Things Deer Eat Less of

By Julia Frisbie

posted April 1, 2021

Just because your yard isn’t fenced doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give up on growing things other than grass. There are lots of things you can plant that our local deer will (mostly) leave alone. 

We’ve been plotting against grass since the day we bought our first home. We mulched the backyard in early spring (see previous blog post). The following fall, while spreading arborist chips in the backyard, we did this in the front yard: 

Then we had another 17 cubic yards of compost delivered. Somehow there are no pictures, but it was epic. 

After spreading the compost, I planted a few rhubarb and artichoke plants through the paper layer, and then threw wildflower seeds everywhere else. Fall and winter are the best times to scatter wildflower seeds. The scientific reason is that many of them need the winter cycles of wet/dry and freeze/thaw to break down their tough seed coats and really get their groove on. It’s called scarification. The cultural reason is that this type of parenting makes them feel right at home. Think of wildflower seed heads getting blown around in fall and winter wind storms (and then getting opened by hungry birds at the tail end of winter, who eat the seeds for fast energy right before egg-laying time, and then poop out whichever ones they don’t digest in new places). Whichever line of reasoning you’re more compelled by, sowing wildflowers in the fall and winter makes for a glorious spring and summer: 

We try to grow as much of our food as we can. Here are some edible things I’ve planted in the front yard that deer haven’t bothered: 

  • Artichokes
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus
  • Alliums (onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks)
  • Mediterranean herbs (lavender, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary)
  • Mint (beware, it wanders)
  • Calendula (it’s like confetti, but for salads)
  • Tomatoes (deer nibble the edges, and would probably eat more of them if tomatoes were available in the hungry season, but in the heat of summer there are many things they’d rather munch on, like my arborvitae hedge. Caveat: I plant cherry or grape tomatoes in the front yard by the dozen, so a nibble here or there doesn’t bother me as much as it would if I only had three prize brandywines). 

I like to make bouquets, and my front yard pulls its weight in that department as well. Here are some favorite flowers from my cutting garden that I grow in the front yard because the deer don’t bother them:

  • Snapdragons
  • Zinnias
  • Cosmos
  • Poppies
  • Rudbeckia
  • Lupine
  • Peonies
  • Echinacea
  • Yarrow
  • Narcissus (if you’re not into bright yellow and trumpet-shaped, check out my favorite fancy double-petaled cream-and-apricot variety called “Replete”) 

Believe it or not, the SLUGS AND SNAILS were the ones who ate my narcissus in the front yard last year! I tried beer traps, sluggo, egg shells… forget it. If you mulch as much as I do, slow motion predation by mollusks seems inevitable. This year I’ve called in the special forces. So far they’ve captured our hearts and turned everything to mud. I’ll keep you posted as things develop. 

Julia Frisbie has been gardening in Coast Salish territory for six growing seasons, and is thankful to learn from plants, animals, and people who have been here much longer. She’s grateful to her mom, Anne Kayser, for cultivating her curiosity, and also to Robin Wall Kimmerer for writing the book Braiding Sweetgrass, which transformed her relationship with the more-than-human world. Follow Julia’s micro-farm on Facebook, Instagram, and/or TikTok.

2 thoughts on “Things Deer Eat Less of

  1. Sequoia

    My comment on the not eating asparagus is beware. My sheep LOVE asparagus whether its young and tender or full fledged old fronds. Sheep and deer are both ruminants and seem to have pretty similar tastes, so I think you have just been lucky!!

    Reply
    1. Julia Frisbie

      I bet it’s also more tempting for sheep and deer to munch a big long row of very obvious asparagus. Mine are all spread out and tucked in besides stinky lavender and spiky artichokes. Harder to find.

      Reply

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