close icon

Know your opponent

Unless you actually see deer in your garden, the only evidence may be damage to vegetation. Male deer can cause ‘fraying’ to young trees where bark has been rubbed from the main stem and left hanging in tatters. ‘Thrashing’ damage is caused by males whipping woody plants and low branches with their antlers, while ‘browsing’ damage to shoots and tips is caused by feeding.

Plants damaged by deer can be distinguished from rabbit damage by the ragged edge left at the tip. This is caused by the lack of incisors in the deer’s upper jaw. Rabbits have upper incisors and so make a clean cut, like that of secateurs.

Excluding deer

The only real defence against deer is a properly constructed fence, which needs to be properly tensioned.

The base should be comprehensively dug or turfed in if it is not to be breached – deer can be quick to exploit the smallest gap. 

Lightweight plastic meshes should be avoided as they are not robust enough and the deer can end up tangled in them. 

Sirens, flashing lights and streamers may work for a short time, but deer soon adapt and ignore them.

Minimum specifications for deer fences

Species

Mesh size (mm)

Height (m)

75 x 75

1.5

75 x 75

1.5

200 x 150

1.8

220 x 200

1.8

220 x 200

1.8

220 x 200

1.9

Protecting trees and plants

Protective plastic tubes can be placed around stems to protect them, but these are only of benefit to broadleaved trees. The tubes must be at least 1.6m tall to deter fallow, or 1.2m tall to deter roe or muntjac and rigidly staked to the ground to prevent deer knocking them over.

Alternatively, netting guards can be used for conifers and shrubs but they must also be of similar heights and staked to the ground.

If you want to avoid plastic you can surround the growing plants with brash (cut branches and other foliage) which keeps the deer away while the plants grow through it, or creating a ‘dead hedge’ of cut material.  

Alternative plants

Deer have preferences for different plants so planting less desirable plants may help as these are thought to be less susceptible to damage.

Vulnerable plants

Deer-resistant plants

Bluebell

Camellia

Calluna

Cistus

Clematis

Crocus (some species)

Crocus (some species)

Fuchsia

Fuchsia (hybrid)

Hellebore

Geranium

Hosta

Holly

Hydrangea

Honeysuckle

Iris

Lupin

Lavender

Pansy

Poppy

Pines

Primula

Rose

Rhododendron

Rowan

Sedum

Sweet William

The eco-friendly approach

This is a list of plants known to avoid damage if alternative food is available:

Agapanthus

Alder

Aquilegia

Azalea (deciduous)

Berberis spp.

Birch

Box

Buddleia davidii

Chaenomeles

Choisya ternata

Chrysanthemum maximum

Cistus

Clematis spp.

Cornus sanguina

Cotinus coggygria

Daphne spp.

Delphinium

Forsythia

Foxglove

Gaultheria shallon

Gooseberry

Hellebore

Honeysuckle

Hippophae rhamnoides

Hydrangea

Jasmine

Juniper

Kerria japonica

Kniphofia

Lonicera nitida

Lavender

Lupin

Magnolia

Mahonia spp.

Narcissus

Pampas grass

Philadelphus

Phormium tenax

Pine

Potentilla fruticosa

Ribes spp.

Robinia pseudoacacia

Romneya coulteri

Rosa rugosa

Shallon

Snowberry

Spiraea japonica

Sweetbay

Viburnum (deciduous)

Vinca spp.

Weigela

Yucca

A good way to maintain a healthy, diverse garden able to cope with occasional deer visits is to provide natural food alternatives to your prize roses. This can be achieved simply by allowing brambles, rosebay willowherb, rowan (mountain ash), dandelion, campion, hoary cinquefoil, sweet lupin, redleg, ribwort and yarrow to grow in the garden.

This also has the benefit of attracting beneficial insects and birds. A mixture of effective plant protection and eco-friendly gardening should protect your garden from attack by deer and welcome other wildlife.

Resources

Your choice regarding cookies on this site. We use cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience.