Yesterday six white-tailed deer gathered around the bird feeder in my back yard, trying to figure out a way to get to the cracked corn that was frustratingly out of reach. Another deer, not quite as brave, looked on from a distance.
This is nothing unusual in the Georgia community I live in. We are a busy part of the metro Atlanta area, but despite a dense population of humans, it isn’t unusual to see entire deer herds foraging around my subdivision.
Maybe that’s why Georgia designated the white-tailed deer as the official state mammal in 2015.
Deer Encounters are Common
With so many deer around, a lot of us have had a deer encounter. One spring day a couple of years ago, a newborn fawn, still spotted and wobbly, toddled over to me and rubbed against my legs while its mother looked on from a distance.
I was wary of the mother, but because I was standing in the street, I was also afraid the youngster would get hit by a car. I picked it up and deposited it in a yard close to where mother deer hovered.
My deer encounter was more benign than the one that happened in our area several years ago, when a 200-pound buck crashed into a Taco Mac restaurant, breaking glass and scattering customers.
When they aren’t crashing through windows, deer are fascinating animals to watch. They can run up to 40 miles per hour, jump fences 8 feet high, and even go for a swim if they are so inclined. Their white tails flash as they run, hence the name white-tailed deer.
I love watching them, and I was fascinated when the fawn nuzzled my legs. But with deer running rampant, planting flowers is akin to inviting the entire deer population to an irresistible buffet.
They Demolish Everything Edible
Those of us who have lived here for more than a year know that when spring comes to Georgia, the deer come for our flowers.
In the past, I have tried a few remedies rumored to stop deer in their tracks: netting over my flowers, human hair, dryer sheets, blood meal, and hot peppers. None of these worked.
I read somewhere that a bar of soap placed near plants deters deer because it interferes with their sense of smell. This may work for a while, but eventually the deer seem to get used to it.
Using a commercially produced deer repellent is another option, but it needs to be applied religiously, at least once a week, and when I attempted to buy deer repellent, local stores didn’t have any.
One year I was so frustrated that I did the unthinkable and jammed plastic flowers in the dirt. “Come and get this,” I taunted. But who wants plastic flowers? Not the deer, and not me.
The next year, I stuck to planting flowers on my deck, out of reach of the herd. But this was an unsatisfactory solution. After a brown and beige Georgia winter, I wanted some color in the yard.
Deer Resistant Plants
Last year, I discovered lantana was a good option. Deer didn’t touch it, and the thick spread of yellow and orange blossoms bloomed continuously into fall.
I congratulated myself over a hardy plant that wasn’t the least bit enticing to the burgeoning neighborhood deer population. But this year, I would like more variety than lantana provides, so I decided to research solutions.
Milorganite Can Help
The first thing I discovered was an article published by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension on how to use Milorganite to repel White-Tailed deer from perennials. Milorganite is one of the oldest brands of fertilizers on the market, composed of heat-dried microbes that have digested the organic matter in wastewater.
Research on the fertilizer was conducted on the Berry College campus in north Georgia, where deer density has been estimated to be 35–50 deer per square mile.
A selection of plants received an application of Milorganite the same day of planting. Throughout the 35-day trial period, the number of terminal buds that remained on the Milorganite treated plants significantly exceeded the number of buds on the untreated plants. From these results, researchers concluded that Milorganite has potential as a deer repellent for ornamental plants, although it did not completely eliminate deer damage.
According to the UGA report, “High deer densities and low resource availability may reduce the efficacy of Milorganite as a repellent.”
Research has also shown that taste repellents are more effective the odor repellents. Any product with egg solids, blood, hot pepper, or capsaicin listed as an ingredient is a good choice.
A Diversified Approach
Since deer are so prolific in my neighborhood, I decided that a two-pronged approach might work best. In addition to repellents, I am opting for the added insurance of deer-proof plants.
If deer are hungry enough and food is scarce, there might not be any completely deer-proof plants. But rather than tempt them with their favorites, such as Hosta, daylilies and English ivy, I am going for plants they like least.
My list will not include marigolds, pansies, and mums, which are like candy to the backyard deer population.
I read that deer don’t like hydrangeas, but my deer didn’t get the memo, because they demolished my beautiful blue blooms.
So far, in addition to lantana, my daffodils and irises have been safe. And according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, deer don’t like fragrant plants with strong scents, such as sages, ornamental salvias, and lavender.
Other things deer are not supposed to like are lavender, bleeding hearts, geranium, ornamental onion, goldenrod, foxglove, peony, periwinkle, lilac and butterfly weed. Gardeners also report success with catmint, chives, mint, sage or thyme planted adjacent to other, less deer-resistant plants.
Deer aren’t supposed to like prickly, fuzzy foliage or strong-scented plants. But according to the University of Georgia Extension Publication, there is no such thing as a deer-resistant plant. When deer populations are high and food becomes scarce, deer may feed on plants that are thought to be deer tolerant.
Maybe the best solution is to build a fence, but it needs to be high, since deer can jump an eight-foot one.
A few weeks ago, I spotted a deer in my neighbor’s newly fenced yard. It panicked when the neighbor’s children tumbled from the house. Instead of jumping the fence, it squeezed through two bars so close together that I am still baffled about how the deer managed to escape without getting stuck.
I guess you can add Houdini-like qualities to a deer’s bag of tricks. With such versatility and diligence, we had better be equally as diligent. Otherwise, it’s back to flowers out of reach on the deck.