Seeing a real-life wild deer in your garden is thrilling – until you spot the trail of destruction following in Bambi’s wake. To a deer, a garden is just a delicious buffet of tasty treats laid on for its benefit. Deer eat foliage, flowers, and sometimes even tree bark during winter when other food is scarce. Male deer also damage tree branches and stems when they rub their antlers against them. Protecting your plants against deer isn’t always easy, but there are steps you can take to limit the damage.
1. Deer-resistant barriers
A deer-proof fence is the best way to keep deer out of your garden. To stop deer jumping over or finding their way under it, your fence will need to be at least 1.8m (6ft) high and made of heavy wire mesh pegged down to the ground. In areas where small muntjac deer are a problem, the mesh size should be no bigger than 7.5cm x 7.5cm (3in x 3in). For larger deer, use a maximum mesh size of 20cm x 15cm (8in x 6in). In case deer do still find their way in, it’s important to provide a way for them to get out again, such as a self-closing gate.
You can also protect individual trees with plastic tree guards that wrap around the trunks, or by surrounding each tree with stakes at least 1.5m high, so that deer can’t get close enough to eat the bark or to rub their antlers against it. Netting guards also work well for conifers and shrubs that don’t have clear stems.
2. Deer-repellent products
Animal repellent sprays, will usually discourage deer from browsing, although the sprays need to be reapplied frequently, particularly after it’s rained. Ultrasonic devices work for occasional deer intruders, but regular visitors to your garden may get used to the noise and start to ignore it. Deer do tend to steer clear of dogs though, so if all else fails, getting a pet dog may be the answer to your problems.
3. Deer-resistant plants
Sadly for gardeners, deer are not fussy about their food. However, there do seem to be some plants that they find less appealing. These include many plants with strongly scented leaves, especially herbs. Here are a few worth trying:
- Buddleja davidii (Butterfly bush)
- Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom)
- Cistus (Rock rose)
- Euphorbia (Spurge)
Take a look at what’s growing in your neighbours’ gardens too – this will give you a clue as to which plants your local deer do and don’t fancy.
Although deer can make life difficult for gardeners, they also provide an opportunity for us to find ways to live in harmony with our local wildlife. Come and visit the garden centre for more advice, products and plants to let you enjoy your garden as well as all its visitors!