During a recent event, a local plant breeder went through all the new plants they would be introducing. With one plant after another, the same question from the audience came up: “Do deer like it?”
With few predators, plenty of gardens to munch their way through 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.
What does a deer want?
Deer like vegetable gardens, fruit trees and hostas, hostas, hostas. 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 (6-feet or taller, because they can jump) and a lively dog inside the fence would be a good deterrent.
Another option to reduce deer damage is to plant things deer don’t like that much and there are several lists of plants available. Among the plants they don’t like are nepeta, lamium, coneflowers, coreopsis, heuchera, Russian sage and peonies. I
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.