Deer, Rabbits and Slugs: How to Minimize Their Damage and Enjoy Them

Many gardens have all or some of these critters, loved or hated by all gardeners. This article shows you how to minimize their damage and enjoy them.

Deer and Rabbits:If you like watching them one approach is planting all or a portion of your garden in plants they like such as clover or alfalfa. If you also want to include plants you wish to preserve, use the techniques outlined below in other areas of your garden to deter them.

Prevention is the first approach. Limiting your garden to plants they dislike is the best prevention technique. A brief list of deer, rabbit and slug resistant plants is given at the end. If you want to include plants deer or rabbits would normally damage below are a few ways to deter them:

  • Fencing: a 6′ solid or an 8′ high see through fence will prevent deer, while a 1″ mesh 2′ high fence dug 1′ into the ground will prevent rabbits. The size of the mesh is critical: rabbits can get through even 2 1/2″ mesh!
  • Pellets: They are planted with the plant, giving it a bitter taste animals dislike.
  • Pets: Dogs are a great way to rid your yard of pests, although they must sleep outside to be fully effective. Cats work well for rabbits. Research at the University of Washington on the effectiveness of lions as deterrents shows promising signs, although feeding costs are prohibitive  .

Antler Damage: In Fall/Winter bucks develop new sets of horns coated with “velvet,” which they remove by racking their horns on trees and shrubs. This can totally destroy the shape of a fine specimen in one night. I have noticed fuzzy plants, such as dwarf conifers, to be particular favorites. Temporary fencing made of 5′ tall, chicken wire sleeves on younger tree trunks and stakes (bamboo canes work best for me) at least 5′ high placed every foot around a plant have worked well.

General Guidelines for Deer and Rabbits

Plant plants susceptible to animal damage closer to the house and your guests will be less likely to notice them. Trees and shrubs which would be damaged when young can be protected by encircling them with fencing until they become large enough to prune their limbs up out of reach of deer or rabbits.

Slugs: Slugs prefer moist shady areas, a favorite being under logs. Most slug species which do damage were imported from Europe, the banana slug being an exception. Drought tolerant beds with plants they dislike is the best technique for prevention. Many ornamental grasses fall into this category. Traps are an alternative in areas they would normally thrive. Cory slug bait is effective (and toxic), as is beer in a pie dish regularly replenished. Diatomaceous Earth, reapplied after each rain in circles around susceptible plants is a nontoxic approach.

Deer, Rabbit and Slug Resistant Plant Suggestions:

  • Annuals: Sweet Alyssum, Marigold and Lobelia;
  • Perennials: Lady’s Mantle, Saxifrage (a great groundcover for partial shade), English Daisy (a great addition to lawns) and Cyclamen;
  • Shrubs: Smoke Bush, Daphne, Calycanthus and Heavenly Bamboo;
  • Trees: Cornus Mas, Vine Maple, Madronas, Monkey Puzzle and Liquidambar styraciflua. Cornus Mas is an especially beautiful plant with beautiful fall foliage and magnificent yellow winter bloom.