How to: garden in areas visited by deer

Do deer wreak havoc in your garden or on your bush regeneration site? If you do, you're not alone! The Illawarra region is currently besieged by several species of feral deer, which have colonised the escarpment and are now moving down into the suburbs. They do immense amounts of damage. Deer can eat and destroy seedlings, trample understorey plants, knock over saplings, and even (fatally) ringbark larger trees.
This by no means the worst a deer can do to a young tree! Image by Judy Lockhart.
Absent a comprehensive regional eradication program, individual landholders are reduced to dealing with the problem garden by garden, and block by block, at our own expense. It shouldn't be this way, but in the meantime, what can you do to repel deer? 

There are no easy answers. Fencing your property is one option, though many type of fence will also keep out other species such as wallabies and echidnas. Fencing that is relatively open for the first metre above the ground is more likely to allow other animals to visit. 
The informal fencing used on this bush regeneration site  is made of weed materials such as Lantana and Privet, woven together to create a temporary barrier. It is designed to exclude deer and wallaby but would also stop other terrestrial animals such as echidnas. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Another possibility is protecting individual plants, although this is labour intensive and also rather unsightly. Protection can be provided using commercially available plant guards, lengths of chicken wire or a range of other materials. For example, fallen branches, branches from woody weeds such as Lantana, carpet offcuts, bamboo matting, prickly plants or even unpalatable shrubs and grasses could be used to surround a plant. 
Creatively re-used bamboo matting is used to protect this Pink Hibiscus (H. splendens).  Image by Judy Lockhart.
It is also possible to use a combination of plant guards and other materials to deter deer.
Here a plastic tree guard is supplemented with the spiny climber Cockspur Thorn (Maclura cochinchinensis). While effective, this approach is not suitable in
 any area where the spines may hurt people! Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Local plant species that can help deter deer from attacking tree trunks include: 
  • Cockspur Thorn (Maclura cochinchinensis, pictured above)
  • Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), which forms extensive mats with tall waving seed-heads that deer will not touch.
  • Stout Bamboo Grass (Austrostipa ramossisima), which can reach 2m high or more.
  • The native Raspberries (Rubus spp.) The species that are rarely used in cultivation because they are too spiny or prickly could be of particular value: Molucca Bramble (R. moluccanus var. trilobus) and Bush Lawyer (R. nebulosus).
  •  Knobby Club-rush (Ficinia nodosa)
  • Tough and sharp-leaved sedges such as the Gahnias (e.g. Red-fruited Sword-sedge, Gahnia sieberi) or the Sword-sedges (Lepidosperma spp.). 
  • Bracken Fern (Pteridium esculentum) - who knew it had a practical use? 
Weeping Grass is one species that can be grown around the base of trees or shrubs to help protect them. Its spiky seeds, present from May to January or so, are not liked at all by deer. For the rest of the year, however, this species would provide less protection. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Careful plant selection may reduce the risk of damage by deer, but even plants that are not palatable to deer are often ringbarked or otherwise destroyed by them. Some shrub and tree species that have a reputation as unpalatable to deer include 

  • Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa)
  • Mock Olive (Notelaea venosa and N. longifolia), which are also outstandingly tough small trees
  • Cabbage Palm (Livistona australis)
  • Veiny Wilkiea (Wilkeia huegeliana)
  • Prickly-leaved Paperbark (Melaleuca styphelioides
  • The native Solanum shrubs such as Kangaroo Apple (S. aviculare) or Devil's Needles (S. stelligerum)
  • Native Tamarind (Dipologlottis australis) - though in my experience deer will happily rub their antlers against the trunks, so they still need to be protected from that type of damage
  • Koda (Ehretia acuminata)
  • Rainforest Senna (Senna acclinis
  • Guioa (Guioa semiglauca) - deer will eat this if they are very hungry!

Thinking ahead, it is worth writing to local and state governments to complain about the deer problem and request that a proper eradication program be funded. 

How are you tackling deer on your property? Do you have any suggestions to add? 

Note: Thanks to Patrician Nagle for input on species unpalatable to deer. 

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