Posted by: marymarthatours | April 30, 2011

The Not-So-Dear Deer

For over fifteen years, I have had a love-hate relationship with the deer that live in the woods adjacent to our property – ever since I became a serious gardener and they discovered the tasty salad I provide for them. We live only a block from the State Capitol in Olympia, but there are several acres of woods and wild between our house and Capitol Lake. And this is home to many creatures including deer and not enough coyotes to keep their population down.


The very first time I saw a deer in our yard was decades ago and I thought, “Isn’t that lovely”. The children were little, and it was fun to see a deer on rare occasions. As my children and garden grew and developed, so did the deer herd. Once we saw six of them in our garden at one time. I guess I should be grateful that I do not live outside the city. A friend in my garden club has a herd of elk that periodically trample and munch away her entire garden in just one visit.

Folks have offered suggestions for deer deterrents of all kinds, and trust me, I have tried just about everything. I once strung aluminum ribbons everywhere. I have put up netting fences to protect the most special perennial beds. The deer can’t get to the plants, but neither can the gardener. Various smelly remedies are so foul the no human would want to go outside and “enjoy” the garden. I have even tried human male urine. My sons and husband provided the free supply for me, but no luck. I considered going to Wolf Haven not far from Olympia to suggest they raise money with a “rent-a-wolf” service to bring a wolf to people’s gardens to scent the property. Then I realized that my deer wouldn’t care, as they did not know wolves and probably have no fear of them.


I called the game department years back and learned that the use of guns and bow and arrows was illegal, but a baseball bat was not. I was close enough to a fawn once to use a bat, but who could do that to a baby, even one who will eat a vast amount of my precious plants in its life time. One fall I wanted to see how close I could get to a big buck. I was ten feet away. He started to grunt at me; I puffed myself up and grunted back. He walked away. I guess I was the Alpha Dear in my own garden after all.

I laugh at signs on plants at garden centers that read “deer resistant” or “deer proof”. My deer must not read the signs, because at my house they eat those plants. I even had to abandon delphinium. It is belladonna, a nerve poison. Well, my deer ate it and returned to eat more. I now have Monk’s Hood in its place, apparently a more poisonous plant. And Fox’s Glove is also a survivor for me.

So what do I do to now live with the enemy? Here are some of my tactics:

  • I have many plants that are poisonous to deer and grandchildren alike.
  • I plant things they dislike (the deer, not the grandchildren) around the things they like. I consider Feverfew to be a “benevolent weed” and a pretty plant guard. If they eat one, the other still survives.
  • I throw ice and rocks at them to chase them away. A BB gun is useless.
  • I spray their favorite plants with Liquid Fence. I purchase about three gallons per season and watch daily for eating evidence to know when “it’s time to spray”.
  • I have learned what they don’t eat and I plant some of their dislikes in abundance.
  • I even enjoy pointing them out to the grandchildren; they love the deer.
  • And I call them: The Damn Deer, Who Are Not Dear to Me.

Two days ago we saw a dead deer in the neighbor’s yard. I hoped it was a doe that would not reproduce any more garden raiders, and then I was actually sad. Nonetheless, I was grateful to her for not dying in my yard.


The only deer I want in my yard (photo by Roger Kidd)

(by Martha)

Photo credit: deer sculpture photo by Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.



  1. And just the other day I saw a beautiful visitor in our garden: a red fox. Being in the “dog” family, I hope he will chase away the deer, or at least go after the moles who are now creating my own Cascade Mountain range in our flower beds. “Welcome wild life to your garden”; yes, please, invite my wild life to your garden. P.S. our last name, Liska, is the word “fox” in Czech and Slovak. Come see me anytime, Pan Liska (Mr. Fox).

  2. My husband spends the summer finding ways to trap far this Spring he has gotten three..We do not like using poisons to kill the grubs because we have so many birds that seem to enjoy the grubs as well..We don’t have a problem with deer..too many dogs in our neighborhood I think, even tho we are the only ones that don’t have one. We are not in their path but they are all around us..we had a deer run thru our yard last summer with what looked like a small wolf chasing it..

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