Learning to live with deer in your garden
Recently I spoke with a friend who shared her woes about her deer problem. They had devastated her roses. She had decided on a stinky solution - coyote urine - so now she had a devoured garden that she really didn't enjoy because it smelled so bad.
Wow, talk about a cure that is worse than the disease. It's easy for me to say, "You moved into their home," since I don't live in deer country but I do have my own gardening woes - rabbits. Be it rabbits or deer these cute critters are the bane of gardeners.
What is a gardener to do? The various predator urines on the market are expensive and are only effective for a limited amount of time - their "fragrance" dissipates in about two weeks. Deer fences are an alternative, providing they are at least 10 feet tall, but depending on the size of your garden they can be costly and unsightly. I do feel that a deer fence is a necessity around your vegetable garden - deer know the importance of five servings of vegetables a day - and this also applies to roses and apple trees.
Deer are not stupid. They are less likely to jump a 6- foot fence surrounding a small garden located next to a house where they will feel trapped, than they would a large fenced area away from the house. Deer are better high jumpers than broad jumpers - so if you are fencing a large area you might want to consider two parallel fences with a 3- to 6-foot space between.
Planting deer-resistant plants is an alternative. Like all animals, deer have certain food preferences. Deer resistance of plants depends on the availability of food in a deer's usual feeding area. If natural food supplies are low, there will be increased browsing in domestic gardens and any plant will become appetizing to a deer. I found it interesting that most plants that are poisonous to humans if ingested are plants that are considered deer resistant. If I lived in deer country I would plant my flower beds in layers with the most deer resistant plants toward the front of the bed and the least toward the back.
Front plantings could be any of the ornamental grasses - society garlic/Tulbaghia violecea - integrated with some herbs - except basil, aka Deer Pesto. Rosemary, both the trailing and bush varieties, is a good choice. Lamium could also be used in the foreground.
Moving back, you might want to plant daylilies/Hemerocallis, Amaryllis Belladonna/Naked Ladies, Erysimum/Wallflower, Euryops, Gaura/Indian Feathers and Penstemon. Shrubs to consider would be Mahonia/Oregon Grape, Grevellia, Lavenders, Zauscherneria/California Fuchsia-hummingbird plant.
Narcissus/daffodils are perfect for spring color and are very unappetizing to the deer.
Your plant selection will depend on the exposure of your garden. When shopping for deer-resistant plants, visit a local nursery or garden center where the staff is familiar with plant varieties that are the most deer resistant. Young plants should be protected either by cages or by spraying with deer deterrent.
There are homeopathic recipes that can be temporarily effective; one that seemed to keep appearing in my research was a concoction of two cups of water blended with five eggs and skim milk and sprayed on vulnerable plants. I'm not sure the fragrance of rotting eggs is preferable to that of predator urine.
If all fails there is coexistence. Part of gardening is to be connected to life, even the wild life. Deer are the largest wild animal to come into most gardens. While it is difficult to see your hard work and money munched away, perhaps there is a way for gardener and deer to co-exist. You can have a spectacular seasonal garden with deer-resistant plants, many of which are perfect for our Mediterranean climate.
As for me, I have decided to appreciate my garden bunnies. We have reached a truce. I plant two of everything - one for bunny and one for me.