Keeping Bambi out of the garden

One of the common questions at this time of year is “How do I keep the deer out of my yard?” Unfortunately there isn’t any one thing that works but there are a number of strategies that help but all will fail if the animals are starving.

One of the common questions at this time of year is “How do I keep the deer out of my yard?”

Unfortunately there isn’t any one thing that works but there are a number of strategies that help but all will fail if the animals are starving.

Deer are cautious creatures of habit. They will not enter an area or yard where they sense danger or do not feel safe.

When planning a yard in deer-infested areas avoid making large open areas where deer can scope out the yard for predators. One or more large shrubs make the animals more hesitant as they do not know what is behind the shrub.

Deer are creatures of habit. If they find a tasty place to eat that was safe they will go back. Adding something simple to the yard where they were feeding or sleeping might be enough to make them cautious and stay away, for a few days.

Simple inexpensive deterrents include: smelly soap, hanging human hair in a bag, shredded grocery bags on a string, nets or fishing lines hung across the path.

Motion sensor lights can startle the animals and get them to keep moving. Likewise motion sensor sprinklers are very effective as they will send a stream of water out at whatever invades a certain area.

There are sprays that can be used on plants to keep animals from eating them. Most commercial ones are effective as long as the animal is not starving and there is plenty of food in another location. Sprays work because they are smelly and offensive. Spray the plants on a calm day or stay downwind until the solution dries.

Deterrents can be quiet successful if they are set up properly, moved and changed regularly. Deterrents must be placed at a level that the deer see, hear and smell easily; head height or below. Changing the deterrents and moving them around the yard is very important. If deterrents are left in one place for too long the deer no longer view them as a threat.

Barriers are very effective. An eight-foot (two-metre) fence around the garden ensures the garden will remain intact. Deer will jump over shorter fences.

Electric fences work if the animal touches it. When the fence itself is not effective add bait that will draw the animals in. Animals will get a small shock with the first bite and are unlikely to repeat the experience.

The only deer proof plants are poisonous. Deer resistant plants are ones that the animals are not familiar with and they often smell. A quick search on the Internet shows many plants as being listed as being deer proof but comments on the same site usually say “not so in my yard”. This is because deer will feast on plants that they are familiar with.

The best way to get a list of “deer resistant plants” in any given area is to talk to the neighbours. If deer are eating a type of plant in the neighbours’ yard, they will eat the same plants in your yard.

The following are poisonous plants that will grow in Central Alberta. Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), delphinium, larkspur (Delphinium spp.) nicotiana, foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), gas plant (Dictamnus albus, Iris, lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), lobelia, lupine, monkshood (Aconitum spp.), poppy (Papaver spp.), sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), daffodils, buttercup (Ranunculus spp), columbine (Aquilegia spp), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), ornamental rhubarb (Rhaum), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum)

Another tip is to use less fertilizer. Plants grow faster with fertilizer. Their stems and leaves are softer, juicer and more palatable. Deer will go back to gardens that taste the best. It might be better to have the worst tasting yard on the block.

Deer proofing the yard takes time and effort.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at or

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