We have the privilege of living in a lush part of the state that is full of wildlife. It’s nice … if you like that wildlife. Raccoons, opossum, and armadillos aren’t that bothersome most of the time. Nobody likes those awful feral hogs. They’re worse than termites!
Now white-tailed deer are abundant in our woods and fields, and most folks really like them. All kinds of nature lovers love to watch them. Deer hunting is hugely popular. I don’t think anyone watches their population, their health and their overall nutrition more than hunters.
But gardeners don’t really care so much for deer eating their plants. In recent weeks I’ve visited with a number of folks that are also having problems with deer in their landscape. Not too surprising, many of the flowers and shrubs that we want to grow in our yards are highly favored by white tailed deer.
If you live anywhere near a forested area, you are bound to have deer visiting you or passing through. Both for fun and some security, I think everyone ought to have at least one game camera up around your property. You can watch for trespassers, your neighbor’s dogs, your own dog, and for wildlife. I bet you’d be surprised how much may pass in front of a well-placed camera.
Occasionally I’ll get a call from a vegetable gardener that simply cannot figure out what “insect” is eating their garden. Many times, if you just have them go out and look down at the soil, you will easily be able to identify hoof prints left by deer that have nibbled on the garden during the night.
It is harder to identify deer consumption in a typical landscape because your lawn and mulched beds don’t capture the tell-tale hoof prints. But make no mistake, your well-watered and properly pruned flowers, can be very attractive to deer.
While we cannot completely “deer-proof” your landscape, there are some plants that you can utilize that are not attractive to them.
Consider planting these shrubs: Agarita, Boxleaf Euonymus, Texas Sage, Elaeagnus, Esperanza, Firebush, Gray Cotoneaster, Japanese Boxwood, Nandina, Oleander, Primrose Jasmine, Reeve's Spirea, Texas Mountain Laurel or Upright Rosemary.
Our native Yaupon Holly (regular and dwarf) are second choice in a deer’s diet. It is used prolifically in landscapes and you may occasionally see some browsing on it from deer but it is so abundant in our woods that they should have much more to eat away from your house.
Perennials options that deer shouldn’t care for, abound as well. Ageratum, Amaryllis bulbs, the huge flowered Angel Trumpet, the silver Artemisia, Autumn Sage (a tremendous salvia), the popular and easy to grow Bearded Iris, and the versatile Blue Plumbago all will be avoided.
Elephant Ears do well in wet areas, while lantana is a native that does well in dry areas of the landscape.
Since deer are browsers (not grazers) and prefer forbs, you can use a number of ornamental grasses such as Inland sea oats, Maiden Grass, Gulf Muhley, Lindheimer's Muhley, and Purple Fountain Grass
On the contrary, if you want to attract deer to your landscape and offer them a delicious option to feed upon, consider using the following plant materials in abundance: American Beautyberry, deciduous Holly, Hawthorns, Trumpet vine and Virginia Creeper.
Love them or not, deer and a host of other wildlife are a part of your landscape. Not convinced? Get yourself a game camera and mount it in a few different areas and positions and just see what you catch.