Many of us spend a great deal of time working in our gardens and perfecting our landscaping. We spend hours on end planting, trimming and watering. We take pride in our hard work. We literally reap the fruits (and flowers) of our labor. Waking up one morning to find that hungry deer have ravaged our plants make us madder than a wet hen.
There are things we can use to deter deer from eating our plants. Elephant garlic, Deer-Off, Liquid Fence, baby formula, hot sauce, and (my personal favorite) predator urine do alright for dissuading them, but rather than chase deer away from plants they love we can save ourselves a lot of frustration by planting things that they don’t particularly like to eat.
Now, you might have heard that there is no such thing as a deer proof plant. All plants are subject to being mowed down by deer if they are hungry enough. There are, however, plants (nice looking ones) that are generally avoided by deer.
Here’s what we know about deer dining habits:
- As much as 90% of their water requirements are met by munching on lush greens and tender young, plant growth.
- Deer prefer high protein crops such as peas, soybeans, turnips, alfalfa and corn.
- They like trail mix. Fruit, nuts and seeds are especially important when the green vegetation starts to dwindle.
- There are very few animals that can resist the sweet smell of apples. Deer are one of them.
- They will happily rip off the bark of maples, aspens and dogwoods. They get water from their bark and it sits heavily in their four-chambered stomachs, keeping them full longer.
Okay, we know what they prefer. Now what do they avoid?
- Deer are sensitive to smells and most strong scents can drive them away (unless that smell is apples!)
- Like small children, deer don’t like strange textures in their food. They prefer not to eat things that are fuzzy, prickly or thorny. (They do like roses though. I guess in their case, the thorns are worth the taste of the delicious flower.)
- Deer avoid plants with milky sap and other plants that will upset their stomachs or give them heartburn.
- Deer prefer not to walk through sharp ornamental grasses or thorny brush to get to food.
Deer avoid the prickly center of zinnia flowers
Okay, now for the good stuff!
There are a variety of beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees that we can plant in our yard that deer are unlikely to do much damage to. I have compiled this list based on information I have collected from searching educational websites, retail and wholesale suppliers’ recommendations, public forums and my own personal experience.
In honor of the Winter Olympics, I will divide them up into two categories: SILVER (plants that deer generally dislike eating) and GOLD (plants that deer really dislike eating).
First, the SILVER medal winners:
- Buckthorn (Rhamnus)
- Calla Lily
- Coral Bells (Heuchera)
- Echinacea (Coneflower)
- English Lavender
- Evening Primrose
- Lily Turf
- Oriental Poppy
- Rose of Sharon
- Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)
- Sage (Salvia)
…And for the GOLD:
- American Holly
- Arrowwood Viburnum
- Bleeding Heart
- Blue Fescue
- Butterfly Bush
- Common Boxwood
- Dwarf Alberta Spruce
- Hummingbird Mint
- Japanese Blood Grass
- Lamb’s Ear
- Lily of the Valley
- Maiden Grass
- Poppy (note: Oriental Poppy scored a silver)
- Purple Moor Grass
- Red Hot Poker
- Russian Olive
- Russian Sage
- Snap Dragon
Of course there are always exceptions. Time of year and scarcity of food will ultimately determine the eating habits of deer. Feel free to post your comments or suggestions below.