hunting and non-human predators. Where deer remain embedded in natural forest conditions, they also can change the plant and animal compositions of the forest ecosystems. They over-browse causing the reverse of plant succession and lead to the introduction of midlevel and introduced species of plant life.

I feel sorry for the deer. Being a prey animal has its inherent dangers, and the accidental car collisions are so common at this time of year. This little one pound deer below, was delivered by Caesarean section at a wildlife hospital after his mother was killed by a car. His mother could not be saved, but this little 6 inch high miracle was saved by the Tigglewinkles Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The photographer’s name is on the photo.

One thing my friend and nurseryman has done on his farm to protect the nursery stock that he grows, is he plants corn at all the deer trails. This provide food for the wild deer throughout the winter. That is just not feasible for most homeowners, but I have one client who buys corn to put out for them every night. I am sure this a costly affair.

The problem with feeding is that it creates an unnatural condition for the animals. Ready food helps to increase deer populations and also puts them on a limited diet. Corn is a sugar and deer really like it. They also like the apples and other fruit that my client provides. The corn that my friend grows is right on the line between the natural habitat and protected tree nursery. The animals have plenty of forest and meadows in which to graze.

Another client has lost holly, and lilac as the deer graze right beneath her office window. They have eaten practically every plant that was planted, irregardless of the deer resistant recommendations.

Repellents work by reducing the attractiveness and palatability of plants to a lower level than unprotected foliage. So effectibility is dependant on other available foliage. See how this is self-defeating in a home environment? We do not want them eating any of our garden plants. The solutions have to be applied after a rain which also require fast action on the part of the homeowner. Many of these products consist of rotten eggs. How many of you can stomach that smell?

There are taste dependent repellents like Deer Off also. These usually are hot pepper spray based.  The disadvantage is the deer must sample the plant first before being repelled. Then the new growth that follows is unprotected. Tests have shown that odor based protectants outperform taste based.

Barrier fencing requires minimum height of an eight foot woven wire fence or a high tensile electric fence. The woven fence is about three times more costly. Fencing is usually not practical in a home garden. Bucks often get tangled in the plastic netting fence and suffer long agonizing deaths. The wire fence below serves a dual purpose. It keeps the penned does in and the wild bucks out. Note the two visible trees, not a single leaf is at browse level, and the bark is protected from the deer.

Home owners have the worst scenario. The best means of protection is selecting plants that are considered 95% safe. This means 95% of the time deer will not touch them. Remember what I said about when they are really hungry? That is the other 5%.

The two black and white photos and plant lists are courtesy of Cornell University.

I guess you noticed that there are not too many trees and shrubs on this list. This image is how deer see your gardens. Yummy.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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28 Responses to Gotta Deer Problem?

  1. Thank you… are the developers listening? Certainly not here. People forget that the deer were here first.

    • The cities are getting empty as the people move outward. Soon the deer will be moving into the cities. They seem pretty at home in the suburbs. And developers keep buying up farmland and wooded land to create new and often over priced developments. We have areas where developers built in unprotected wet land area and the homes foundations were compromised. These homes were really expensive and the people do not have much recourse. No way to create drainage either. The deer here, and there are plenty of them, must be laughing up a storm.

      • I came back to copy your Deer Menu and read your comment about “soon the deer will be moving into the cities”. Welcome to my neighborhood. We have a deer population that comes back each fall and stays the winter. A few sleep in my backyard at night and move into the trees by day. Old timers say this area was orchards about ten years ago, and many deer were born here. They come back to spend the winter months here. We are about a 10 minute drive from the mountains were they live during the summer. They pass through hundreds of homes to come back here each year. Imagine my surprise when I decided to drive my then 14 year old daughter to school last Fall and there was a 4-point buck on the path where she normally walked. The deer usually keep hidden during the day. Last Christmas Eve a neighbor looked out her window to a beautiful scene of candlelight snow with a small herd of dear nibbling her plants. She told her children they were Santa’s reindeer and they better run and get in bed and fall asleep fast. Yes, we have deer in the city. 🙂

  2. Well, our house was built over 20 years ago, but is smack dab in the midst of multiple deer freeways! As we’re striving for ‘balance’ (although the deer didn’t receive that memo), we had to deer-fence the food producing sections of the garden. Even then, the deer (and we) had to adjust to the new barrier. As for the rest of the unfenced property…well, the deer dictate what we can grow outside the fence. Rhododendrons thus far are untouched, as is the lavender…and sadly, the poison oak, everything else, depending on season, and rainfall, or plant maturity, is fair game. Despite the jokes from friends about using my office as a deer blind for hunting, which of course I won’t permit, I actually enjoy watching the spotty fawns in spring, and this year we had one mama with twins. Awfully cute, when they’re not chomping the peach trees! 😀

    • Funny, rhododendrons are eaten here. One community where I have clients, all of them are nibbled down to nothing bu the deer. In fact my Akita ate my rhododendron. They must be somewhat tasty.

      I love seeing the fawns. At my friend’s deer farm, the little ones are so adorable. I will try to get photos of the babies, next batch. I too would not be happy if my trees were browsed. I guess I am fortunate to only have rabbits and squirrels. There are plenty of deer at the gorge only a few blocks away though. I guess one could find its way up the street.

      Really would hate to have moose, like in Alaska.

  3. Did you read that recent study in which they found that deer prefer fertilized plants? The fertilizers are salt based, making the plants more tasty than unfertilized plants. It makes sense to me!

    • Yes, I did see an inconclusive study on that once. It makes sense to me also. I have to ask my friend with the deer farm if he has salt blocks available, just like I did for my horses. I think he does. I am going to look in the pens when I go down this week. Good comment.

  4. Christine B. says:

    Alaska weighing in: way, way more deer down in the Lower 48 states than moose up here. That doesn’t mean I don’t cringe when the moose show up in my front yard. My back yard is fenced 6 feet high and I’ve never had a problem there, but some people report moose jumping fences. I can’t imagine. They certainly have a heartly appetite, my Halloween pumpkin on the front porch didn’t make it to Halloween this year. An enormous cow moose lumbered up onto the porch and ate it.

    I don’t think we’d have a huge problem with deer even if they did live around my area, too many hunters looking to fill freezers for the winter. Lots of people in my state still live a subsistence lifestyle, and to be fair, the wild game meat is probably healthier than the store bought stuff. Sounds like the habitat down there could use some hunters, bears, and wolves. We’ve got spares if you need them;)

    I’ve already started my annual ritual of applying Plantskydd to all the trees and shrubs to keep the moose away. Works great!

    Christine in Alaska

    • I had to mention the moose in my one comment. When you wrote before that you had moose visit your garden, I was astounded. And one eating your pumpkin, that is a riot. I am sure you when not smiling, but I would be at the window video taping the ordeal, at least the first or second time. After that maybe the pet wolf, sorry Akita, would be let out the door.

      My deer farm owner is a big time hunter. I am the beneficiary of the meat of much deer, buffalo and Alaskan Halibut. Yum, yum, yum. He travels to Alaska each year to fish and also hunt. He got a grizzly up there two years ago. Had to have a special permit. He also eliminated a few of your moose. Next time I am at the lodge, I will take a photo of the mounted bears and moose and see if you recognize any of your marauders. LOL

  5. hello is the tiggywinkles buckinghamshire you mention in the uk? as there is one, my brother lives in east sussex uk and has given up trying shrubs, there is a natural wood on their property and they have enclosed an area to grow veggies, fruit and cut flowers, in England deer are said to belong to the crown and protected, in Scotland there are quotas for culling and much controversy about someone reintroducing wolves, I think it is different for the north american continent as you do still have a lot of open land where as here in the uk, especially the south east of england it really is a concrete jungle, there are deer parks and I believe food supplied as there simply would not be enough wild, well none really it’s all cultivated,
    I enjoyed your post, personally I think the humans have taken over enough and we have to learn to live with other creatures, like you I have rabbits my main concern was when they started digging/tunneling near my house, Frances

    • Hi Frances, I am so glad you commented. I am pretty sure you are correct, but I did not see a country in the email I received. The email had five images of the Rupert that were so darling. The owner of Tiggywinkles is Les Stocker. They said Rupert was expecting to make a full recovery and had a picture of him at 5 days old sitting up and looking pretty good. If you want, I can forward the email to you. It was so heartwarming. Donna

      • hello Donna, I can’t remember the name of the owners, they started a long time ago to care for hurt hedgehogs hence the name, now they deal with any animal that needs help and they can help, thanks but no need to see e mail, glad rupert is doing well, Frances

  6. One says:

    Goodness! You have squirrels, bunnies and deer. Over here, I struggle with Clifford and Goldee. Looks like I am pretty fortunate comparatively. My 2 big pests till the soil, chip up wood, over fertilize some plants and eat spinach. Most of my plants are still in place but with burnt leaves, broken roots etc.

    • That is so funny. Having dogs before, I know exactly of what you speak. I spent a lot of time dog proofing the yard. So much experience and learned tricks, that I give a Master Gardener talk to garden clubs on this subject. It always gets a lot of laughs too. People enjoy hearing other peoples trials and tribulations.

  7. TufaGirl says:

    Oh, Deer – I could go on and on. Working for years in the retail nursery business, I have stories. Mostly, of the homeowners that scoped out the location because of the cute deer on the property. Then they come into the nursery and want me to magically pull a plant out of my hat that the deer will not eat. There aren’t any. Any thing you bring into your yard they smell from a mile away. They will all come by and take a taste of it. If they like it – it’s history. If they don’t like it – they will pull it out and stomp on it.

    Then the homeowner insists on feeding the deer corn (supposedly so they won’t eat their landscape). This is like feeding your child candy. The animal needs nutrition. It will eat the landscape while it is there to complete it’s diet. If the homeowner would not be such a cheepskate – they should feed the deer alfalfa pellets and put out some water. This is what they need.

    Sorry, I guess I went on and on…

    • Really great comment and I agree 100 percent. Pellets is what the penned deer eat. They eat a natural diet, like they would in the wild. They also live a lot longer than in the wild too. Diet is so important. Sure the deer eat the corn, who wouldn’t. My neighborhood squirrels are an example. Once they tasted it, every cornstalk decoration was obliterated like I pointed out previously. It kept them away from the bulbs, but they were crazed animals. Fighting and stealing from their neighbors, chasing each other up the trees. One poor guy got run over by a car in his frenzy. So sad.

      Ya, I get asked all the time for deer proof plants. That is why I mentioned boxwood, but in really bad years they nibble on that too. I didn’t realize they stomp the plants, but did know the bucks mow down newly planted trees. We need someone to get a video of them stomping. I have seen them do this in the field, but never in a garden. That would be kinda fun to see.

  8. lifeshighway says:

    I feel sorry for the deer too. I am sure the problem with hunger is much worse in some areas than in others.

    Around my house, they just like to eat the succulent bits, they are not really hungry just looking for dessert. I have never had a major eat down of my landscaping. Just irritations from the eating of the flowers, mainly day lilies, roses buds and pansies in the winter.

    (I enjoyed the video you passed my way so much I gave you a shout out, thank you so much for stopping by)

    • Thanks for the shout out from both me and Susan, I am sure. Always a laugh on your site. You should get on Blotanical. I looked, but could not find you listed. Deer are such a problem, sometimes I think they visit gardens just for fun.

  9. PatioPatch says:

    Dear Donna – a great post for anyone with deer problems and makes me almost glad that I live in London. The nearest deer must be over 10 miles away…but their cuteness makes me melt.
    Wondered if Lion pooh would be a deterrent – it is used here to scare away cats No joke – it’s sold as ‘Silent Roar’!


    • That would be a good deterrent, but only until they found it out. But the little deer in the post is so cute. I hope he is still alive and part of the Crown’s herd. Islandthreads is somewhat sure she knows where the animal hospital is located in the UK. That is so cool.

  10. fer says:

    I don’t get much wildlife living in the tenth floor in the middle of the city, It must be nice to have some animals visiting your garden.
    And, yes please, If you built your house in the middle of theirs, you ought to get your landscape munched. It would be very nice we stopped taking space away from nature.

    Very cute photos!

    • Kudos for being a city dweller. If more folks would move back to cities, it would not only help the wildlife, but create greater prosperity of the cities, building them back up with both commercial and residential living. I live in a very depressed city. You would not expect that of one of the most well known places in the world. About 50% or more are on public assistance of some kind and many commercial structures and residential dwellings are abandoned and dilapidated. There have been higher estimates too. Many are burnt to the ground, and others are nothing but houses for drugs and worse.

      Some old, established neighborhoods, such as mine exist, but not so many without the problems brought about by economic hardship and loss of income. It is sad, since I studied urban planning in college. I also worked on new, upscale housing designs, but people need to want to move and invest in city living. It is difficult to rectify a problem, where most people have no real desire to live and work. Without people, no business, without business, no jobs. Round and round. Same with the deer. People move in and displace the deer. Then the deer come back and ‘vandalize’ the neighborhood. No guns necessary, just a pair of strong chompers and nice big antlers.

  11. Karen says:

    Hi Donna,
    Living here in the boonies, we have many deer but after over 30 years of gardening, they still prefer my cornfields and alfalfa fields to my hostas and other plants. I have been very lucky, I know. One thing that seems to deter them are my dogs, or more specifically, my dog’s poo. The deer seem repelled by the dog scent, but this could be merely wishful thinking on my part. (My dogs, by the way, are Shih Tzus, so the deer merely laugh at them when they see them outside, I’m sure). I have some young cedar trees planted out in the back eight acres that are nearly destroyed by the buck’s rubbing their antlers on them, but as long as they wreck stuff out there and not up by the house, we’ll be ok. Hunting season here is in a few weeks; we don’t hunt, but I have to don my blaze orange just to go to the mailbox, dangerous territory I live in!

    • You have mastered the deer. My friend learned along time ago to protect his nursery trees that the wild deer needed to be fed. He also has grains, and a pumpkin patch too. They are the best fed wild deer around. They rarely touch his trees. He does have a double problem with rutting deer. Having the does penned on his property brings in wild buck. But I have never heard where he has had problems. Being a hunter helps, but he had devised many ways to keep the peace.

  12. Soren says:

    We certainly don’t have a deer PROBLEM, though we have deer aplenty. Sure, they might eat something here and there, but so be it.

    As I see it, the deer are part of our garden and a really ornamental one, even though they only appear intermittently and at their own will. What is better than sitting outside on a quiet evening and suddenly seeing a deer cross the lawn? I’ll tell you: Having breakfast outside and watching the deer walk around the lawn, selecting which shrub or bush to feast on! That’s prettier than any rose…

    • I would love to sit out and see deer cross my lawn. I always said that where my friend lives on his farm with his deer would be my heaven. Maybe a few horses instead of the zebra, but still heaven.

  13. Regina says:

    Nice post, answers a lot of questions.Too bad the plant list from Cornell doesn’t include trees or shrubs because that’s what they’ve been eating at my client’s properties. I posted asking for input on deer the other day. Cheers, Regina.

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