The Deer Ate My Plants

little deer

By Miriam Jordan and Susan Terry

Most of us have had the sad experience of finding our carefully tended gardens have served as a salad bar for visiting deer. This should not come as a surprise as the population of deer has grown exponentially for a variety of reasons: loss of habitat, drought, and we have a situation where the deer and humans are coexisting. We use plants to beautify our surroundings and provide food for our families; deer use those same plants for food and that is the problem.

Deer are browsers meaning they eat the tender shoots, twigs and leaves of plants, trees and shrubs. They are finicky eaters, but they are known to eat more than 500 different kinds of plants! Their tastes change according to the season, climate and availability of food. Especially after a dry, hot summer, they find well-watered landscape and garden plants, even the ones they usually don’t like, tantalizing.

The average adult buck or doe needs 5-10 pounds of food each day. This may not seem like much but just think of how many landscape plants a group of 5-7 need to satisfy their hunger. Deer are creatures of habit, so they will revisit a favored spot, often when no one is around to shoo them off.

There are ways to deer-proof your garden, such as fencing that will work well for a vegetable area and repellants, but they have limited effectiveness. Using recommended Texas Natives is by far the most successful way to achieve a pleasing landscape in the Salado area. Deer usually shun aromatic foliage. Most of the commonly cultivated herbs used for cooking, for aromatherapy and for medicinal purposes are resistant to deer damage. Examples of these plants include Rosemary, Basil, Lavender, Thyme, Oregano, and Yarrow.

Deer find a mouthful of fuzz or thorns disagreeable, so they will usually avoid plants like Lamb’s Ears, Mullein, Dead Nettle, and Black-Eyed Susan. Roses are an unhappy exception to this rule. Deer love roses, thorns and all!!

We have multiple examples of native Texas gardens in Salado that will inspire you to try some of these plants in your yard. Visit the Salado Library, Green Bridge, Sculpture Garden, Visitor Center, Thomas Arnold Elementary School Outdoor Learning Center, and College Hill Park. The public gardens are beautiful this spring, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers. We are planning new gardens; contact Keep Salado Beautiful, keepsaladobeautiful.com, if you are interested in helping or would like more information.

Plant References:

Native Plant Guide

Protecting Your Landscape: Deer Resistant Plants