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Preparing a Deer Tolerant Hummingbird Garden

Aug 2, 2008
Plant the image of Bambi traipsing through a garden in the minds of most suburbanites and they'll coo with pleasure at the thought of Mother Nature gracing them with her presence. Mention deer to a gardener, however, and you'll often get a decidedly different reaction.

As cute as they may be, deer hold a place right alongside moles, rabbits and grubs in the minds of those who invest hours in planting a beautiful garden. The word deer might as well be an acronym for Destructive Entity Eating Rabidly. If you plant it, they will come. If you plant it with the intent of luring something benign, they'll come even faster. What appeals to one critter often appeals to another which is the crux of the dilemma for those who wish to attract hummingbirds.

The good news is that there are solutions which will help you selectively lure one cute critter without the other. The only thing you have to decide is exactly how far away you'd like Bambi to stay.

If you'd be happy never to see a deer in your hummingbird garden again, the best insurance is a fence. Anything lower than 8 feet tall may act as a deterrent but wont guarantee a motivated deer won't hop over. Slat fences will certainly do the trick if you don't mind a very obvious boundary. Alternatively, polypropylene mesh fences blend into the background and cost substantially less.

Other options to deter deer include predator or even human urine deposited around the perimeter of your garden. The drawback to this method is the need for constant (weekly) reapplication. The bigger your garden, the less convenient this option becomes.

Some gardeners report that human hair contained in nylon stockings and strategically placed around the garden has been reported to deter deer. Likewise, heavily scented soaps either sliced in slivers or hung still in the box near plants you want to protect reportedly do a good job. Recommended brands include Irish Spring, Zest and Dial. Finally, dryer sheets such as Bounce smell unpleasant to deer. The concept derives from a deer's desire to remain as unremarkable as possible to avoid attracting predators so they avoid getting close to heavy scents which may rub off and expose them.

If keeping deer entirely at bay isn't your objective, there are some methods that will still give you a chance at seeing them at the edges of your garden without having to sacrifice hummingbird attracting plants to their insatiable appetites. Using any of the scented methods above in moderation but only near plants you want to protect is one option.

Consider placing more desirable plants at the perimeter of your garden and keep your hummingbird flowers closer in to your home. Some plants for which deer have a high preference include, Indian Hawthorn, English Ivy, Hosta and Hydrangea.

Some sprays such as hot pepper applied to the leaves of plants you are trying to protect have also been shown to be effective. Remember, though, to avoid spraying the flowers on your hummingbird friendly plants or you'll deter the very creature you are trying to attract.

Finally, choose deer-tolerant flowers which hummingbirds enjoy but deer only dine on when stressed by loss of habitat or starvation. There are a few varieties that still appeal to hummingbirds but which represent less of an invitation to a deer's remarkably undiscerning palate listed below.

Perennials
Bee Balm
Cardinal Flower
Dahlia

Annuals
Flowering Tobacco

Vines
Cardinal Climber

Ultimately, remember that deer-tolerant is the same as water-resistant. It isn't a guarantee. When stressed, starving, desperate or diseased, deer can and will eat just about any non-poisonous plant to get by. If you want the ultimate protection against them, the answer to your prayers was mentioned early on. Invest in a fence.
About the Author
David writes for Hummingbirdfeedingguide.com, a blog devoted to feeding and attracting hummingbirds.
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