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Are Dahlias Deer Resistant?

Dahlias (Dahlia spp.) aren't generally favored by deer, making them somewhat deer resistant, but this can vary by location and by season. While some parts of the country have a greater diversity of foliage deer like to eat and a smaller population of deer to share it with, others have larger populations with limited vegetation. When resources like foliage are scarce, deer will eat pretty much anything, including your dahlias.

Growing Dahlias

Dahlias thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 3 through 11, depending on the species and cultivar. These herbaceous perennials are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and can also be grown as annuals.

  • Dahlias, with their tuberous roots, grow best in full sunlight with moist, well-drained soil to prevent root rot. 
  • These plants can grow up to 6 feet high, with a spread of 3 feet. 
  • They typically bloom from July to September, producing showy flowers in a variety of eye-catching hues. 
  • You can put aside bulbs before temperatures drop to ensure they will bloom again the following year.
  • Unfortunately, no dahlia species is completely deer resistant.

Dahlias and Deer

How deer-resistant dahlias are will depend on where you live.

  • The North Carolina Cooperative Extension states that deer may only occasionally eat dahlias. 
  • The University of Georgia Extension says that they are rarely browsed. 
  • The Rutgers Cooperative Extension states that these plants may occasionally be severely damaged in the New Jersey area.

Most expert websites agree that dahlias aren't a deer favorite, but deer desperate for food will likely munch on them. Deer are most likely to eat your dahlias in the spring and summer. During this time, does are typically pregnant or nursing and young bucks are growing their antlers. This means that they are in greater need of sustenance. Unfortunately, this is also when your dahlias are first blooming, making them more attractive to deer.

Monitoring Deer in Your Area

Before planting dahlias in your yard, observe how many deer are coming into the area. If you see only the occasional deer, it's likely safe to plant your dahlias because they aren't the No. 1 choice of deer to eat. Large numbers of deer in your yard mean more competition, so they're more likely to resort to nibbling on your freshly bloomed dahlias.

If you see any deer damage on your dahlias, plant some other foliage around them that deer don't like. Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a deer-resistant aromatic herb that is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8. It's considered deer resistant because deer don't like its pungent aroma and will likely avoid other plants in the vicinity of the sage.

Repelling Deer from Dahlias

Besides planting more deer-resistant foliage around your dahlias to protect them, you can also fence the area to keep deer away from them. Erect solid fencing that is at least 6 feet tall, slanted outward, around areas of your garden that contain dahlias to protect them. The height will discourage deer from jumping over the fence, and if they can't see inside, they'll be less likely to bother your dahlias.

Plant your dahlias close to your home where deer are less likely to browse and surround them with cages made from deer netting. This is especially important when the plants are first blooming to prevent damage to the tender new growth, which is most tempting for deer.

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