Skip to main content

Four-legged garden pests derail plants

By Julie McConnell, Originally published June 12, 2017 The News Herald Celebrate Outdoors Insert.

Tropical hibiscus after deer browsing. J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

I’d really like to have a garden. Fresh vegetables to eat as they are or put into recipes like homemade salsa. But some of my four-legged neighbors are working against me.

I like animals, really, I do. Not just seasoned and grilled to perfection, but I’ve spent most of my life raising pets and I like to relax by observing wildlife while sitting on my back porch. I plant for butterflies and hummingbirds, put out black oil sunflower seeds for songbirds and whether I like it or not squirrels. It’s nice to see these creatures enjoy my landscape as much as I do. However, I get a little frustrated when a carefully tended garden disappears overnight – and the perpetrator leaves a calling card in the form of droppings. That just adds insult to injury in my book.

So, what’s a gardener to do? I wish I had a good answer. We’ve recently invested in fencing the yard hoping to deter deer browsing. I didn’t think it would make it impossible for them to visit my yard, I was just hoping it would be too much trouble and they’d go see what someone else is growing. They jumped the fence and ate my daughter’s hibiscus. My husband constructed a barrier to protect the bush beans, but they squeezed their head or lips in and ate them and walked around the contraption to get at the hibiscus, again. He moved the woodpile to the corner where they were gaining access, but apparently they are Olympian grade jumpers and cleared it with ease. We don’t want to hurt the deer, we just want them to share their attentions at another address.

There are lots of products available that will supposedly repel wildlife, but very little research supporting their long-term effectiveness. Even using “deer tolerant” plants is not a foolproof method, what deer avoid in one landscape may be their favorite in another. I’ve determined that the only thing deer don’t eat are bird-feeder marauding squirrels.

I guess the real answer is that I become a deer tolerant gardener and buy my beans at the grocery store.