It’s not my yard

May 14, 2013

By Jane Garrison

I have a question. Are the deer living in our yards, or we living in theirs? I have a feeling it’s the latter. When we follow their eating habits we have to wonder, is there anything they won’t eat? The answer seems to be, “Very little.” When times are tough, they even eat the bark right off the trees. But here, in suburbia, they mostly go for our prized plants.

We can’t remember everything they like and don’t like, so it’s best to know just the generalities. Here are a few:

Evergreens — Old, tough leaves are not favorites, so evergreens, both broadleaf and conifers, are usually safe. They don’t seem to touch Mahonia, Kinnikinnick, ferns, rhododendrons or azaleas.

Herbs — They don’t seem to like the herby plants with strong smells like basil, mint, sage, lavender and rosemary. An herb garden would be a good choice in a deer’s yard.

Smelly plants — If the plants don’t smell good to us, like daisies, asters and yarrow, they probably won’t like them.

Fuzzy plants — If the leaf surface is nice for kids to feel, it won’t be feel good on a deer’s tongue. So Lamb’s Ears, Bachelor Button, Foxglove and Dusty Miller are not good deer food.

Prickly plants — We can understand why they wouldn’t like barberry, blackberry or hawthorn. Ouch! But then, they love roses. Go figure.

Ornamental grass — For some reason they don’t bother the grasses. Maybe lawn grass is better. It’s good to keep the general guidelines in your head, but specifics are online for our region if you Google “deer proof plants.”

After years of living with deer, raccoon and bear, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are mostly opportunists and a little bit lazy. If the plant is near where they are walking anyway, they will take a bite out of it. After they pruned it, it will force more new growth and the next animal to pass by will be thrilled to see it, so he or she will also take a bite out of it. The plant is in a vulnerable location on a commonly travelled route.

We know that it takes a 7-foot high fence to keep out a leaping deer, so fencing isn’t always an option. Another suggestion is to spray something stinky, perhaps something that contains rotten eggs or maybe even a predator’s urine, all natural, no chemicals. Remember to stand upwind of the plant and spray when you use it. I always hope that the smell lingers in the deer’s memory long after it wears off in the yard. It works pretty well, unless I get on the downwind side of the plant.

But then, I have to remember, this isn’t my yard; it is theirs.


Jane Garrison is a local master gardener and landscape architect who gardens in glacial till on the plateau.


Need help?

Master Gardening clinics happen every Saturday at Squak Mountain Nursery and the Issaquah Farmers Market. Feel free to stop by with questions.

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