What Gardeners Are Talking About: Deer

A deer buffet

The Spring at the Inn event, held last Thursday at the Lake Elmo Inn, drew a packed crowd of enthusiastic gardeners, who oohed and aahed over a dozen or more new perennials and shrubs that will be available in nurseries this year. With one plant after another, the same question came up: “Do deer like it?”

With few predators, plenty of gardens to munch their way through and this year,  a very mild winter, deer are one of the biggest (both in number and size) pests that gardeners face. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources doesn’t keep track of the number of deer in urban areas, but nationally the estimates run between 15 and 25 million. While a hungry deer will eat just about anything, deer do have their food preferences.

Deer like vegetable gardens, fruit trees and hosta, hosta, hosta. Other plants they like include tulips, pansies, daylilies, dogwoods, garden lilies, hydrangeas and impatiens. Generally, they stay away from plants that are toxic (foxglove, for example) or highly scented (Russian sage). There are few fool-proof methods for controlling deer, though a high fence (5-feet or taller, because they can jump) and a lively dog inside the fence would be a good deterrent.

Another option is to plant things deer don’t like that much and there are several lists of plants available, including this useful post from Terry Yockey’s northerngardening.com site. I’ve not had many problems with deer and, looking over Terry’s plant list, I can see why. My garden has lots of plants deer don’t particularly like, such as nepeta, lamium, coneflowers, coreopsis, heuchera, Russian sage and peonies. I didn’t plant it with deer in mind, but having seen deer more in the past year or two, I’m inclined to continue this approach.

If deer are a persistent problem in your garden, check out Neil Soderstrom’s book Deer Resistant Landscaping, which also has great tips on dealing with other critters or Vincent Drzewucki’s slim, but enlightening book, Gardening in Deer Country.

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