No Buffet for Bambi: Deer-Proofing Your Backyard

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Sure, the sight of deer in your yard can be nice–who doesn’t love Bambi? Yet when deer are munching on your plants, they can be a major disturbance to the peace of your landscape. Unfortunately, eastern forests and suburban areas are overpopulated with deer, and that means they’re hungrier, which is bad for the deer and bad for your plants.

Deer can ravage your yard, especially when food is scarce.Deer will eat anything–and this is true in the spring and summer, and especially true in the fall when they’re preparing for the winter–but their hunger becomes especially ravenous in the hostile climate of winter when food is scarce, even though they are able to survive on less sustenance in this season. In the winter, deer eat the stems and twigs of woody plants, which generally don’t have many nutrients–so deer will go for something tastier and more nutritious if it’s available. Even if you don’t have any tasty plants, the deer may still come for your woody shrubs, damaging the beauty of your yard. So, what can worried homeowners do about it? Let’s explore some ways to keep deer out of your yard.

Do’s and Don’ts for Deer-Proofing

Garlic is one smell deer just can't stand, so grow it in your yard to keep them away.Using smells deer hate

There are endless ways to protect your yard from deer, though many will not enhance your yard. Some, in fact, are things you may not want in your yard at all–like human hair, urine, and eggs. Others are less gross, like covering your garden in soap flakes–which isn’t a bad idea.  All of these objects emit smells that deer find repellant–in the case of your hair and urine, it’s the smell of you. Some of these smells could drive away your friends too! We’re exaggerating a bit here–there’s no harm putting all four of these things in your yard, especially if you see positive results, but there are better ways. One foolproof smell? Garlic! Garlic is a great plant to grow in your garden–think of all the tasty dishes you can cook up with homegrown garlic–but deer hate it!

Noise, movement, and light

Deer don’t like a variety of smells, and they don’t like sudden noises or movements either. To deal with this, homeowners have found quite a few creative solutions.  These include:

  • Hanging CDs from your plants with string (As they blow in the wind and the sun hits them, they move–as does the reflection of the sunlight– scaring those skittish deer away.)
  • Noisy wind chimes
  • Letting your dog outside to bark away (This one will definitely scare deer!)
    Motion-activated lights (These frighten deer and are convenient for you as well!)
  • Motion-activated sprinklers (Deer will run–of course, you may run as well if you’re not careful and end up  getting sprayed.)

Ultimately, you don’t want to junk up your yard with a motley of objects–not unless you’re truly desperate. You also want to be careful when buying any chemical deer-repellant products, which may be harmful. Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you feed deer intentionally, you may think you’re stopping them from eating your plants, but all you’re doing is inviting them back for more feasts–not to mention disrupting their natural diets. If you want to find a natural solution that keeps deer away but adds beauty to your yard rather than junking it up, growing hedges or installing fencing is your best bet.

Fencing Deer Out of Your Yard

Putting up a fence that keeps out deer is a bit of a challenge. Deer can jump high, and some may even be able to clear a fence as high as 8 feet! Building a fence to the sky isn’t particularly practical for most homeowners. One workaround for this is installing a double fence–deer can jump over one high fence, but not two at once. Placing a second inner fence 3-5 feet from your outer fence will keep deer out for sure. However, like installing a fence that is 8 feet or higher, this may not be especially practical unless you have an enormous yard. Otherwise, you’re seriously reducing the space you have to use in your yard.

However, the best workaround for the “deer can jump” problem is installing a fence that they won’t try to jump in the first place. Basically, if the deer can’t see your yard and all the tasty plants in side, they won’t be tempted. For this purpose, a solid panel fence works best, and it’ll bring you the added benefit of privacy!

Plants Deer Do and Don’t Like to Munch

While it’s true that hungry deer may still eat pretty much anything without much regard for the taste, there are, in fact, some plants they don’t prefer to eat. Hedges and shrubs are common targets for deer to munch on, but thick shrubbery, like solid panel fences, provide privacy–meaning they’ll block the view of people and deer alike. The trick is to line your yard with plants that deer generally dislike.

Some shrubs deer don’t favor include:Arrowwood viburnum is one shrub that is rarely damaged by deer.

  • Arrowwood Viburnum
  • Leatherleaf Mahonia
  • Bayberry
  • Russian Cypress
  • Moonglow Juniper
  • American Holly, John T. Morris Holly, Lydia Morris Holly, and Holly Fern

These shrubs are deer-resistant–not deer proof. However, all were rated as “Rarely Damaged” on this list published by Rutgers University.

Plants deer love to eat include:

  • Yews
  • Rose bushes
  • Hydrangeas
  • Evergreen Azaleas
  • Japanese Holly, Blue Holly, and Sea-Holly

If you’d like to grow and protect these plants–and any others you notice deer like to munch on–it may be best to keep them closer to your home where you can monitor damage. It also may help to hide them by surrounding them with some of the plants that are less attractive to deer.

Enjoy your yard without a snacking Bambi in sight

The truth is, there’s no one way to guarantee that deer won’t make a snack of your shrubs. In fact, even with multiple efforts to keep deer away, your beloved plants are still at risk–but don’t overwhelm your yard with your deer repelling efforts. You can keep your plants as safe as they’ll ever be while maintaining your stylish backyard design! In fact, with a new fence and some lush, green deer-resistant shrubbery for privacy, you’ll love relaxing in your (mostly) deer-free zone.

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