Most gardeners do not want to attract deer to their gardens. Although deer are pretty at a distance, they can cause enormous damage to garden plants. Some gardeners end up fencing a garden to protect it from deer. Others use various kinds of deterrents. Some gardeners simply adapt their plantings to deer preferences. They avoid planting things that deer like to eat and, instead, plant things that deer dislike.
Identifying Deer in the Garden
Even when deer are present in the garden on a daily basis, it is unusual to see them. However, signs of their presence, such as tracks or droppings, are very usual. Even more noticeable are the distinctive types of damage created by deer. Plants that have been torn, leaving ragged edges behind, almost always indicate deer, according to the West Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. Rabbits, woodchucks, and squirrels leave crisp, clean edges. Also, deer tend to browse the tender, new growth and leave behind the old growth.
If population numbers are high, or if the surrounding areas offer little food, deer will eat garden plants that they would otherwise avoid. They will even strip the bark from trees. They will also ignore deterrents and take greater risks to get to food.
It is common for deer in one area to enjoy a food that deer in a different area ignore. Also, many deer have highly individual food preferences. Some gardeners have even reported deer eating bars of soap set out as deterrents. Observe the habits and preferences of local deer before planting large areas with plants you think they will like or dislike.
Favorite Ground Covers
Most deer really enjoy hostas and daylilies. These can be grown in areas with deer if given adequate protection, but they may not thrive as ground covers in those locations. Deer also like azaleas, rhododendrons, hollyhock, impatiens and tulips. Deer are very attracted to yew. Any ground covers planted near these favorite foods are likely to be eaten as well.
Disliked Ground Covers
Deer tend to dislike plants with very aromatic, hairy, fuzzy or spiky leaves. They also dislike plants with gray leaves. Deer will not eat daffodils, which are poisonous. They don't eat any member of the Ranunculus family, such as monkshood, anemone, columbine and peony, which are also poisonous. Some plants from this family can be grown as ground cover. Hellebores, anemones, aquilegias and even eranthis and trollius have been grown for this purpose, often in mixed plantings with other ground covers.