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Deer-proof your yard

It seems that deer are everywhere here in the Rogue Valley, and those big liquid eyes and chomping teeth can wreak havoc on a garden. Don’t give up on your garden just yet, and make plans now for next spring’s plantings. With a careful selection of plants, perhaps a fencing project or judicious use of a deer repellent, there’s hope that your next garden will be green and bloom-filled.

Over the past 20 years, deer have migrated out of the forests into urban areas and enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner in the lush, irrigated yards of the Rogue Valley.

“Wildlife populations are regulated by habitat, food availability, predation or disease,” says Steve Niemela, a Wildlife Biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Where you have these urban deer herds you’ve greatly diminished effective predation. We don’t have hunting; we’ve keep most of the large predators out of the city. In terms of habitat, we water our lawns and provide all this food through landscaping, and in a lot of cases, we have people feeding deer.”

In short, as Niemela puts it, more food plus fewer predators equal more deer.

Christie Mackison, co-owner and landscape designer at Shooting Star Nursery in Central Point specializes in deer-resistant and drought-tolerant plantings here in the Rogue Valley.

Deer are more likely to avoid plants with strong scents, poisonous plants and plants with textured and prickly leaves. But, according to Mackison, deer-proofing your garden is never bullet-proof.

“We have fine-tuned what works here in the Rogue Valley, though it can it vary from neighborhood to neighborhood,” Mackison explains. “The Jacksonville deer seem to have some different tastes than the Ashland deer, and the Ashland deer are almost in their own category because they will eat almost everything. But it can vary from year to year.”

According to Mackison, certain groups of plants tend to work: pungent plant like lavender or herbs like rosemary or oregano and Russian sage; plants with texture like Oregon grape and lamb’s ear, most of the ornamental grasses. She also has had luck with poisonous plants like Daphne, foxglove and oleander, though even these plants aren’t a sure bet.

Mackison maintains a list of deer resistant plants on the Shooting Star Nursery website, with plants noted as “very deer resistant,” “usually deer resistant,” and “can be deer resistant but depends on deer population, try one first.”

Fencing can help to protect a garden from deer and Brad Rietmann with Quality Fence Company in Central Point has built fences throughout the valley. Rietmann says he even has helped the city of Ashland rewrite its fence code. He says a standard 6 foot fence won’t always work.

“ODFW will tell you that a deer can’t jump over 6.5 feet, but we’re in a valley where nothing is flat,” Rietmann explained. “So 6.5 feet on the downhill side is fine, but on the uphill side it doesn’t work. So sometimes people get creative about putting wires above the fence or a grid or screening.”

Every town has different fencing requirements as does the county, and some fences require a permit and inspection. Neighborhoods also may have additional covenants, conditions and restrictions or CC&R requirements.

There’s a herd of deer that lives across the street from the Ashland Garden Club’s September garden of the month, a splendid four-season garden cared for by Kelly and Jeff Straub. Even without fencing, the front and side of their craft home and both the yard and curb strip are full of blooms.

“They don’t like to eat wildflowers, and they like to eat annuals best,” said Kelly. “So they don’t bother the Rudbeckia, the daisies, the blanket flowers, and they don’t eat fox glove.”

The Straub’s also use an organic spray-on deer repellent called Deer Stopper, and have also had some success with Liquid Fence, a product more commonly found in Rogue Valley shops. They’ve not had much luck with coyote urine repellents, saying that the deer quickly became used to the odor and ignored it.

“Deer Stopper has the old standard putrescent egg whites, rosemary oil and mint oil so it smells pretty good to us, but not to them,” said Jeff. “I spray it about once a month, mostly around the perimeter of the garden.”

Christie Mackison will talk about deer-resistant plantings 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. The program is sponsored by the Jackson County Master Gardeners. Mackison will give a similar talk 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at Shooting Star Nursery, 3223 Taylor Road, Central Point. Admission to either program is $15.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella Kelly Straub finds a stray weed in her Ashland garden.