You’re cruising through one of our national parks when you come across a traffic jam. Cars are pulled to the side, their occupants pointing at… something. More people are darting between vehicles, cameras in hand. What in the world has caught their attention? Bears? Elk?
No, it’s a single female mule deer.
I have to admit, I do not get excited about mule deer any more. Oh, I used to, when we lived in the suburbs of a vast metropolitan sprawl. Any sign of nature set my heart racing, and deer are much more impressive than the chipmunks begging at the visitor center. (The chipmunks are cuter, though.)
Then they bring their fawns to show them where the yummy forage is. I’m sure these hungry deer consider my laboriously planted perennial border to be their personal salad bar!
Dealing with a deer’s voracious appetite is big business. There are endless “experts” touting products for sale. You can hang a bar of soap, puree hot peppers in the blender, douse your plants with rotten eggs, or even scatter lion dung from the local zoo. Then there are the ultrasonic devices—a more expensive but supposedly permanent solution. The question is, does this work? What do you do with a herd of deer intent on denuding your landscape?
Probably most of this advice works in some places, for some deer, some of the time. There are plenty of testimonies enthusiastically stating that this or that product or spray will keep deer away. The problem is that, just like us humans, deer vary widely in what they do and do not like to eat.
Some sprays are applied directly onto the plants you’re trying to protect. Others are supposed to discourage deer from entering part of your yard. Most work by smelling awful, at least to the deer. You can try these products, and they may work for you. Remember that if they’re washed off by rain, you’ll need to reapply, and in any case, none of them last all season.
Another approach is to plant only deer resistant plants. Note that the word is resistant. Nothing is deer proof. They may eat the other plants first, but if they’re desperate enough, deer will eat anything. That succulent, green shrubbery is just too tempting, especially in drought years when there’s little else to eat. There’s a good list of deer resistant plants on the Colorado State University (CSU) Extension website, here. This tactic works best when your neighbors choose plants deer love.
The only truly foolproof way to protect your landscape is with physical barriers. For one, you can fence the entire area. This works well with veggie gardens, but can pose problems with a landscaped yard (complete with driveway). Neighborhood covenants may also prohibit property line fences. A single fence needs to be at least eight feet tall to keep the deer from jumping over it. Or, you can erect two four-foot fences, a few feet apart. The deer won’t jump in because they’re not sure they can jump out again.
Amazingly, the single four-foot “sheep fencing” around my vegetable beds has kept deer out for 21 years, probably because of the hoses, carts, scooter, rake, shovel, cinder blocks (used to weigh down plastic), and other clutter I tend to leave between my raised beds. There’s just no room to land!
You can also surround individual plants, such as trees, with their own “personal” fence. Plastic tubes (made for this purpose) and chicken wire are two frequently used options. Make sure the barrier is at least six feet high. Once the tree has grown tall enough, the fencing can be removed.
CSU has an excellent information sheet that covers all these strategies in more detail. Or maybe all those gawkers have a point, and we should just go back to thinking of deer as interesting and endearing wildlife!