Black tail deer, a subspecies of mule deer, roam throughout the Olympic Peninsula but are problematic visitors to home gardens. There are several deterrents and management practices to consider.
Using deer-resistant and deer-repellent plants, well-built fences and other barriers, can reduce the occurrences of damage. Successful anti-deer management will likely be a combination of measures. Understanding the habits of deer will help to decide which controls to employ.
Deer feed most actively at dawn, dusk and on moonlit nights. In November deer tend to gorge themselves after rutting season in preparation for the long winter and over-winter pregnancies. They consume an average of seven pounds per day and often travel in small family groups.
Deer eat a wide variety of plants from woody twigs and bark to leafy plant matter, grasses, vegetables and fruit, favoring those growing 3-5 feet in height. Deer browse, munch and move along.
As the amount and variety of foods available decrease, deer behavior gets bolder and they tend to take more risks going into places they wouldn’t otherwise venture, including your garden. Extra controls may need to be considered. Well-built fences are great but not always practical.
Fences needs to be strong enough to resist being knocked over and tall enough to hinder a 12-foot jump. Deer will not jump unless they see a safe place to land, so if the fence is shorter than 8 feet, placing other barriers like shrubbery beyond the fence will deter them.
Place bird netting around desired plants and place plant poles under the drip line of vulnerable trees. Using deer feeding stations or salt licks, to draw deer away from gardens and landscaping, have the opposite effect…. word gets out.
Lights, motion and noise tactics may be useful for a while, but deer soon learn to ignore them. Commercial repellents will also work for a while but often fade or wash away from rain.
Another temporary measure is to use repellents that affect their senses of smell and taste, like blood meal, fragrances, human hair, peppers, soaps and urine from predators. Laying fine mesh chicken wire on the ground around tempting plants may dissuade deer because they don’t like getting their hooves caught in the wire.
Deer may sample many newly sprouted leaves or buds, but certain deer resistant plants will recover and discourage further grazing. Including plants with strong taste and scent throughout your garden can serve as natural deer repellents.
Barriers and selective planting will help reduce garden damage from hungry deer. Good luck!
Beverly Hetrick is a Washington State University-certified Clallam County Master Gardener.
Trees — cypress, juniper, spruce, pine, [except Douglas fir and yew] maple, birch, madrone, oak, sumac, willow
Shrubs — barberry, boxwood, cotoneaster, lilac, Daphne, Japanese holly, rhododendron, viburnum, forsythia, flowering red currant, Oregon grape
Perennials — black-eyed Susan, bleeding-heart, bluebells, columbine, coneflower, coral bells, creeping phlox, daffodils, daisy, day lilies, delphinium, ferns, foxgloves, hellebore, iris, larkspur, lupine, peony, poppy, sage, yarrow
Mint, bee balm, garden chives, hyssop, rosemary, lavender, thyme, sweet marjoram, oregano, anise, catmint, Russian sage, lungwort, sage.