No topic leads to enthusiastic discussion at a rose club meeting more than dealing with deer. Both members and visiting speakers share tales of battles with Bambi, what works and what does not. Though deer stay out of my fenced yard, preferring those unenclosed landscapes next to their habitat, I do deal with them at the churchyard rose garden I have cared for for nine years.
I can testify that deer have their favorite roses as well as ones they have never nibbled. Thorns are no object. Home Run and Super Hero are two very prickly, very disease-resistant red roses. Deer love them. On the plus side, I almost thank them for doing the deadheading for me. They have never sampled My Girl which grows next to them, but love snow-white Polar Express. (I thought I might have to camp out to ever see a blossom.) They have never bothered The Fairy.
(Photo: Chewed-up rose bush in front of lush aster.)
Last year around Labor Day, the deer must have been very hungry. Not only did they strip the foliage from all the roses, they grazed the violets to the ground and ate the aging iris leaves. Iris are supposedly deer resistant.
Shocked as I was, I had to thank them for sparing me the task of cutting back the iris. And who cares about violets? As for the roses, disease pressure was high and now the blackspot-tainted leaves were all in the deer’s systems.
(Photo: Deer decimated the violets. So what?)
This year the churchyard vegetable garden has undergone an extreme makeover. Hats off to all the hard workers who made it happen. There is now a six-foot fence around the veggie patch. Although deer nibble on the peripheral roses, damage is limited. The herb bed as well as other flower and vegetable
beds outside the fence appear untouched. In my area, violets continue to be a favorite snack but other edibles like chrysanthemums are ignored. My plan for next year is to incorporate more deer-resistant herbs at the edges.
(Photo: Iris are deer 🦌 resistant?! Saves me having to cut them back.)
Beyond the tall fence I want to share alternative deer-deterrent notions with you. A decade ago I was a docent in a woodland garden on the annual garden tour. The owner had motion-activated lights he claimed were
very effective at keeping the deer at bay. After years of frustration, a rose club member has installed an electric fence and is very pleased with the results. I spent twenty dollars on garlic capsules to clamp on shrubs. Save your money. The deer were undeterred.
(Photo: Daylilies are delicious!)
Plantskydd is another product that deters deer (and elk and rabbits) by an odor we cannot detect. But take it from me as well as another rose club member, this product is difficult as well as disgusting to mix and spray. After all that trouble, it really didn’t work that well as one must apply it to new growth throughout the season. That being said, I heard from other club members that it works well. If you want to try it, I recommend getting the premixed, ready-to-spray formulation.
When it comes to deer-resistant plants, try to get input from folks who have tried them. I will say they have never touched asters or Shasta daisies. Liatris holds no allure, nor do coneflowers, rudbeckia or monarda. They do love daylilies and tall phlox. I have not found the presence of deer-resistant plants provides protection for roses.
We share this earthly Eden with creatures that have lived here longer than we have. I heard that there are more deer roaming the eastern forests now than when Daniel Boone and company crossed the Cumberland Gap.
Master Gardener Ann Bartlett shall fight Bambi on the beaches, she shall fight on the landing grounds, she shall fight in the fields...she shall defend her roses! Email her at email@example.com.
Related Bonus Feature from your friendly neighborhood Planet: Watch the 1969 classic short BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA by clicking on the image below.