Deer-Resistant Landscaping

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Product Description

Every year, before they decide to take defensive action, vulnerable homeowners throughout North America suffer expensive damage as deer and various other pesky mammals devour their gardens and landscape plants. Deer-Resistant Landscaping by Neil Soderstrom arms homeowners with the proven strategies they need to repel and combat deer and 21 other troubling pests, from armadillos, chipmunks, and gophers to rabbits, raccoons, skunks, and squirrels.

Outstanding features include:
strategies for every season and every size pest— from simple, low-cost home remedies, scare tactics, and deterrents to live trapping, barriers, and community action procedures suitable for more intense problems
interviews with and tips from regional gardening and wildlife control experts from coast to coast
encyclopedic coverage of more than 1,000 resistant plants—especially those least likely to be grazed upon or destroyed by deer, based on scientific studies and a consensus of gardening authorities throughout the continent
stunning full-color wildlife photography featuring deer and pest behaviors as well as solutions and deterrents

With more than 400 of the author's own gorgeous wildlife photos as well as ones by the legendary naturalist Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, the most published wildlife photographer in North America, 
Deer-Resistant Landscaping provides the most wide-ranging, authoritative, and helpful information on this topic ever assembled in one volume.

About the Author

NEIL SODERSTROM is a freelance author, editor, photographer, book producer, and author agent specializing in photo-illustrated articles and books for adults and kids. He has published countless articles in national magazines and his gardening photos regularly appear in books and magazines such as HorticultureFine GardeningCountry LivingFamily Circle, and Mother Earth News. He lives in Wingdale, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

chapter 1


One sunny morning in late June, my wife, Hannelore, and I were enjoying breakfast on our garden porch. Were the daylilies twitching? No. The twitching came from the ears of twin whitetail fawns in the daylilies, completing their own breakfast.

One of the twins emerged and pranced playfully in our direction. Upon drawing alongside the porch, it sensed our presence and wheeled to face us. Uncertain what we were, it stomped a front hoof before dashing back to its twin and leading it up the hill into the woods.

A few days later, I sighted the twins in our neighbor's meadow--again with no mother. Contacted by phone, friend and deer authority Leonard Lee Rue III agreed that the fawns must have been orphans. That is, mother deer don't allow their fawns to be abroad by themselves, certainly not by day.

Deer-Vehicle Collisions

In the United States, deer are annually involved in a million or more vehicle collisions that usually result in more than 50 human deaths and more than 20,000 injuries. Collisions peak in fall, during the breeding season, known as the rut, because deer are more active and less cautious then. Near residential areas throughout the year, deer become most active after sunset.

Highway departments can often reduce deer-car collisions by removing plant cover at traditional highway crossing points. As an alternative, broad grass-covered highway overpasses allow deer and other wildlife to cross without dodging traffic. And well-marked crosswalks for deer in some places have reduced vehicle collisions by about 40 percent. Alas, "deer whistles" that attach to front bumpers to emit sounds above the range of human hearing aren't effective in keeping deer out of harm's way, according to State Farm Insurance.


Deer are a hot topic among gardeners, as well as homeowners who simply want to protect whatever plants they have. Besides damaging plants, deer cause car accidents and introduce ticks to residential areas.

All deer can become accustomed to human activity, but mule deer tend to be calmer and more trusting of people than blacktails and whitetails. As a result, mule deer are more likely to be seen by day raiding gardens.

Lectures on deer-resistant strategies bring standing-room-only audiences, especially gardeners, for good reason. People can lose vegetable and- ornamental gardens overnight. As ruminants, deer feed until their rumen (the first of four stomach chambers) is full before retiring to chew their cud. The rumen can hold roughly 2 gallons of plant material, which author Rue has determined can weigh 16 to 18 £ds. So during a single visit to your hostas or daylilies, one deer can do a devastating job.

* Order: Artiodactyla

* Suborder: Ruminata

* Family: CERVIDAE

* Genus:Odocoileus

* Species: 2

* Subspecies: 24

In a short time, deer browsing on trees and shrubs can require costly replacements and greatly reduce property values. Although these problems have a common thread throughout North America, they often differ somewhat from region to region and from season to season.

Deer overpopulation results in overbrowsed wild plants, forcing deer to risk daytime feeding in residential areas. Where wild food is more plentiful, deer usually avoid residential areas until after sunset when people and pets are indoors. The doe shown at the birdfeeder had grown so accustomed to people that it was willing to be enclosed by deck fencing while being photographed. (Photos by Lennie and Uschi Rue III)

Prior to the fall breeding season, bucks rub velvet from their antlers by violently sparring with shrubs, breaking many branches. Bucks also rub tree trunks, removing enough bark to mortally wound most trees, but these rubs seldom occur near residences.

In many regions, deer overpopulation is a bigger problem in wild areas than it is in residential areas. Ironically, encroachment of houses on former wildlands establishes ideal habitat by creating open feeding areas near woodsy cover that harbors no natural deer predators and is off-limits to hunters.


Over millions of years, deer in the Americas have served an important role. In many regions, they've been a major link in the food chain between plants and larger predators.

Deer predators include carnivores such as timber wolves, red wolves, cougars, bobcats, lynx, coyotes, and feral dogs. Fawns sometimes fall victim to bears, foxes, wolverines, fishers, eagles, and alligators. The most efficient predator of blacktails and mule deer is the cougar, which may routinely consume a deer per week. Over millennia, as deer populations increased, predators helped keep those populations in relative balance with plant resources--that is, at the land's ideal biological carrying capacity. Absence of natural predators has since thrown deer populations and their supporting habitat way off balance.

These five photos show distinctions among the four members of North America's deer family. All males grow and shed their antlers annually. Top right to bottom are bull moose, elk, and caribou; females are called cows. The two left-hand photos illustrate some differences between the two genera of deer we call "deer." Their males are bucks, and their females are does (pronounced DOZE). Shown during the fall breeding season, the top pair are whitetails; note the buck's forward-curving main antler beam on each side. At bottom left, a Rocky Mountain mule deer buck courts a doe. His antlers form double Ys on each side. (Photos by Lennie and Uschi Rue III)

Today, deer overpopulation among whitetails has proven almost disastrous in many wild areas. Deciduous forestlands with good fertility are usually capable of supporting up to about 15 deer per square mile. Beyond that number, whitetails tend to overbrowse understory plants essential to that ecosystem. In overbrowsed areas, amphibians and insects have no cover. And insects that are dependent on a particular plant species have no palatable food. Birds and other wildlife dependent on those same insects must move on or starve.

Today, some forestlands and other areas are afflicted by more than 200 whitetails per square mile. There, pathetically malnourished deer devour virtually all plants to a height of 7 feet. In winter, many of these weakened deer die of starvation. In addition, overcrowding leads to the spread of diseases and parasites.


Technically, the Deer family (Cervidae) in North America includes caribou, el k, moose, and the smaller cousins we call deer--the principal subject of this book. North of Mexico, the total population of the two species we call deer averages about 40 million.

Caribou range in the Far North in large migrating herds that don't browse home gardens. Elk live mainly on wildlife refuges but can venture off the refuge to cause problems for gardeners and commercial growers. Although both elk and moose sometimes ravage home gardens, their populations are spotty and small within limited ranges. Even so, many of the same strategies for outwitting deer can succeed in outwitting elk and moose.


North America's two deer species are in the same genus: Odocoileus (pronounced oh-dough-COY-lee-us). In his Deer of North America, Rue explains that the genus name, Odocoileus, arose from a spelling mistake. That is, in 1832, French-American naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque meant to describe the deer's fossilized concave (hollow) tooth in Greek, and so should have spelled it "Odontocoelus" instead. But first names stick. The species name, virginianus, acknowledges Virginia because Rafinesque found that fossilized tooth there.

Of the two species of deer, the more populous is known as whitetail (O. virginianus), today numbering about 30 million. There are 17 officially recognized subspecies north of Mexico, depending on who is officiating. Whitetails inhabit all contiguous states and all provinces, though principally east of the Rockies. The other roughly 10 million native deer are of the same species: O. hemionus. In Greek, hemionus means "mule" or "part-ass," an apparent reference to the large ears. These deer are westerners known either as mule deer or blacktails. Of the seven subspecies, five have "mule deer" in their common name, and two have "blacktail" in their name.

Whitetails. Maps and captions on the next page indicate the 17 traditionally recognized subspecies of whitetails north of Mexico. However, relocation efforts by game commissions in the early 1900s mixed gene pools significantly, tainting "pedigrees" and blurring regional boundaries.

Which species came first? Based on DNA testing of fossilized bones, scientists believe that the deer we call the whitetail, or a very similar species, first appeared more than 3 million years ago on the Central Plains of North America. That's more than 1 million years before Hawaii's Oahu arose from the Pacific.

Understanding Deer Ranges

These range maps show distributions of the two genera of deer we call "deer." Subspecies are identified by a third Latinized scientific name, usually also by a unique common name that often identifies the region.

The first species in each genus to be named scientifically is known as the "type species." Its subspecies name repeats the species name, as in Odocoileus virginianus virginianus.

In the 20th century, many taxonomists recognized 17 subspecies of whitetails (Odocoileus virginianus) north of Mexico. However, translocation efforts by game commissions in the early 1900s mixed gene pools, significantly blurring deer "pedigrees" and regional boundaries.

Depending on the taxonomist, there are five to eight subspecies of blacktails and mule deer (Odocoileus heminonus).

The genus/species ranges in each map are based on maps in Wild Mammals of North America, second edition; George A. Feldhamer, Bruce C. Thomson, Joseph A. Chapman, editors (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). Mid 20th- century ranges of whitetail subspecies are based on The Outdoor Life Deer Hunter's Encyclopedia, Neil Soderstrom, editor and producer (Outdoor Life Books, 1985).


Left: These New Jersey whitetails carry DNA from multiple subspecies because of translocations in the 1900s. (Photo by Lennie and Uschi Rue III) Right: Regardless of deer species, young trees need the protection of wire surrounds anchored by rebar or else diligent applications of repellent. (Photo by Douglas W. Tallamy)


That earliest whitetail is considered a marvel in evolutionary design and adaptability. It managed to survive essentially unchanged over those millions of years in spite of the advance and retreat of major glaciers; in spite of extreme changes in climates and weather; in spite of enormous wildfires; and in spite of giant carnivores that failed to survive the Continent's megafaunal extinctions of 7,000 to 12,500 years ago.

Which species came second? About 2 million years ago, whitetails in what's now the California region must have become isolated by glaciers, according to Valerius Geist, in his Deer of the World. No doubt the glacial isolation was reinforced by the already present Rocky Mountains.

Evolutionary Time Line It's fun to consider these time perspectives. Years Ago 70-40 million Rockies are formed. 65 million Dinosaurs disappear. 4-3 million Whitetails appear on the Central Plains. 2,000,000 Blacktails appear in today's California region, as Hawaii's Oahu rises from the Pacific. 1.5 million First humans appear in Africa. 12,500-7,000 Major extinctions of giant predators occur in North America. 10,000 Mule deer appear (actually hybrids of whitetail bucks and blacktail does). 600 Total North American deer population is 40 million. 100 Total North American deer population is less than 1 million.

In isolation, species often evolve traits and appearances that are distinct from those of their ancestors. Speculating now, it seems logical that those isolated "California whitetails" of 2 million years ago in rocky, mountainous terrain would have been at a disadvantage when fleeing predators if they continued to use the long, leaping escape stride of today's whitetails. That leaping stride is better suited for plains and woodlands.

Those isolated mountain deer had to escape large carnivores by dashing up rocky slopes, which would favor a rock-hopping running style. Rock-hopping also requires sudden zigzags, which must have thrown big predators off stride. To rock-hop well, all four hooves need to land essentially at once before the next sudden bounce at any trajectory in any direction. Deer that mastered this pogo-stick, boing-boing escape style lived to breed. And they taught their skills after passing the "skill genes" to their offspring. This running style is today known as stotting, and it evolved as the predominant running style of deer in the California region that are today called blacktails.

In addition, the relatively open, rocky terrain may have rewarded bucks with higher and wider antlers than are practical for escape in dense cover of woodlands. Importantly, higher and wider antlers help bucks assert dominance and thus breeding rights over other bucks. Coincidentally, larger display antlers usually improve a buck's appeal to does interested in breeding.

Whatever the reasons for those two major evolutionary modifications, DNA tests show that a deer much like today's blacktails evolved in the California region.

And this DNA revelation overturned 20th-century rationale for species classification of western deer. Until just recently, blacktails were assumed to be a small subspecies of mule deer. Instead, DNA testing has shown that mule deer began as hybrids of whitetails and blacktails where their ranges overlapped a mere 10,000 years ago, not 2 million years ago. Perhaps not just coincidentally, that hybridization occurred during the great North American megafaunal extinctions of giant carnivores, allowing the earliest hybrids time and space to evolve escape skills, which modern hybrids often lack.


Whitetails are considered a marvel in evolutionary terms because they have changed so little in 3 million years. They changed little because they could adapt to extremes of climate, habitat, weather, and fire, as well as the changing cast of predators that evolved with them. However, by the early 1900s, the world's most efficient predators--human hunters-- had almost caused the whitetail's extinction.

Why the name? Whitetail subspecies all have a large pendantlike tail with a snowy-white underside, which they "flag" upright when agitated and when fleeing. The white underside appears even larger and brighter because white hairs on the rump patch become flared as well.

The magnificent white "flag" has helped whitetails survive millennia of fleet-footed predators in many ways: (1) The flag provides a silent "alert" signal to fawns and other feeding herd members. (2) It helps mothers with hidden newborns decoy predators away. (3) The white flag helps traveling fawns and yearlings keep track of their mother, especially at night, when fleeing through dense vegetation. (4) And, this is my guess, the white tail continually rises above low, dense vegetation during leaping strides, helping the also leaping fawns and yearlings see the flag that low-running wolves, coyotes, and cougars have a hard time seeing through vegetation.

Running escape styles. Whitetails can adapt their running style to the current need. They can employ a rotary gallop in short bursts much like a quarter horse and reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour. They often use this racehorse speed to reach open areas where they can easily gain distance between themselves and far slower wolves and dogs.

When agitated and during flight, whitetails usually "flag" their namesake tail, revealing its white underside, while simultaneously flaring their rump patch. (Photo by Lennie and Uschi Rue III)

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