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Jack Weiskott, owner of Ornamental Plantings in Southold, said he’s noticed an increase in interest for deer-resistant plants over roughly the past decade. He’s holding the deer-resistant shrub Spiraea japonica. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
Jack Weiskott, owner of Ornamental Plantings in Southold, said he’s noticed an increase in interest for deer-resistant
plants over roughly the past decade. He’s holding the deer-resistant shrub Spiraea japonica. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

“No plants are completely deer-proof,” according to literature published by the Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Hungry deer will consume plants that have little nutritional value.”

For many North Fork residents, that much has become obvious over the past decade as the deer population has exploded throughout the area. Many homeowners’ gardens and plants have been chewed and gnawed year in and year out, and while the deer problem isn’t new this spring by any means, it’s becoming more and more obvious that it’s here to stay.

The particular problems you’re having probably depend on where you live, says Danielle Raby of Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport. Location affects not only the extent to which deer will snack on your shrubs, but exactly what they’ll like to eat, she said.

“It varies based on geography,” Raby explained. The more deer there are in a given area, the more desperate they’ll be for food. Naturally, she said, they’ll open up to eating things they might not eat in another neck of the North Fork woods.

Raby gave skip laurels and honoki cypress as examples of trees that might be considered “hit or miss.”

Both she and Jack Weiskott of Ornamental Plantings in Southold said they started noticing more and more interest in plants that kept away deer about a decade ago.

“Now, the first question I ask the customers is, ‘Do you have a deer problem?’ ” she said.

So how can you protect your garden? A few different options exist. You could build a fence around your property to keep the deer out. While certainly the priciest of the available options, it’s also the surest way to keep deer from chewing up your prized plantings.

But as more farms and residents have chosen this option the past decade, said Weiskott, that’s only pushed more deer to those properties that don’t have the luxury of fencing them out.

People with unfenced yards and gardens are advised to stay away from certain plant species — but there are other choices with a track record of not attracting deer. Spruces, plants with scented foliage and plants with silver foliage are easy go-to’s if you’re looking for something deer are unlikely to eat.

deer repellent products
Deer-repellant products sold at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport.

Cornell University offers tips for homeowners on its website. Links include a full list of plants that deer do and don’t enjoy, lists from other research universities, as well as information about deer repellents — a third way to keep deer out of your garden.

“You need to repeat applications,” said Mark Bridgen, a Cornell professor and director of the Long Island Horticultural Research Center. “Depending on how much rain you get, you’ll want to spray every two or three weeks. And if you forget to reapply, the smell goes away.”

Frequency of spraying isn’t the only important part about using the repellents: switching up the kind you use also helps keep the deer away.

“You have to almost outsmart them a little bit,” said Weiskott.

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Three plants to buy:

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ROBERT PAPRSTEIN
Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ROBERT PAPRSTEIN

Lavender

• Style: Perennial
• Deer resistance rating: A*
• What they said: “I would say the scented foliage — the catmint, the lavender, the sage — are three of the absolute top-selling perennials that deer won’t eat.”

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/DEREK RAMSEY
Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/DEREK RAMSEY

Boxwood

• Style: Shrub
• Deer resistance rating: A*
• What they said: “Basically, they smell like urine to a deer. But it’s hard for a human to smell.”

Mark Bridgen, Cornell University

Credit: Barbaraellen Koch
Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

Andromeda

• Style: Shrub
• Deer resistance rating: A*
• What they said: “It’s an attractive plant and the fact that it’s deer-resistant is key.”

Jack Weiskott, Ornamental Plantings

Three to avoid:

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ DEREK RAMSEY
Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ DEREK RAMSEY

Arborvitae

• Style: Tree
• Deer resistance rating: D*
• What they said: “It’s like chocolate to them; I don’t know why. What makes chocolate tasty? It’s just tasty.”

Danielle Raby, Shade Trees Nursery, Jamesport

Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/SERGE MELKI
Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/SERGE MELKI

Hosta

• Style: Perennial
• Deer resistance rating: D*
• What they said: “They gobble it up like crazy.”

— Jack Weiskott, Ornamental Plantings, Southold

CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY MAGNUS MANSKE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY MAGNUS MANSKE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Day Lily

• Style: Perennial
• Deer resistance rating: C*
• What they said: ”Just as they’re about to open, the deer eat them. It seems to be their modus operandi.”

— Mark Bridgen, Cornell University

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