Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
October 30, 2015
By: Kathy Kinsey
So, did you wake up this morning to find all those wonderful new flowers you planted for that fabulous curb appeal had been deadheaded or ripped out of the ground sometime during the night….I can’t imagine the words you might have said… Well, let me welcome you to the wonderful world of gardening with wildlife! And just about any nighttime crawler is guilty – all have four legs – some eat – some dig. But don’t let them discourage you from gardening because there are plants out there they just wish you wouldn’t grow…and that should just about make them as mad as they have made you!!!
Deer will eat flowers and leaves – armadillos will try and relocate your plants – raccoons will run through your garden like a bunch of kids on drugs….and so the next day, you get to clean it all up….But fortunately for those of us that love plants and a nice yard, there are several plants these critters will stay clear of because they either smell terrible or taste nasty. I have found copper canyon daisy (Tagates lemmonii) will repel armadillos from digging up an area. Give this plant full sun and it will give you lots of little yellow flowers and who doesn’t love a yellow flower – it does however have a strange odor about it but it has worked for me really well. Now if I can find its cousin that likes the shade!
But for this article, it is all about the deer and the plants they rarely eat – not that a really powerfully hungry deer wouldn’t munch on these – but studies have shown they would just prefer not to, which has given these plants a reputation for being “deer resistant.” Chances are they will just find another more suitable plant to gnaw on in your front yard! When selecting a plant, read the plant tag – it will more than likely tell you if it is “deer resistant”. But if the tag does not really give you much information, you can research it on your smart phone, if you have one, and who doesn’t these days, or you can ask someone about it. I have found if they smell good, they eat good….
So, some plants for you to consider….lamb’s ear, goldenrod, balloon flower, catmint (be careful here – cats love this stuff), astible (groundhogs love this one), ajuga, lavender, Russian sage and Coreopsis to name just a few. I have all of these growing in my own garden and I can tell you they have not messed with them. They do not appear to be big on herbs either as they have left mine alone. They like okra leaves…tomato plant leaves…just about anything they can get to is fair game….kinda like a goat! You can check the list out on the web because there are just too many to list. There are other options though if you want a certain plant in your garden and you would like to protect it.
For starters….there is deer netting that can be placed around your plants but this may catch an innocent bird or a dragonfly so I am not a big advocate of it. There are bamboo stakes – they look great in a garden and they work because nothing likes to get poked in the face when they are trying to dine on flowers. And the bamboo stakes will brace up any of your larger flowers that fall over….just be careful where you put your face that you don’t get poked as well. I decided to put bamboo stakes in my roses as the deer were gnawing on them pretty heavy. Since then, they have left them alone and now my roses are blooming again, something I was afraid they had forgotten how to do! Moth balls work. I hate those things but they seem to work on deer, for awhile. Electric fences are an idea… Wind chimes – if it is windy – will scare them away … try the stakes! I have seen birds resting on them as well as dragonflies so they serve a dual purpose and they look great while doing so. I have heard about using pepper but this is also a short-lived solution…and I can find a better use for it. Look for ways to make your plants hard to get to….this will be a better and more permanent solution for you… When you get a haircut, throw this around the area….if the birds don’t find it first for nesting material that is…. just remember, plants may be seasonal – but deer are not!
And remember, no plant is truly deer resistant. A hungry deer would probably eat cardboard. All you can do is grow your much loved plants in with other plants that taste really bad and hope they forget where you live.
Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have.