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Tips for Deer-Resistant Gardening

Whole books could be written about methods for deer resistant gardening. Thankfully, deer haven't been that much of an issue for me over the past 18 years living on my property as they seem to have preferred the higher elevations of Colfax, Grass Valley and Forest Hill.

This year, however, is different. For some reason the deer have chosen to place my property in their listing of five-star resorts to visit. For the past few months there has been a family of deer that regularly stop by my property and treat my plantings as I would treat the banquet table at Thanksgiving dinner. A nibble here. A chomp there. Bold as you please with little regard for me and my dogs they saunter through my shrubs, gardens and plantings sampling as they go. So inured have they become to my presence that I can even walk my dogs and they will do little but stop and stare for a few moments. Or perhaps they're just resting their jaws.

 Baby bandits 

And so it is that I have joined the ranks of those who have made it their life's work to deter deer from their garden without the use of deadly force. So, keyboard in hand, I have scoured the Internet in search of remedies and here is a sample of what I've found.

Suggested methods to deter deer:

  • Keep a dog in your yard.
  • Plant deer-resistant plants (short list below)
  • Hang bars of deodorant soap near plantings.
  • Hang bags (a stocking will do) of unwashed human hair near plants.

Commercial products include:

  • Urine from predators such as coyotes or bobcats
  • Scent repellants such as Hinder or Ro-pel
  • Motion detectors that make noise, turn on lights or spray water
  • Electrified fencing
  • Invisible deer fencing mesh
  • Scent repellants made from sewage or rotten eggs

Will these methods actually work? Any methods that rely on scent will have a limited life because the scent will eventually be washed away from rain. And who wants the smell of rotten eggs in their garden anyway? Lights and noise are likely to be limited too once the deer figure out that nothing else will happen. Fencing may be your best bet but the down side is the cost and that it may turn your yard into a replica of Stalag 17.

Your deer-proof fence will have to be at least 10 feet high. If you've ever seen deer in flight you'll understand why. Deer aren't stupid. They will squeeze in between the cross pieces of those pretty vinyl fences that are all the rage.

If you don't want to build high then you can build wide or at least look as if you did. Some experts suggest that you build a four foot fence at a 45-degree angle aimed outward. It will give the impression of depth and fool the deer into not jumping over. Another method in this vein is the double fence where you create an inner fence just three feet inside your outer fence. While I've heard this suggestion I've yet to meet anyone who is wealthy (or desperate) enough to build two fences. Forget the cost, there are some places up in the Sierra foothills where the residents aren't even allowed to build fences.

A short list of deer-resistant plants for the Sierra Foothills

  • Boxwood (Buxus spp.) 
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Glossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora)
  • Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)
  • Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus spp.)
  • Astilbe (False spiraea)
  • Canterbury bells (Campanula medium)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)
  • Iris
  • Daffodils
  • Lilac
  • Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria)
  • Cyclamen

So what methods will I use? Given that I'm on a limited budget, I will probably opt to trade out my plantings for those that are deer resistant. Will it be hard to decide where to put the new plantings? Hardly, I'll just follow the deer.