The sight of deer in an open field is charming, but the sight of deer in your garden is anything but. Deer feed early in the morning or at dusk, so we may not even realize that they have been there until after they have done their damage.
And the damage they cause can be significant. Just a couple can wreak havoc in a garden during one feeding. So, what's a gardener to do?
Learn to recognize the damage deer cause. They are browsers, taking a bite or two of a plant, and then moving on. Deer find roses and fruit trees especially tasty. In winter, they also enjoy tree bark.
As they browse, they tear at plants, leaving a distinctive jagged appearance. The damage is too high off the ground for it to have been caused by rabbits or other rodents. Deer pellets or tracks are also often found in the area.
Deer are creatures of habit, so your best defense is to prevent them from getting in the habit of lunching in your garden in the first place. It is much harder to persuade deer to move on when they already consider your garden their feeding ground.
Most of us don't prefer this option, but the best control for deer is a fence or wall. If you choose a wire fence, it must be high enough -- 8 to 10 feet -- so that deer can't jump over it.
A 6-foot fence is sufficient if it is made of solid wood or brick. Deer are hesitant to jump over a barrier when they can't see what is on the other side. Or you could put up a double 4-foot fence.
Another alternative is to lay a barrier of 4-foot wide wire mesh around the garden. Deer don't like to walk across unfamiliar surfaces.
If fencing isn't a realistic choice, try protecting prized trees by placing wire netting or plastic stripping around their trunks and spiral a wire around the most susceptible branches.
Sometimes deer can be scared away with a flashing light, a radio left playing or pie pans or tin cans hung where they will rattle. This method is most effective when started before deer are in the habit of feeding in the area.
There are a variety of commercial repellents to control deer. These can be very effective, but again, work best if applied before deer have already taken up residence. Most are scent or taste repellents, and some must be reapplied after rain.
Homemade repellents can be made with hot pepper sauce, garlic or eggs, but these mixtures will have to be reapplied more frequently than the commercial ones. Some have tried hanging bars of deodorant soap on tree branches with varying degrees of success.
Whichever repellent you choose, change them up every few months, so deer don't get used to the repellent's smell or taste.
If you are planning a new garden, choose plants that deer find less enticing. Some shrubs deer find less appealing include barberry, boxwood, forsythia, fothergilla, kerria, mugo pine and Western arborvitae.
Some of the perennials that deer don't nibble on first include astilbe, bee balm, bleeding heart, boltonia, catmint, coreopsis, euphorbia, foxglove, hibiscus, pachysandra, rudbeckia, salvia, sedum and yarrow. Your local garden center will have complete lists of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that are deer resistant.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040 ext. 2 or visit planterspalette.com.