Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Garden Challenges - Deer

One of the most common garden and plant issues I find myself discussing with customers in the nursery is deer. Because of where we and a lot of our customers are in deer country; surrounded by hills, forestry and woodland Cute though they may be, they can cause destruction in a garden in a short time, typically to the plants that take the longest to grow, trees and shrubs. They commonly eat the bark all the way round the main trunk thus “ring-barking” them which will eventually kill the tree.

Deer are lovely to see but can be very 
destructive in the garden

As with any garden problem prevention is better than cure if possible. Some times it can be too costly or impractical to do this, so then we need to think of what plants we can put in the garden that deer won’t eat.

Of course, it’s not that easy as there is always that one animal that will go against the norm and eat these deer resistant plants. There have been many books and leaflets written about this subject which you can source in a good book shop or online.

In general deer tend not to eat plants that are thorny or poisonous or plants that taste bad. They are very agile animals and fences need to be at least 2m high. Fencing your garden with thorny plants can be a deterrent. Unfortunately, roses cannot be used as deer will eat them. Deer are also deterred by dogs, hanging up aluminium foil, mirrors and things that make a noise like wind chimes.

Surrounding borders and more vulnerable plants with strongly scented plants such as herbs can help as the smell will throw deer off investigating any further. Try the following herbs to deter deer, and you can use them too! Many of them are available for sale in the nursery and you can see them growing in our new herb garden.

Chives, Lavender, Sage, Anise, Dill, Horseradish, Lemon balm, Mint, Parsley Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme

Herbs have many uses including helping to deter deer

There are many plants that are deer resistant but I am going to list the ones that are tough, hardy and will cope with our Scottish gardens, starting with trees and shrubs.

Bamboo, Berberis (not purple leaved varieties), Buxus, Chaenomeles,
Buddleja davidii, Choisya ternata, Clematis, Cortaderia selloana,
Forsythia, Gaultheria shallon, Lonicera, Gooseberry, Hydrangea, Kerria japonica, Mahonia, Philadelphus, Potentilla fruticosa, Rhododendron (deciduous), Rosa rugosa, Ribes, Vinca , Viburnum (deciduous), Weigela    

Chaenomeles 'Crimson and Gold'

Perennials are equally vulnerable to deer but at least they have a better chance of recovery. Here are a selection suitable for our Scottish gardens.

Aquilegia, Delphinium, Digitalis ( Foxglove ), Echinops species ( Globe Thistle ), Euphorbia species ( Spurges ) Hellebores, Leucanthemum x superbum, Lupins, Monarda didyma ( Bergamot ), Narcissus ( Da­fodils ), Nepeta x faassenii ( Catmint )

Euphorbia and Aquilegia

As well as experimenting with deer resistant plants the following deterrents are also worth trying:

- Pepper dust made from chilli or paprika can be sprinkled around the plants but be aware of damage to favourite plants and insects.

- A solution made from liquidised unsavoury things from the kitchen (rotten eggs, chilli, hot pepper sauce) and then sprayed onto targeted areas has been known to work. 

- Fencing should be as high as possible, usually 5 to 6 feet as deer can jump well. This can be expensive and so isn't a solution for everyone.

- Use spiral tree protectors which are perforated to allow the tree to breath or home made wire guards made with chicken wire.

- Deer scarers can be home made using tin cans, tinsel, tin foil, old CDs, coloured rags or feathers. Anything that makes a sudden movement, light or noise will scare the deer. You can also buy deer scarers made from bamboo as a water feature. The sudden noise of the bamboo tipping over should give the deer a fright and scare them off. 

- Don't tempt them with the plants they love which include Azalea, Clematis, Roses, Rowans, fruit trees, Holly, Spirea, Hydrangea and Cotoneaster.

Bamboo deer scarer (image from google)

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to help protect your garden and plants from deer. We have many of the plants available in the nursery.

Do you have a problem with deer in your garden and what do you do to deter them?

Deer in the hills in Perthshire, while I was out on a hill walk

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  1. Very interesting and good article! In this part of Finland we have whitetail, which is a huge problem becoming tame very quickly and reproducing even faster - I live on an island and the whitetail population is super dense. There are also native roe deer in lesser numbers but it is far more elusive.
    Whitetail get quickly used to sound scarers: one summer evening I spotted a deer in my neighbours' garden where there was a radio on but the people had just popped indoors. It is typical that one approaches the deer screaming and clapping hands, but the deer just stands and stares until you are very near, when it turns and starts idling away.
    Here they devour hellebores and hydrangeas, among a hundred other plants but I totally agree with you that herbs and other aromatic plants can grow in peace. Unfortunately hyacinths get eaten despite their fragrance, which is a great shame.
    Having become totally fed up I'm now in the process of installing a 6 ft deer fence - it is ugly in a historical village but what can one do. They have even eaten the Philadelphus I have tried to plant as a hegde. Physocarpus and Sambucus nigra are useful tall hedging plants that they left in peace and will become tall enough for deer not to jump over (but they are able to creep under quite often).

    1. Hi Saila, thanks for your comment. We most commonly have Roe deer here and red deer further north and west, thought they are more shy. It sounds like you have a much worse problem than we do. It's so frustrating when you put so much hard work and money into creating a garden and it's being undone behind you. Ultimately I think if you have a deer problem and want a garden fencing is the way to go. though expensive and ugly. Isn't it strange they eat the Hyacinths which are so heavily scented. I hope your garden improves year on year without the deer invasions.