How to Protect Your Garden from Deer

Saving your precious plants and flowers from hungry bucks and does.

For those whose gardens tend to turn into all-you-can-eat salad buffets for deer, take heed: There are certain ways to make your shrubbery as appealing as, say, Brussels sprouts to a nine-year-old. According to Paula Lynn, landscape assistant at Nabel’s Nursery (1485 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains 914-949-3963) in White Plains, you basically have three choices: 1) surround your shrubbery with a fence; 2) use large (3”-6”) gravel as groundcover (deer don’t like to walk on it); and 3) consult the experts—and do research—so bucks will bypass your property in search of more succulent treats (often, the smellier the plants/flowers, the more likely the deer will move on, says Lynn).

According to Lynn and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, recommended groundcovers that are deer-resistant include: Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) and its American cousin, Allegheny spurge (P. procumbens), as well as Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans). As for flowers, Nabel’s and other nurseries have lists for what will and won’t work. The truth is, says Lynn, there isn’t much that you can plant that truly can be described as “deer-proof,” because when deer are hungry and their favorite food is scarce, they’ll eat almost anything—and, like humans, they’re willing to try anything at least once.

Her best advice? Go for the scent plants and even herbs, like sage, dill, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, which have, to deer, an unpleasant taste and (even more so) odor. As for flowers, try foxglove, snapdragons, lamb’s ear, some poppies, bleeding heart, and peony. Other perennials include the Prince of Wales juniper, boxwood, anise hyssop, and yucca. Evergreen trees are another popular deer repellant, and include spruce and some hollies. In general, our furry friends do not like plants with a fuzzy texture—as well as that aforementioned strong odor. Other safe plants include most ferns and most ornamental grasses (including lots of bamboos), but keep in mind that “safe” is a relative term, as nothing is deer proof.

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The bottom line, says Lynn, is to always ask questions of your landscaper, nursery, or gardener before planting, but remember:
if deer don’t eat it, something else might.  “There’s no such thing as ‘proof’—deer-proof, rabbit-proof, bug-proof—there is only ‘resistant.’”

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