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GardenSMART :: Five Tips for Dealing with Deer

Five Tips for Dealing with Deer

By Stacey Hirvela, Spring Meadow Nursery
Photographs courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery

It used to be so easy to give advice to people who struggled with deer damage in their landscape – just plant x, I'd suggest, it's deer resistant! Then my husband and I bought a house that, despite being in a populated urban area, is frequently visited by herds of hungry deer. I quickly learned how challenging and heartbreaking deer can be.

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"Deer resistance" is relative. Deer resistant simply means that a plant is not a deer's favorite food – it doesn't mean it's deer-proof. Deer are notoriously unpredictable in their tastes, and when hungry, will eat just about anything. 

Remove their favorite plants. Deer love some plants so much that they are actually drawn, magnet-like, to your yard. Avoid these plants and you'll give deer fewer reasons to visit. The list of "deer candy" includes hosta, daylily, arborvitae, roses, tulips, and tomatoes.

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Grow big. Whenever you can find and afford them, buy large plants. I've found that deer (and rabbits) prefer small plants with tender growth to larger plants with more fibrous growth. Larger plants also better withstand and recover from any damage that does occur.

Use a variety of treatments. I've had great success with deer repellent sprays during the periods when deer cause the most damage in my garden. However, I also use granular deer repellents and have even strewn dog hair around the beds. Don't rely on just one approach.

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Embrace plants that work. There are hundreds of fantastically garden-worthy plants that the deer will largely (or even completely) ignore – for example, try alliums instead of tulips, sedum instead of daylilies, and juniper instead of arborvitae.

Here are my top picks for deer resistant shrubs. Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say, but in my Michigan garden, the voracious deer have never touched:

Butterfly bush


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