Many times clients ask me to design a deer proof garden. On Bainbridge Island there are many deer. They are so rough looking that they look like much loved stuffed animals. You may have heard the old adage that there is no such thing as a deer proof garden. And that can seem true as deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough. All you can really do is plan and experiment to see what works for your area. Sometimes deer at one end of the island will eat different things than the deer at the other end. I’ve seen them leave the hosta to be eaten by slugs (maybe they don’t like slugs either) and eat tender fern and rhododendron leaves. While at other places anything that looks like a hosta is eaten to the ground.

This is a beautiful coastal garden in the Point White area of Bainbridge Island. The clients are not here in the winter but come back in the late spring to the blooms I’ve planned for them.

The paver driveway is good for the moist site and any excess water is directed down the edge drains. A combination of grasses, heathers, sedums are on raised berms to keep their feet from getting too wet.

The owners requested evergreens and good blooms, they also love hydrangea (aka deer candy). We tucked these in close to the front door so they can be enjoyed and are less likely to be eaten. One thing the deer have eaten are the blooms off the Bergenia. The leaves are fine but the blooms are gone. Who knew?

Here is my go to plant check list:

  • Plants with fuzzy leaves like yak hybrid rhododendrons.
  • Plants with strong fragrance like lavender, Sarcoccoca, and herbs
  • Grasses (sedges really) with edges on the leaves.

Design Tips:
Plant ‘must haves’ like hydrangeas close to the house, by a tight side yard, near a patio or screen fencing. Deer like some hydrangeas better than others. Oakleaf will be eaten as soon as there is a leaf showing while paniculatas are often left alone.

Plant Roses on trellises so they bloom above the reach of deer.

Repetition is your friend. Planting something like heather, pine, or Hebe and repeating it gives a great look with less worry about feeding it to the deer.

Put out a couple of sacrificial plants to see what the deer might be eating in your area. You will soon know what their favorite food is. You can always bring it back to the greenhouse, holding area or give it away if you can’t place it.

Plant ‘deer candy’ surrounded by other plants deer don’t like. It often distracts the deer and they will leave it alone. I have one customer that has a beautiful oak leaf hydrangea surrounded by a belt of Berberis thunbergia – Red Barberry. Roses surrounded by Lavender also works.

Get a dog. Even non-aggressive dogs will keep deer away…. I’m just kidding really. Sometimes a digging romping dog is more trouble than the deer!

Share what you do to protect your plants from deer. Maybe you have a different problem like rabbits. They can be devastating too.  What are your ‘go to’ tips for dealing with uninvited wild life?

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