With the increasing urbanization in Williamson County, wildlife, especially deer, have been forced out of their habitats and into our yards. Home gardeners are motivated to “deer proof” their landscapes with a wide variety of plants and shrubs. Extension offices, wildlife agencies, and local nurseries publish exhaustive lists of deer-proof, deer-resistant, or deer-tolerant options. Homeowners grab their lists, head to the nursery, identify those specimens, and eagerly plant them in their yards. Those tender new plants will soon be consumed by invading deer!
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a deer-resistant or deer-proof plant! When deer populations are high and food sources are scarce, hungry deer will feed on just about anything. Deer like nutrition-rich plants, especially in spring and summer, during their reproductive cycles. Home landscapes provide deer with protein, high energy carbohydrates, minerals and salts. Deer also get one third of their water from irrigated plants and tender vegetation.
There are many choices for home gardeners in search of deer resistant strategies. Identify deer favorite plants versus those plants deer will pass by in the yard. Roses, also known as “deer candy”, tender new plantings, new growth on established plants and vegetable gardens will attract browsing deer. Those plants will need physical protection. Barriers including high fencing or deer netting may deter hungry deer. Some commercially available deer repellent products include blood meal, animal urine, and putrid smelling soap-based sprays. Unfortunately, none of these methods are 100% effective.
Choose plants with features distasteful to browsing deer. Aromatic herbs, rough or prickly leafed specimens, and bitter tasting shrubs and plants are unappealing to hungry deer. Oregano, prostrate rosemary, mint, and sage are sustainable ground covers and tolerate browsing deer populations. Some gardeners have been successful planting strong scented plants such as lantana, chives, catmint and thyme next to desirable plants that deer frequently browse.
Another strategy to deter deer from your yard is to create an entire landscape with plants and shrubs disliked by deer. Established native plants, grasses and trees thwart roaming deer. The photo below illustrates an example of a front yard covered with pink verbena and bluebonnets. Red agave is planted in the foreground. Muhly grass and sotol in the background fill out the yard. The pink verbena serves as a year-round ground cover. When the bluebonnets die back in late spring, Turk’s cap, silverleaf nightshade, and Mexican feather grass grow in that area. Browsing deer appear disinterested in these native plants.
The Williamson County Native Plant Society offers many ideas and native plant options for interested gardeners. Unique physical characteristics and features of Texas native plants provide homeowners with a variety of landscaping options to keep roaming deer away!