Deer Gardening

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

Last summer, I went out each day to visit a plant in a garden near our front door. It was a double impatiens, which develops a bouquet of dark green leaves and white, rose-like flowers.

I'm not a great gardener, so it was something of a miracle to have such a gorgeous plant not only surviving, but thriving.

Then one morning I discovered every one of its dozen flower stalks was gone, nipped off, presumably consumed. I was experiencing double impatience with myself. I had fallen for a pretty plant and brought it home, never stopping to wonder if our neighbors, a small herd of white-tailed deer, might appreciate it, too.

Losing my impatiens was disappointing, but it didn't prepare me for what came next. In March, I found every daylily sprout clipped and every emerging tulip munched to the ground. With little new growth in the woods for them to eat, the hungry deer had been coming to my garden to gobble up juicy young plants.

Our rural street is surrounded by acres of woods. A few years ago, my husband and I began to see deer around. We liked to watch them, and sometimes the deer watched us with their own style of curiosity. They wandered through our yard and browsed and rested in the nearby woods. We enjoyed seeing fawns, too, but we didn't realize then what this meant in terms of our future gardening efforts: The herd was growing, and the deer would eat whatever they found attractive. This year, I finally decided that the only way to continue to enjoy my garden would be to make it deer-proof.

Deer Resistance

Wildlife experts never use the term "deer-proof." They know white-tailed deer will eat almost any kind of plant if they're hungry enough and, even if well fed, will sample plants they're not supposed to like. When landscape architects in New Jersey established test plots of "deer-resistant" plants, deer damaged every species over a two-year period.

Nursery catalogs, Internet sites, books and pamphlets identify species that are "deer-resistant." But are they really? Deer-resistant plant lists published in different areas of the country often contradict one another. A plant may be "attractive to deer" on one list and "not favored" on another.

"I don't think there's any plant a deer won't nibble on," said Bob Pierce, University of Missouri-Columbia Extension Fish and Wildlife Specialist and coauthor of Controlling Deer Damage in Missouri. "They love succulent new

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