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Oh Deer: Experts offer tips on how to keep deer from dining on your landscape

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published July 9, 2019

If you live in an area frequented by deer, your home’s lush landscape — especially your prize tulips, roses, day lilies and hostas — will inevitably turn into a midnight snack.

While some may find it surprising to see deer in metropolitan areas, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Communications Coordinator Holly Vaughn said they are adaptable creatures and are able to thrive, even in bustling cities. 

“Deer tend to use corridors to move from place to place in cities — those corridors might be railroad tracks, power line corridors, rivers and creeks, or even streets,” she said in an email.

While some people enjoy seeing wildlife from the comfort of their homes, naturalists say an overabundance of deer can wreak havoc in parks and neighborhoods by reducing vegetation, particularly native plants, thus reducing food and shelter for other animals and also damaging landscaping. 

Deer are creatures of habit, so once they get in the habit of using your yard and garden as a feeding area, it’s difficult to get them to go elsewhere. However, experts say there are a few things that homeowners can do to limit the deer damage on their property.

Before adding new flowers and foliage to your home this year, naturalists recommend researching species that are “deer resistant.”

Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough, Rochester Hills naturalist Lance DeVoe said, but you can deter them by filling your yard with plants they hate — those with prickly foliage, furry leaves, strong scents or tastes  — which are less likely to be eaten. 

Vaughn said planting aromatic perennial herbs throughout your garden that have strong scents — such as mint, thyme, French tarragon, lavender, chives, sage and rosemary — is a great way to protect your garden. Deer also tend to stay away from poisonous plants, including daffodils, foxgloves and poppies, and avoid fragrant plants with strong scents, like allium, peonies and bearded irises. Shrubs that don’t rate high on deer palates, according to experts, include boxwood, beauty bush and northern bayberry. 

But what do you do if your yard already includes plants that deer love to snack on — like arborvitae, fir, hostas and yews, to name a few? 

Commercial repellents and barriers can be an effective approach to help keep deer out, DeVoe said. The key to using repellents, he said, is to reapply them regularly, especially after heavy rainfall, and switch products often.

“If you have plants that are desirable to deer, they are pretty good at finding an opportunity — whether it’s after a rain or you just skip an application of repellent — because they are pretty motivated in a suburban environment like this,” DeVoe said. “So the big thing is to switch it up. … Let’s say you use Liquid Fence and have had pretty good success with it, but there is a rainstorm, so you have to reapply, maybe go to Deer Away or Plantskydd.”

Although many commercial products designed to scare deer — such as scarecrows, lights, whistles and water jets — have flooded the market, DeVoe said they are mostly ineffective because deer quickly get used to them. 

One of the best ways to keep deer away from your yard is to scare them away with loud noises when you see them.

“Keep the deer on their toes so that they aren’t comfortable in your yard,” DeVoe explained. “Part of the problem, overall, is the deer have become habituated to being around people because they aren’t hunted, they aren’t harassed, so they don’t feel any need to feel afraid of us. It’s better for them, and for us, if they stay a little more wild.” 

Vaughn stressed that there is a deer baiting and feeding ban in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. 

“All baiting and recreational feeding of deer is now illegal to help slow the spread of deer disease, especially chronic wasting disease. Please refrain from feeding deer in your neighborhoods. They can find plenty of natural food sources on their own, especially with all the lush, green vegetation we have this summer,” she said in an email.

Call Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at (586) 498-1060.


For a complete list of deer-resistant plants, provided by the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, visit
www.canr.msu.edu/uploads/resources/pdfs/deer-resistant_plants_for_homeowners_(e3042).pdf.

For more information on gardening topics, visit www.migarden.msu.edu or call MSU’s Lawn and Garden Hotline at (888) 678-3464.