How to Grow a Deer-Free Garden in the Hudson Valley

AdobeStock/KQ Ferris

A local expert reveals which plants to pick to help keep backyard snacking by four-legged visitors to a minimum.

The late-summer swelter of August doesn’t have be limited to planning your fall and spring ornamental gardens — or giving up all hope of anything pretty withstanding the appetite of the burgeoning deer population.

You can dig and divide your perennials, as well as plant or replant your ornamental grasses, trees, and shrubs, says Susan Ndiaye, community horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County.

“There are few things that deer won’t touch. One thing is boxwood. Hedges are a safe bet. They’re also not big on spruce trees, because the needles prick them,” Ndiaye says. “But people who have lived here for decades are saying all of a sudden deer are eating everything in sight.”

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Anything taller than a deer’s browsing height of 4 feet is safest. Barberry is a popular deer-resistant bush — but don’t plant it, as it’s an invasive species disrupting the forest ecosystem, Ndiaye says. Use smokebush instead.

Deer are less likely to snack on prickly plants such as American holly, grasses such as variegated purple moor, switch, and oat, as well as strong-flavored herbs and heavily scented foliage.

If you must plant your mums for fall or hostas for spring, place them in the middle of plants that deer typically avoid, like toxic daffodils. A fence at least 8 feet high is the best protection from Bambi and his extended family dining at your garden restaurant.

Ann Ellis, master gardener at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Rockland County, advises to, “buy a deer-repellent spray, and remember to re-spray after a rain.”

Rutgers and Cornell universities provide great online lists of deer-resistant plants, but “we always tell people, the deer do not read the list,” Ellis says. “If they’re hungry, they’ll eat anything; they’ll cut up their mouths.”

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