Deer are now a permanent part of many landscapes, brazenly entering yards and eating gorgeous gardens. They are majestic animals and beautiful to look at — from a distance. Up close, trampling and tasting tulips, they're just not a welcome sight.
Springtime is when deer damage is most noticeable, particularly as plants awaken from months of dormancy and prepare to bloom. Deer are the poster critters of natural adaptability. As suburbia has encroached on their wild habitat, deer have adjusted easily, finding plenty to eat in residential landscapes.
"In the early part of the 20th century, the deer population was much less prevalent as it is today," says Greg Ecsedy, owner of Bobbex, Inc., which manufactures deer repellent. "Today, the deer population has exploded, causing about $1 billion a year in damage to farms, gardens, yards and timber in North America."
“We know that deer will eat more than 500 different types of plants, so there’s a good chance that something you’ve planted will appeal to them, and you can bet they’ll eat it,” Ecsedy says.
Since deer need to consume a high volume of calories to survive – bucks weighing 125 to 250 pounds need 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day – their foraging can cause significant damage to suburban landscapes. Deer seldom travel alone, so a small herd can devastate a neighborhood quickly. Deer’s close proximity to people over the course of time has dulled their natural fear, so it’s quite common to see multiple deer nonchalantly noshing away right outside the window.
Deer’s adaptability stems from their capacity to learn. Homeowners can defend their landscape by putting deer’s natural learning ability to good use. Deterrents that convince the deer that a yard is no longer a desirable dining destination can successfully protect a home environment from these foraging foes.
Several methods can be effective in deterring deer, including:
- Deer repellent — Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell to assess the desirability of an area for feeding and to alert them to danger. Disrupting their sense of smell can disrupt their sense of security, which is why scent-based repellents often prove effective. Deer that are uncomfortable in a yard will not be likely to return.
- Deer deterrent devices – Motion-activated noise makers and lights can scare deer off for a short time. Deer’s movement in the yard can activate motion lights at night, scaring them away. During the day motion-activated sound can ward off the deer. However, it’s likely that deer will become acclimated to both tactics over time and eventually the sound and motion may no longer have an effect.
- Deer fence– Fencing is considered the only surefire way to keep deer out of a garden, but keep in mind that deer have been known to jump 10-foot fences, and many communities restrict the height of fencing. You may not be able to put up a fence high enough to keep deer away, plus fencing might not be practical and can be costly.
- Deer resistant flowers — Another option is to grow plants that deer don’t like. A hungry deer will eat just about anything, but you may have some success planting deer-resistant flowers and plants like catmint, hellebore, yarrow, fuzzy lamb’s ear, and cleome near the plants you want to protect.