Wildlife-Resistant Landscaping

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, May 23, 2009

Homeowners want to enjoy looking at lush plants, but don't want wildlife to enjoy consuming them.

If your plants are getting eaten, the most common culprits are deer. The U.S. population of whitetail deer has ballooned to roughly 29 million from 300,000 in 1930. Rock Creek Park is estimated to have 60 to 80 per square mile; a healthy deciduous forest will support about 15.

Neil Soderstrom offers tips on dealing with the population growth in his book "Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals" (Rodale, 2008).

Start by keeping deer away from your plants. Fences must be eight feet high to keep deer from jumping them. Many county codes here allow six to seven feet. If you must have a lower fence, widen the horizontal distance deer must jump with tall, spreading deer-resistant shrubs along both sides of the fence.

A stiff plastic mesh fence that comes in rolls can be wrapped around and drawn between trees for support in woodland areas without staking. It's black and not very visible. One of the best known is Benner's Deer Fence (800-753-4660, http://www.bennersgardens.com). Also check see-through mesh netting available under the name Virtually Invisible Mesh Barrier (http://www.deerfence.com).

Use plants that deer don't like -- those with sticky or hairy leaves; thick, leathery foliage; medicinal uses; or minty or lemony fragrance. Deer prefer fertilized and irrigated plants. The more accustomed they are to people, the better the chance they'll eat ornamentals. If they're hungry, they'll try almost anything.

The evergreens that have the best chance of surviving deer browsing are firs, American hollies, junipers, spruces, cryptomerias, boxwoods, cherry-laurels, mahonias and viburnums. To find deer-resistant plants, check out the West Virginia University Extension Service's information on ornamental trees and shrubs (http://www.wvu.edu/agexten/hortcult/treeshru/resistan.htm).

Other ways to deter deer are draping netting over favorite plants, hanging CDs on shrubs to scare them, installing motion-activated automatic sprinklers and using deer repellents.

Deer are herbivores and stay away from smells that remind them of potential predators. Home remedies include hanging human hair in wool bags on plants or using suet to keep deer away from bird feeders. Commercial products range from putrescent eggs to animal urine. Try an egg-based product like Deer Guard, Coyote Urine or Hinder, a deer and rabbit repellent made of ammonium salts of fatty acids. Another class of repellents makes plants taste bad. We had tremendous success in our garden with Messina Wildlife's Deer Stopper, approved for organic growers. Active ingredients are rosemary oil, mint oil and putrescent whole egg solids.

Get a pet. Their scents on the plants will deter deer. But be thoughtful of birds you do want in your garden and keep cats contained.

Wildlife shares our space. It's difficult to rid your property of them humanely because it's often illegal to take live-trapped mammals away from properties. Check with local jurisdictions. Here are some of Soderstrom's suggestions for repelling other pesky critters:

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