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Deer and Landscapes – Can They Co-Exist?

By August 1, 2020 Blog

Although very friendly and seemingly harmless, deer can wreak absolute havoc on your landscape. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that they can be a landscaper’s worst nightmare.

The white-tailed deer, which is so common in the Northeastern United States, brings parasites that can carry Lyme disease but can also quickly decimate the garden beds your customers have invested so much time in creating.

You know what we’re talking about: The ragged edges deer leave behind on plants and shrubs are a major eyesore.

It’s critical to recognize the damage and come up with a solution before these creatures of habit establish a routine of foraging within your clients’ yards.

But is it even possible for deer and landscapes to co-exist? Let’s take a deeper dive and find out:

Repellents

Deer rely on their senses of smell and taste to find their food. They can become particularly aggressive eaters throughout your clients’ properties during the fall, winter, and early spring when food is scarce. Chemical repellents work to create a barrier by applying an offensive taste and/or odor to plantings. It’s best to reapply frequently, and it’s also beneficial to change the repellent used every so often, as deer can become accustomed to them.

Repellents are even more effective under these conditions:

  1. Low to moderate deer intrusion
  2. Light to moderate feeding damage
  3. Small acreage
  4. Repellents are not being used on adjacent properties
  5. Alternative food sources are available

As landscape professionals, it’s important to be trained and knowledgeable in the use of such repellents or establish a relationship with a vendor that you can call on to help.

Fencing

For areas with a persistent and/or heavy deer intrusion, fencing will be the best choice in the long run. Chicken wire or burlap can do the trick, but for more protection, go high and go wide!

Deer can leap as high as 9-10 feet. A sturdy woven wire or plastic mesh fence at least 8 or 9 feet tall is recommended to defeat these high jumpers. Fortunately, these types of fences can disappear from view in the right setting – but they’re still not for everyone.

In some situations, a high solid fence is better suited. Deer do not like to jump over something they can not see beyond. They’re smart – they don’t want to risk injury or jumping into a situation they can’t get out of.

Plant Selection

No plant is truly “deer-proof.” But while deer are known to eat over 700 species of plants, they do seem to have definite preferences. This is where your experience and expertise come into play: You have direct knowledge of which plants are gobbled up by deer and those they tend to avoid. Not sure where to start?  Deer-resistant plants lists are a good working reference.

Planting the perimeter of a property with trees, shrubs, and flowers that are unappealing to the average deer can help spare your clients’ landscapes. Barberry, American Holly, and Colorado Spruce can do well and deter hungry foragers, as can beebalm and lily-of-the-valley. Wide hedges, placed at varying levels in the garden, may also keep deer away.

Deer are smart and persistent. Sometimes one method of deterring them is all it takes, but quite often, you may have to employ several solutions to get the job done. Keep them guessing, and your clients’ landscapes will reap the rewards!

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