To start with, there are no foolproof, deer-proof plants. There, I’ve said it.
Now let’s get down to strategies and methods to keep them out of your yard, garden, etc. as best we can. The first thing to remember, is that they were here first. We built homes, businesses and roads in the middle of their buffet. They didn’t get the memo. So we have to think up ways to send messages that they will understand.
Deer will feed wherever there’s available food, a secure habitat (shelter, water, etc.) and few predators. So, one of the first things we can do is remove the preferred food. There are several ways of doing this. The easiest is to not feed the deer that come to your house. I know this is tempting for some, but it happens to be against the law. Check with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden for specifics in your county. The next way is to mechanically put up a barrier to food.
Fencing. The fastest, easiest way to keep deer out is fencing. A six-foot fence is a minimum. This is the best start. However, if there is a drought or super tempting plant on the other side of a fence, a deer will jump or try to jump it. If you live in the city or a residential section, check with your HOA (Home Owners Association) to see if there are restrictions on the kind or height of fence. We don’t have restrictions on my property, so we have a mix of wooden fence and green chainlink. Sometimes deer still try to jump the chainlink side.
If you choose to use electric fencing, it is essential to build two fences, one inside of the other. The other essential is that deer will crawl under a fence, so the outside fence bottom wire must be 12-14 inches off of the ground. Deer don’t like electricity and two lines of posts give the fence a three-dimensional effect that seems to confuse deer. For more information on the Herff Falls 3-wire Deer-Proof Fence, contact the Walker County AgriLife Agent, Reggie Lepley and request a print out of the specifics.
Now for some plant specifics, because this is what they are after—food.
Plants. My front yard faces North and would not look pretty with a fence around it. So we have devoted this yard to turfgrass, trees, herbs, and some uninviting plants that deer have not been interested in. Deer find most herbs to either be offensive smelling (like Rosemary), have a nasty tasting leaf (Mexican Mint Marigold, Lemon Balm), or a leaf that is rough (culinary Sage, Mint). Other plants that deer seem to pass over include Lantana, Iris (deer think that they are ‘stinky’), and Lamb’s Ear (a rough leaf).
Daffodils do really well in our Piney Woods, because deer avoid them. Their bulbs emit a toxin that deer know is poisonous. So this fall, think about all the different varieties of daffodils/narcissus that you can plant on the Eastern and Southern sides of your yard. Same goes for Poppies.
There’s a general rule that if a plant has silver or gray foliage, deer don’t seem interested. So, some plants that fit this general rule, and don’t appear on the menu for deer are: the shrub-Cenzia/Texas Sage (pretty purple flowers seasonally as well), groundcover-Santolina/Lavender Cotton, and perennials like Silver King Artemisia and Dusty Miller.
Some other shrubs that you can incorporate in the landscape include the Viburnums. A large number of these are evergreen. My favorite is Walter’s viburnum (V. obovatum), an evergreen/semi-evergreen that can make 10 or more feet. The foliage is dense, small and dark green. It has large clusters of small, white blooms in spring. The birds like the purple berries in fall and it has a nice maroon fall color. Plant in sun or partial sun in a well-draining, composted soil. Sweet viburnum (V. odoratissimum) is also evergreen and may reach 10 feet. It prefers partial shade and produces fragrant white flower clusters. Give both shrubs plenty of room for air to circulate.
Flowers that are not favored by deer include Zinnias, Marigolds and Delphinium or Larkspurs. Recently we had an article about Salvias and these seem to be another one that deer seem to pass over. Some plants may be called Autumn Sage, but it is really Salvia greggii. Additionally flowering Salvias like Indigo Spires, Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea), and Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) are good calls for the yard.
For more information on making your landscape less deer friendly or a full list of deer resistant plants, contact the Walker County AgriLife Office at 936-435-2426. Master Gardeners are typically ‘in’ on Thursday mornings. You may also send questions to our email at email@example.com
The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join.