Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

Problems with Deer (page 4 of 4)

by Karen Jescavage-Bernard

Other Strategies and Information Sources

Gardeners faced with foraging deer should collect as much on-site information as possible before planting gardens or trees. Most county extension offices maintain extensive files of useful information and provide it to you at minimal cost. Many publications contain clear drawings of effective fence designs, detailed evaluations of the effectiveness and cost of commercial repellents, and explanations of deer behavior and physiology to help you customize a protection plan for your garden.

In addition, a query on the Internet will produce an avalanche of information. You should also talk to farmers, nursery owners, and other gardeners in your area. They may have already made most of the potential mistakes!

Contrary to some gardeners' opinion, deer are not "hoofed rats". They're selective feeders whose dining preferences change to meet seasonal nutritional needs. Smart gardeners can use this knowledge to their advantage.

In temperate and cold-climate gardens, late winter and early spring are the most difficult foraging times for deer. Their vitamin and mineral needs soar just when juicy, sappy growth is scarce. Early-flowering shrubs and trees (including Japanese and sugar maples) are vulnerable. Except for forsythia and narcissus, later-blooming plants are good choices.

In fall, the need to stockpile calories to survive the winter drives deer to seek high-calorie foods full of oils and starches. Nut- or berry-bearing autumn ornamentals can draw the animals' attention from other garden plants. On large properties, dogwood, if planted away from vulnerable plantings, is an excellent choice because the oily berries support many species of wildlife, including deer. Crab apples and viburnums are also good for wildlife. Firethorn (Pyracantha), burning bush (Euonymus alata), and barberry provide winter food after their bitter berries have been softened by frosts. In small gardens or yards, deer will eat such plants before others.

Take a Hike

Plants that thrive in your local parks and preserves offer good hints about what will work in the home garden. Other than giant forest trees, you'll find abundant barberry, winged Euonymus, Japanese wineberry, and shrub and vine honeysuckles.

Remember to be Flexible

Knowing more about deer habitat and dining preferences and combining a variety of strategies allows gardeners to customize solutions to deer-damage problems for individual gardens.

Karen Jescavage-Bernard is an author and the manager of the Jane E. Lytle Memorial Arboretum in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

Photography by the USDA

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