Deer are graceful, shy and unfortunately, ravenous at certain times of the year. A garden becomes an overnight buffet, and those same darlings of animated features and children's stories are the culprits. To protect your garden, remember that the best defense is a good offense. Plan your garden with this in mind and enjoy both living near wildlife and a bountiful garden.
Deer turn their noses up at many common perennials, such as lavender, columbine and irises. Plants with hairy leaves or needles, like dusty miller are also bypassed unless the deer are extremely hungry. Salvia, marigolds and snapdragons are rarely damaged and provide season-long flowers, according to the Michigan State University Extension. These strongly scented or flavored leaves discourage deer from snacking. Don't plant early-season flowers that attract hungry deer, such as tulips.
Plant the tastiest flowers near the house, preferably near a back door or near a high-traffic area. Plant less-desirable plants around the edge of the yard and deer may bypass your garden for easier pickings. In winter and spring, when deer are particularly hungry, even these flowers may not be safe. Motion-sensing exterior lights help protect plants near the house. If installing a motion-sensing light is not an option, hardware stores sell motion-detecting sensors that screw in between the bulb and the existing socket.
Keep the most vulnerable flowers behind the right fencing. Many deer have no trouble jumping 5 or even 6 feet over a fence. However, most deer do not jump solid fences when they cannot see the other side. Even if a fence is made of plastic sheeting, as long as the other side is not visible, the deer will usually not jump over it. A "ha-ha," which is a trench on the deer's side and a fence on the garden's side, is very effective at repelling deer but involves major earth moving and construction. During lean seasons, otherwise unpalatable plants become prime victims. Surround these plants or shrubs with temporary fencing. The Michigan State University Extension suggests building these circular structures with 5 foot tall wire fencing, where the openings are no larger than 2-by-4 inches. The best solution in extremely problematic areas is an electric fence.
Many scent repellents exist, both homemade and commercially sold. Traditional repellents include bone meal sprinkled around plants or deodorant soap or human hair hung in nylon bags. Commercial repellents, such as Deer-Away, are effective during the summer months when deer have other readily available food sources. Many scent repellents must be reapplied every two to four weeks, making them a short-term solution.
Deer dislike sudden movement. Motion-detecting sprinklers drive away deer and other unwanted visitors, such as neighborhood dogs or cats. The sprinklers have sensitivity settings so birds and small animals do not trigger the spray. Dogs give even better results at keeping deer from your garden, according to the Oregon State University Extension, but must be in the yard at night, when the deer feed. Shaker cans, which are empty, shiny soda cans with rattling rocks, metal washers or other noisy items sealed inside, frighten deer away when thrown by an early-morning gardener. With these deterrents, deer soon learn which yards are safe to browse.
What works to repel one deer fails to repel another. The Penn State Cooperative Extension notes that plants that deer avoid in one area are fair game in another, and a deer that avoids soap-based scent repellents may be just fine wandering past human hair. Gardeners often go through many deterrents before finding one that works. Switching from one method to another also keeps the deer from becoming familiar with the repellent.