Sunday, July 5, 2015

Resistance Is Futile!

No, I have not become a part of the Borg collective. Only Star Trek geeks will get this.
Actually what I want to talk about is food. When you are hungry, you go get something to eat, right?
When any animal gets hungry, they go get something to eat?  Right again!
We, as human gardeners, enjoy growing our own food to eat? Right one more time!
Well, unfortunately, we have competition in our garden, and it isn't even only our fruits and veggies that are the target.
You all know who or what I am referring to here.
The White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can be seen bounding through South Carolina's woods year-round. They are plentiful in our state, and in 1972 the legislature named them the official state animal. Ten other states recognize the White-tailed Deer as their state animal, too!

You might call them Bambi.
You may think they are cute, and they are, from a distance. As long as they stay out of my yard I have no trouble with them.
Being in the nursery business, they go by another name, Damn Deer!!
I understand the whole, "they are a living thing and they need to eat too!" Yea, yea, but what were they eating before my cucumbers and pepper plants were here?!
Again, I know what you are thinking, we are taking away their habitat and their food supply. I get that also. I am not! But yet, I am the one that feeds them my tomato plants, my peach tree and anything else that they see.
But enough about my complaints.
I hear it every single day at work, I can't have a nice yard because the deer keep eating everything. Is there anything I can do to stop them, short of enclosing my yard in barbed wire?
I usually tell them to electrify the barbed wire too, but that doesn't go over well.

Deer damage on Hostas

Here in South Carolina, the current estimated deer population is about 750, 000. That is a lot of hungry animals.
Hunting is the only sure fire way to bring those numbers down, but that is frowned upon by not only animal rights groups, but HOA's where the houses are extremely close together.
So if you can't put up a fence, shooting them is out, what else can you do?
You can encase each plant in fencing, but that kind of looks stupid. There are all kinds of deer repellent sprays on the market. The down side to them is, one, they stink and two, you have to reapply after every rain or irrigation event. There is one product on the market that seems to work pretty good, I have even tested it myself....Milorganite. It is actually a fertilizer.  It is composed of heat-dried microbes that have digested the organic matter in wastewater.  Milorganite is manufactured by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.  The District captures wastewater from the metropolitan Milwaukee area, including local industries such as MillerCoors.  This water is then treated with microbes to digest nutrients that are found in it, and cleaned water is returned to Lake Michigan.  The resulting microbes are then dried, becoming Milorganite fertilizers.
Sounds cool, huh?
Okay, so maybe that isn't your cup of tea either.
Your last hope is either artificial plants or ones that they don't tend to eat. Now mind you, the list I am about to share with you is just a guide to plants that are not USUALLY eaten by deer. If they are hungry enough they will eat anything.

Barberry : Berberis thunbergii
Spirea : Spirea sp.
Dogwood : Cornus florida
Viburnum : Viburnum sp.
Juniper : Juniperus sp.
Pyracantha : Pyracantha coccinea
Mahonia : Mahonia aquifolium
Pieris : Pieris sp.
Yaupon Holly : Ilex sp.
Society Garlic : Tulbaghia violacea

This is just a very small list. A Google search will reveal many others. Clemson actually has a very good page that has a fairly extensive list of what they don't usually eat and what they love. It can be viewed HERE. It is from 1996, but still has some very useful info on it. I want to stress here again, just because somebody lists a plant as deer resistant, it DOES NOT mean they will not eat it, just that they don't prefer to eat it.
Then there are the plants that, if you plant them, every deer within 100 miles of you will come by.
Two, off the top of my head are, Hostas and Knockout Roses. You wouldn't think that they would eat the roses, with the thorns and such. I know of a homeowner here in Charleston that, because they live in a heavily populated area, they were not going to listen to my advice and not plant certain things. I told them, do not plant the roses, pittosporum and hostas. They assured me, I won't have any problem, there are too many people around, the houses are too close together, and there is always activity around to scare them off. I wished them luck.
The very next morning, they were back. The deer ate EVERYTHING they planted!! Almost $800 worth of plants. Right down to the ground. They even ate a few things I didn't think they would eat, like ligustrum and liriope.
Do I have the answer for this problem? Not really. I can suggest plants that they don't usually eat. Encourage you to build a fence. Maybe tell you to get a big dog that will stay outside all night.
This is actually a common sight in many of the neighborhoods around here.

So, in the end, resistance is futile. Maybe we should just learn to live with them?
 Not me, I will continue to use milorganite and encase my plants in cages, even if it does look stupid!!
If you have any questions or comments about this, or any of my other articles, Please let me know.
I can also be found on Facebook as The Citrus Guy.
Happy Growing!


  1. I got the Borg reference. Try applying liquid human waste products in areas the deer travel through. Seems to work for me. So does a motion-activated sprinkler for some gardeners here.

  2. Hey Professor! Haven't heard from you in a long time!! Hope all is well?
    I agree, that is where the Milorganite comes in. That seems to be working for me also.
    Glad a few others got the Borg reference.

  3. Hey I grew up in Beaufort and live in Durham, NC now. Come home every February to avoid those harsh NC winters. Went to NCSU and studied hort and have helped lots of clients have lovely gardens in spite of the deer. Here's my shorthand list of kinds of plants that deer don't like and why:

    Culinary herbs/flavor too strong,
    medicinal herbs like peony and echinacea/flavor too strong,
    fuzzy leaves like lambs ear/texture is nasty,
    bluish, waxy leaf plants like bearded iris/texture is nasty,
    plants with white latex like euphorbia and lenten rose/horrible taste,
    ferns/texture too tough,
    ornamental grasses/texture too tough,
    fragrant leaves like wax myrtle/flavor too strong
    many shrubs with fragrant flowers like gardenia, daphne, tea olive/not sure why

    That will help I think. Also, note that the blue hostas are that color because they evolved a waxy coating that helps them get through droughts. Deer generally avoid blue hostas unless they are starving and the blue hostas need less irrigation too.

    Good luck! Frank Hyman

    1. Thanks for the list Frank. They are pretty evil here in Charleston. I have actually heard of them eating some ferns and lambs ear. They are also eating ligustrum now. I guess if you are hungry enough you will eat anything. Your list is very good though, Thanks Again!

  4. Bad news -smaller bag limits for hunters

    Senate Bill 454 was filed on behalf of DNR by Senator Chip Campsen of Charleston in February of this year. The legislation proposes a limit of four antlered bucks per year and that all deer harvested are tagged. The Antlerless Deer Quota Program (ADQP) that many landowners and hunt clubs utilize would continue to be available with quotas being issued for both bucks and does. The bill passed the Senate in March and currently resides in the House of Representatives where it will be considered when the legislative session begins in January.
    According to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator, “The state's deer population has changed in recent years and although there are still some areas where deer numbers and reports of agricultural damage remain high, the overall population has decreased as indicated by a 35 percent decline in harvest. Reasons for the decline include habitat changes related to forest management, extremely liberal deer harvests over the last two decades, and the colonization of the state by coyotes since the turn of the century.”
    Although there is a 5-buck limit prescribed in the two upstate Game Zones these limits have never been enforceable. In the coastal Game Zones, state law specifies there is “no limit” on antlered deer, a situation that has never been a function of DNR. This lack of a reasonable bag limit on bucks is in stark contrast to other states and to the approach with other fish and game species in South Carolina, which typically have limits. From a management standpoint, tagging all deer is beneficial because it would allow better regulation and manipulation of the harvest of antlerless deer (doe deer). This is important as we attempt to mitigate the impact of coyotes on future deer management.