Deer are a common sight in some suburban neighborhoods and can cause great damage to trees and gardens. They eat almost any plant, including tree bark, vines, flowers, nuts, berries and vegetable greens. Deer also cause damage by trampling plants and rubbing their antlers on tree bark. No plant is completely deer-proof, but planning a deer-resistant landscape may minimize damage.
Since deer feed early in the morning or late at night, you may not see them in your garden. Telltale signs, though include deer droppings and hoof prints, which are split in front and rounded at the back. Deer lack incisors so they tend to shred plants, while rabbits bite plants off cleanly, according to Colorado State University. Another sign of deer activity is flattened bushes and perennials where they have bedded.
Deer are very common in suburban landscapes and difficult to deter. Fences are the most effective solution to problems with deer, but some deer repellents, such as coyote urine, Deer Away and Hot Sauce work well. Whole eggs mixed with water and sprayed on plants provides a surprisingly effective deterrent, advises Colorado State University. The application is weather-resistant and lasts up to 30 days. Lights, sprinklers and noises designed to scare deer are largely ineffective, as are bars of soap and human hair. Laws on dealing with deer vary from state to state, but in California, traps and poisons are illegal, according to University of California Davis.
Many online sources and books have lists of deer-resistant plants. These lists are a good place to start. Additionally, these lists detail plants that deer seem to love. Gray-leaved plants and plants with highly fragrant foliage are usually left alone, advises Forrest W. Appleton of Texas A&M University. Good perennials to try include black-eyed Susan, daffodils, blanketflower, larkspur, lavender, Russian sage and thyme. Trees and shrubs include Apache plume, blue mist spirea, douglas fir, Oregon grape and mountain mahogany. Plants to avoid include grape vine, strawberry, roses, tulips, apples, aspen and raspberry.
Even with careful planning, no garden is completely safe from deer. When natural food sources are sparse or many deer are competing for food, they are more likely to invade gardens and eat plants they otherwise would leave untouched, advises the University of California Davis. Early spring is a prime time for deer problems because the deer are hungry after a long winter and plants are at their most tender.
In addition to choosing deer-resistant plants, planting strategies may also help. Plantings next to the house are more likely to be left alone. Additionally, planting desirable plants, such as roses and tulips, surrounded by a ring of less desirable plants may deter deer, advises Colorado State University.