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Oh My Deer!

"Doe and Fawn" by Dorothy Ray

Are you living in a neighborhood or rural space where deer are common visitors?  That is the human perspective of seeing the deer in and around your abode, deer as visitors. Looking through the deer eyes, we all can see that someone has placed a home of humans on the well-traveled route of these wandering deer. These humans also plant flowers and water them so they stay lush.  The deer call these plants forage. If you are a little curious about how to live with deer, let’s look into what are their needs in a typical day, in a word, habitat.

Ample food, decent shelter and the opportunity to procreate represent good habitat for most species. For deer, the edge of the forest used to be a good place to live. Shelter under the trees and roaming the sunny edges for food. Deer are browsers even more than grazers and before the local forests were changed into the plantations of today, much browse was available for them to eat. Their appetite for particular foods changes with the season.  Bucks need to bulk up before the Fall rut and the does need extra nutrition in the Spring, especially after they drop their fawns. In today’s world, the best food is often found in the suburbs. Herbaceous perennials and annuals, called forbs, are likely the largest share of a deer’s diet whether native or human grown. In Autumn, mushrooms and lichens are sought out and, In the winter here on the coast, forbs are mostly out of season and so deer return to browsing woody shrubs.  Much nutrition is found in buds on shrubs and trees.  Common forest management tolerates no competition in the forest, against its chosen seedling trees, and the flowering, budding native species plants are mostly eliminated by pesticide. This leaves little of the native foods for deer in or near the forest and so they must wander, looking for forage.

If the deer travel through your neighborhood, you are on part of their “route.”  They are comfortable in familiar territory and have chosen feeding, watering and sleeping spots on their route.  They evolved to move around, giving their food plants time to grow back after being browsed and preventing deer manure from becoming concentrated in one area. Extremely good senses and  their herd lifestyle hones their awareness of threats around them. Predators keep deer moving instead of congregating, preventing contagious disease and continually improve the herd genetics. According to a recent ODFW (Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife) webpage, over half of deer mortality is due to predators, about 1/3 of mortality is human take, 6 percent to poachers and only about 2-3 percent are killed by automobiles.  Seems the deer have calculated the risks and feel safer in town. Any town dogs the deer encounter are generally small and non-threatening as most towns won’t condone large dogs running loose, chasing deer or anything else. Deer see even small dogs as predators, perhaps designer coyotes, and this is troublesome as any dog may be attacked or even killed by deer. The presence of dogs at our Stillwater Natives nursery and in our orchard has kept our farm deer-free, for now anyway.

Planting a landscape with deer in mind is an option. It feels awful having to sacrifice your favorite plants to them. Fencing is expensive, so perhaps fence or cage only the most valuable plants such as your vegetable garden or a beloved rose bush.  Caging for the first several years might be wise for small trees so they can get to 5 or 6 feet and then grow beyond the reach of deer. Planting in numbers is helpful, deer will browse a plant only briefly before moving on.  If you have only one or two tasty species, they will nibble it every time. If you have 5 or 7, it is not as interesting to them. Go a little further and create areas where they can eat, grazing on a lawn made of forbs such as Selfheal, Cow clover, violets with a little native grass for stability. Keep their trail open unless it goes through your yard.  Then it is possible to re-direct them to the new trail by enticing them with one their favorites: anything in the Rosacea Family: nootka rose, Douglas spirea, crabapple, berries. Also tasty are legumes, two native ones being Deer vetch and Cow clover.


Sadly, blacktail deer populations have been in decline since the1980’s, decimated by the change in logging patterns when it became evident that widespread logging had a direct and detrimental impact on habitat for the surveyed species: salmon, spotted owls and marbled murrelets. As a result, private timberlands began to be harvested much more intensely. Forests around towns no longer can provide sustenance or shelter for deer. Clear-cut land that was and is replanted with hybrid strains of single species conifers further reduced forest biodiversity.  Plantation forests have mostly huckleberry, salal, and sword ferns as understory plants with not much nutritional value for deer. ODFW’s Wildlife Research Supervisor for western Oregon, DeWaine Jackson, says “There is no way to put a mortality factor on habitat, but biologists believe that is the single greatest limiting factor on population growth.”     

By Darcy Grahek

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Pat R.
Pat R.
Jan 30

Our deer are on the Honor System. We give them our June Drop and they don’t jump the fence into the garden.

(June Drop extends into September)


Jan 28

Just a couple of my daily regulars!!


Biodynamic propagation of  plants, plugs and

seeds. Ready for your gardens, pollinators,

restorations, hedgerows, or rain gardens.

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