From the June/July 2011 Issue:

UnDEERing Qualities

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Experts share tips for reducing damage to your landscape


Article Photo
enlarge | Snack time in the backyard. Deer can be particularly troublesome when other food is covered by snow. Photo by Graham Tomlin
If deer can reach the foliage in your landscape, then it’s not deer-proof. Your plants can be toxic, thorny or foul-tasting, and white-tailed deer may eat them anyway.

That said, you don’t have to settle for a moonscape. Deborah Cerbone, a landscape architect and owner of Deborah Cerbone Associates Inc. in Rockaway, and Bob Malgieri, tree and shrub care manager for Borst Land­scape & Design in Allendale, know ways to foil the four-footed pests.

The first strategy: avoid plants that deer love (see lists on the facing page). Malgieri and Cerbone say arborvitae is a particular deer favorite. “I’ve seen arborvitaes eaten to their trunks as high as the deer can feed— they look like lollipops,” Cerbone says.

But if your must-haves include plants that deer also adore, the best offense might be a good deer fence (pardon the pun). An 8-foot-tall fence will keep out deer, she says. Or if municipal ordinances prohibit a fence that high, erect two 4-foot-tall fences 5 feet apart because deer aren’t good broad-jumpers. The 5-foot space doesn’t allow them an adequate running start to vault the second fence, and because they don’t like being enclosed, they typically don’t jump the first fence.

Even a picket fence can be effective. “Deer depend on sound and smell and see poorly,” Malgieri says. “A white picket fence can deter them because they can’t see what’s behind it.”


Article Photo
enlarge | American holly (foreground) frames the view of this Harding Township courtyard. American boxwoods flank the steps and ‘Miss Kim’ lilacs, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood, Phlox subulata and Vinca minor are seen above the wall. The lower courtyard garden bursts with color from narcissus, hyacinth, lungwort and lamb’s ears (gray-green foliage). Courtesy of Deborah Cerbone Associates
Plants & Sprays
Savvy border-plant choices—junipers and boxwood, for instance—also discourage dining, Malgieri and Cerbone say. “Hide the roses in the middle of [unappealing] butterfly bush—buddleia,” Cerbone says. Deer typically sample the edge of a garden containing these plants, find them unappetizing and then move to greener pastures, though there are no guarantees.

Malgieri and Cerbone also recommend deer-repellent sprays. A homemade spray is effective (Cerbone shares a recipe on the facing page), but commercial preparations such as Deer Stopper, Deer Scram and Liquid Fence can be even better. Deer rely on their sense of smell to detect danger, so they avoid pungent plants and sprayed plants whose odors could mask the presence of predators.

These products last through rains, however, you should re-spray susceptible plants every couple of weeks, especially from late March through May, Malgieri says, when the young, high-nutrient foliage is most tempting. And if deer become accustomed to one spray, switch to another, Cerbone advises.

But Malgieri gives a thumbs-down to thiram as a repellent because “it is toxic and persistent in the environment.”


Article Photo
enlarge | Deer-resistant evergreen plants in this Harding Township landscape include pachysandra ground cover, ‘P.J.M.’ rhododendron and ‘Coral Beauty’ cotoneaster. The blossoms of narcissus bulbs, also deer-resistant, provide a spark of gold during spring. Courtesy of Deborah Cerbone Associates
Tried, True & New
Folk remedies can augment your arsenal. Bags of human hair or perfumed soap placed every 3 feet along a fence repel deer, Malgieri says. And Cer­bone has spread Milorganite, a smelly organic fertilizer, around her plants in early spring to shoo deer.

Solar-powered devices sold at garden and home centers can send deer scampering, Malgieri says. Motion-activated water jets connect to the hose and scare deer away with a blast of water. In winter, the water would freeze, so he suggests sonar devices. “Humans can’t hear them, but pets can. We recommend turning it on at dusk and off at dawn. Some have timers.”

He’s less enthusiastic about netting that wraps foliage to keep deer from stripping plants. “It’s effective, but it’s a pain to put on and take off. It also can damage shrubbery and keep it from growing properly.”

Former Design NJ editor in chief Mary Vinnedge fed many Oriental lilies and tulips to deer before moving the plants to her fenced backyard when she lived in Holmdel.

DEER MAGNETS
Bob Malgieri and Deborah Cerbone say the plants listed below are irresistible to deer. If you plant them, “you’re asking for trouble,” Malgieri says. And Cerbone warns that deer generally like all vines. For a comprehensive list of plants ranked on deer-resistance, visit www.njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance.

Bulbs
Tulips
Oriental lilies
Annuals
Impatiens

Perennials
Hostas
Day lilies

Shrubs/Trees
Arborvitae*
Azaleas
Native rhododendron**
Roses
Yews

* Blue Rocket’ juniper is a good substitute.
** Leatherleaf viburnum is a good substitute.


NOT ON THE MENU
Deer typically avoid these plants, Cerbone and Malgieri say.

Bulbs
Narcissus

Annuals
Begonias
Larkspur
Marigolds
Petunias

Ferns
Dryopteris erythrosora
(autumn fern)
Japanese painted fern
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

Herbs
Agastache
Chives
Lavender
Lemon balm
Mint
Oregano
Sage
Thyme

Ornamental grasses
Pennisetum fountain grass
‘Morning Light’ miscanthus

Perennials
Hellebores
Lamb’s ears
Peonies
Perovskia (Russian sage)

Shrubs/Trees
American holly***
Boxwood
Broom
Buddleia
Cephalotaxus harringtonia (Japanese plum yew)
Colorado spruce
Juniper
Lavender cotton
Leatherleaf viburnum
Leucothoe
Mimosa
Pieris
‘P.J.M.’ rhododendron
*** Deer eat many
other hollies.


KNOW YOUR ENEMY
Educating yourself about deer is crucial to outwitting them. Bob Malgieri shares these facts:
• Deer have no gallbladder and four chambers and a certain bacteria in their stomachs, which allows them to eat some poisonous foods.
• They tear food because they lack upper front teeth.
• Deer eat as much as they can as quickly as they can. Then they go to cover to regurgitate and re-chew the food.
• Male deer mark their territory by rubbing antlers on tree trunks, causing damage.
• Deer consume 5 to 8 pounds of forage per day for every 100 pounds of body weight. That’s 10 to 15 pounds daily for a doe and 20 to 30 pounds for a buck.
• One doe out of 1,000 has antlers.

HOMEMADE REPELLENT
1 egg, beaten
½ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon liquid dish soap
1 gallon water

Mix and spray a light mist on plants to repel deer for about two weeks.



CONTACT INFORMATION
Borst Landscape and Design
201-785-9400/borstlandscape.com

Deborah Cerbone Associates
973-625-7795/dcerboneassoc.com