Keeping yards resistant to deer

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Okotoks: Many species of plants, trees can help keep wildlife out of residential areas

A growing deer population has some residents concerned about safety, and others wondering what they can do to keep the wild animals out of their yards.

Dan Blaaberg, owner of Beaver Dam Nursery, said deer are attracted to any sweet and plentiful plants, particularly tulips first thing in the spring as well as roses, apples and cherries.

“Also things like nasturtiums and pansies,” said Blaaberg. “Anything we could eat as a salad they like to eat, even down to eating the flowers off petunia plants.”

As far as what they won’t eat, he said some reliable options are potentillas, willows, barberries because of the thorns, and dogwood – though they will eat its new growth. They will also steer clear of poisonous plants such as caraganas and monkshood, he said.

There was a time junipers and pines were safe from gorging deer, as the plants incapacitate the animals and leave them susceptible to predators. But that’s changed over the past few years, he said.

“Out in the wild you don’t see the junipers or the pines being eaten by the deer, because if they eat them they can’t run away and if a predator comes they’ll be somebody’s dinner,” said Blaaberg. “But in town, the deer feel they’re perfectly safe to be unable to function, and they’ll eat something they wouldn’t normally eat.

“They don’t have any fear of a predator coming and taking them out.”

There are some commercial sprays available on the market that can be used to deter the deer from eating plants, he said. Lots of people have taken to installing fencing around their gardens, he said.

It’s a far cry from a few years ago, when people could plant what they wanted and if a deer did happen to stop by it might eat one or two rosebuds off the bush, he said.

“But now it’s like you have three or four in the yard for an hour or two, and there’s not much left by the time they’re done,” said Blaaberg.

A lot of people have chosen to forego vegetable garden plots in their yards recently for the same reason, he said. By the time lettuce or other vegetables have grown and are ready to eat, they usually fall prey to deer or rabbits before they can be harvested.

Some trees are also a concern, as male deer use the trunks to clean the felt off their antlers in the fall, he said. A lot of people visit the nursery with stories of trees with bark stripped off by deer antlers, which not only damages the trunk but often leads to the tops of the trees being killed as well, he said.

“You’re not just dealing with making sure they won’t eat it, you’re also dealing with the other damage that happens on occasion,” said Blaaberg.

It’s the same story in the town’s river valley, said Okotoks arbourist Gordon White.

The Town has to diversify the trees it plants in its urban forest, because planting just one species could leave the entire forest susceptible to certain diseases or insects, he said, but some of those trees are attractive for the deer.

“Some they like to eat and some they like to rub their antlers on and some they like to do both,” said White. “But it’s important to diversify, so in some cases, yes, we’re planting stuff the deer like and having to fence it off for a few years.”

A list of deer-resistant plants can be found at www.okotoks.ca.

There are some species not found on the Town’s list that are also resistant, said Gordon. They include: perennials – shasta daisy, Bergenia, lamb’s ear, sage, peony, chives, lady mantle, blanket flower and ostrich fern; trees – Ohio buckeye, mountain pine, bur oak and Colorado spruce; shrubs – barberry, potentilla, elder berry, cranberry and wayfaring.

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