Gardeners Coexisting With Deer

You read blog after after blog about how bad deer are for one's garden. How they can completely eat your hibiscus plants down to the nub. So when it comes to deer grazing on your garden's picture-perfect landscape, there may be a way to counter their actions, so you can co-exist with one of life's most beautiful animals- the white-tailed deer.

White-tailed Deer

It wasn't long ago the white-tailed deer were nearly extinct in dozens of states due to man's intervention - namely hunting. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, they had vanished from Vermont, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, according to the Humane Gardener.

It wasn’t the first time deer populations came close to extinction. Shooting these 'dear' animals out of existence was a national pastime for hundreds of years after our country's  European immigration. It seems as more immigrants came to America, deer became less in number, almost proportionately.

"In the 20th century, efforts to transport them across regions so they could be “restocked” and hunted all over again were so successful that these animals now face different threats. High on the list is the wrath of gardeners calling for their heads," noted Nancy Lawson in an article she wrote in 2017, titled: Gardening for Deer.

Creating a habitat for wildlife . . .

Some gardeners are motivated differently today. To coexist, many who live near forests believe that gardeners should garden with wildlife in mind. Instead of gardeners focusing on cosmetic preferences, they should think about what plants are more suitable for man and wildlife to live together.

By shifting our gears, Lawson says, "when creating habitat for wildlife, it’s important to remember your goals are different from those of conventional landscaping."

Trees and shrubs can solve the problem of coexistence. Lawson says, "deer don’t destroy all the budding trees and shrubs on my land either; they prune some while leaving dozens of others alone." The types of vegetation she suggests are stag-horn sumacs and the sassafras trees and bushes. Other vigorous spreaders like elderberries, blackberries, and dogwoods can work similarly.

Sumac serves primarily as a winter emergency food for wildlife so it doesn't attract them year-round.  Ring-necked pheasant, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, and about 300 species of songbirds include sumac fruit in their diet.  It is also known to be important only in the winter diets of ruffed grouse and the sharp-tailed grouse.  Fox squirrels and cottontail rabbits eat sumac bark.  White-tail deer like the fruit and stems.

"A proliferation of spreading shrubs, trees, and meadow plants not only ensures there’s enough food to share; it also mixes things up enough to keep deer guessing," asserts Lawson.

“I have noticed over the years that plants in a meadow rarely suffer from significant browsing by white-tailed deer,” writes landscape designer Larry Weaner in Garden Revolution. “Even the plants that deer favor seem to escape this form of attention when intermingled with plants that the deer don’t eat.”

Deer-Resistant Design

The book 'Deer-Resistant Design,' by Karen Chapman is a great resource for gardeners looking for tangible solutions pertaining to deer-challenged gardens.

Chapman encourages gardeners to be more creative, more clever, more understanding and more resilient when dealing with the issue of coexistence.

Award-wining garden designer and best-selling author Tracy DiSabato-Aust says, "Fear deer no more! Chapman's Book is the best source I’ve seen on the topic!”

A chapter on deer-resistant container gardens provides suggestions for making colorful, captivating, and imaginative containers, for those gardeners who have less space to share.

Sightings of Deer has Appeal

It's pleasant to see deer grazing in one's yard. I personally have taken photos of them doing so to share with my neighbors who are of the same inclination. So, before you choose to go out and purchase that deer repellent from your local Lowe's store, think about re-designing your garden to co-exist with our vegetarian friends and help do your part in preventing future extinction scares of the white-tailed deer.

Primary Source: Humane Gardener