Keep deer and rabbits away from your tender plants

My family and I all love wildlife. It’s a pleasure to take our coffee out on the back deck in the morning and sip quietly as we watch deer (and sometimes more exotic creatures) while they forage. When ground mist is still clinging to the meadow, they almost look as if they are floating gracefully across the landscape.

But much as we love critters, we are a lot less charitable when they are chowing down on our dearly beloved plants! Our garden isn’t a free buffet for every four-legged moocher... or at least it shouldn’t be.

Because deer are fairly large animals, they tend to be the ones most gardeners and landscapers are concerned about. But other animals, such as rabbits, moles and squirrels, can create problems, too.

If you, like us, need to discourage wildlife from eating or damaging your plants, I have a few ideas for you today. I don’t want to injure or kill the critters; simply get them to move on when they feel hungry.

There are two basic ways to deter hungry wildlife.

First, you can plant shrubs, trees and flowers that critters will avoid because they find them distasteful.

Second, you can find ways to protect plants that wildlife would otherwise find irresistible. Ideally, you can combine both methods.

Let’s start with deer. There are a number of plants that will actually repel and even more that are resistant to deer, because they simply don’t care to eat them under normal circumstances.

Deer repellent plants include: lavender, onion, catnip, sage, chives, garlic, spearmint and thyme. Strategically place some of these plants along your property border, particularly at points that deer are using as entryways, and the odds are in your favor that deer will be reluctant to cross the line. Additionally, you can circle deer-susceptible plants with a ring of these “bodyguard” deer repellent plants for added security.

As for deer-resistant plants, it makes sense to fill your landscape with trees and shrubs that deer don’t care to eat, if they are a major problem where you live. These include: Douglas fir, holly, bottlebrush, maple, juniper, rhododendron, carpet bugle, periwinkle, wisteria and blue spruce.

We have found two grasses that seem to be deer resistant: Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’) and Little Bunny (Pennisetum alopecuroides).

When it comes to rabbits, it gets a bit trickier. Some landscapers will tell you that “rabbit resistant” is an oxymoron, like “military intelligence.” They’ll claim that no plant is truly resistant, but some plants are less desirable than others to rabbits. If bunnies are the bane of your garden, you might want to research various online resources. One good place to start is

Now for the second tactic: protecting plants from wildlife.

If the idea doesn’t offend you aesthetically, a good place to start is a sturdy wire fence around your property. It should be at least 4' high to discourage all but the most athletic deer. If your fence is intended to keep rabbits away, at least the lower 2' or so should include a fine mesh, because hungry bunnies can squeeze through regular chain-link fencing. The mesh should extend at least 12" below the soil level to prevent rabbits burrowing underneath.

You can hide an “ugly” wire fence with an attractive hedge, such as the fast-growing cedar “Green Giant” or Rosa Rugosa, sometimes described as a living fence.

For an effective and economical way to protect vulnerable young trees, look for tubes or wrappings, such as the popular Miracle Tube which provides a sapling with a lightweight suit of armor.

Finally, if you find most chemical deer-repellents to be evil-smelling, look for a product called Deer Stopper. It has a pleasant smell and is safe to use around children and animals. It’s also the only deer repellent approved for use by “organic” growers. The same company also makes similar organic products to repel rabbits, squirrels and moles. If you need shopping information for products like these, simply send me an e-mail.