Increasing deer population leads to ornamental and garden plant damage
With more than a half million white-tailed deer in Oklahoma, many landowners experience nature in its purest sense as the deer can be viewed at close range.
However, this has become a problem over the years as the deer population has increased, forcing thousands of these animals into peripheral suburban areas, leaving homeowners to deal with damage to ornamental and garden plants.
"As deer begin moving into an area, homeowners initially enjoy seeing them and may actually encourage deer to come into their yard," said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. "Homeowner attitudes begin changing after deer numbers increase to the extent that shrubbery shows heavy browsing and gardens become difficult to grow because of continued depredation."
Damage also can occur during fall months when bucks begin rubbing their antlers on small trees or young nursery stock. While damage control is not an easy problem to fix, there are several methods that homeowners can implement to reduce occurrences.
Trapping and moving excess deer has been suggested by homeowners as a humane alternative to hunting with guns, but due to the cost, deer movement patterns and legal aspects, it is simply not practical. Scare tactics can work for short periods of time, but are labor intensive and usually only minimally effective.
Another method is to use either area or contact repellents.
"The effectiveness of repellents will vary with deer density, season and availability of alternate foods. To be effective, repellents must be applied before deer begin actively browsing in the affected area," said Elmore. "Many repellents do not weather well and will need to be reapplied after a rain."
Repellents may provide relief on small areas of high value plants, but for large areas it is not a good option. Electric fencing can be used to condition deer to not use an area as well. A good strategy is called a "peanut butter fence."
On a standard electric fence small pieces of conductive foil are attached at intervals. Apply peanut butter to each piece of foil. When the deer lick the peanut butter, they are shocked. This often will dissuade deer from the area.
One of the more effective ways to reduce damage is by using the deer feeding behavior. Dietary and browse research in Oklahoma have identified more than 100 species of plants comprising a deer's diet in a given locale. However, deer do tend to avoid certain plants, which is to the benefit of homeowners.
Some of the rarely damaged garden plants include canteloupe, cucumber, hot peppers, tomato and watermelon. Annual flowers that are rarely damaged include French marigold, periwinkle and snapdragon.
Baby's-breath, gay-feather, iris, sage and lavender are good perennial flowers to plant, while Colorado Blue Spruce, Common Boxwood and Shortleaf Pine are a few of the woody plants that are rarely damaged.
"Judicious selection of plants in combination with various control methods should provide the rural or suburban homeowner with some realistic means of damage reduction," Elmore said. "Remember to begin control measures before significant damage occurs."