By planting the right foliage, homeowners can either create a landscape that's a tasty smorgasbord for deer and other wildlife or one that is so unappealing that they'll go elsewhere for a snack.
Researchers have identified many landscape plants that deer either relish or dislike. They've also identified plants that can recover when deer do browse on them."Any time you construct homes on traditional wintering and foraging areas for deer, browsing by mule deer is a problem," said Dennis Austin, a wildlife biologist of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources who collaborates in big-game research with Utah State University.
Austin has categorized more than 100 landscape plants according to deer preference and ability to withstand browsing. Many native shrubs preferred by deer thrive when browsed on and also attract birds and other wildlife.
Native shrubs have other advantages as well.
"From an aesthetic point of view, native plants are an overlooked resource. Many have color, texture and functional attributes equivalent to horticultural varieties," said Craig Johnson, USU professor of landscape architecture. "They are also more winter hardy and resist insects and diseases better than many horticultural varieties." Many are also drought resistant.
Native shrubs such as black sagebrush and Mexican cliffrose generally recover from browsing. Plants most susceptible to permanent damage by deer are evergreen conifers, junipers, pines, firs and spruces.
Ornamental plants that mule deer avoid are Norway and silver maples, white ash, daisies and buttercups.
Austin and Allan Hash, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, evaluated the extent of deer browsing on plants in landscaped yards on foothill benches near Layton and Bountiful. They reported their findings in Utah Science, a quarterly magazine from the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station at USU.
The only way to prevent browsing completely is to surround the yard with a fence at least 71/2 feet high and to keep gates closed. Other tactics, such as repellents, aren't completely effective, Austin said.