top of page

Deer, rabbits, dogs

Although human use accounts for the greatest loss of our natural landscape in Northern Virginia, deer run a close second in the disappearance of vegetation, not only in natural areas, but in home landscapes as well. As deer populations continue to expand, woods are being stripped of the vegetation that other wildlife depend on. 

The most our local landscape can support is 15-20 deer per square mile, but much of Northern Virginia is suffering under the burden of 60-100 deer per square mile, a human-induced phenomenon. We need to help the rest of the living world to fight back!

Plant native plants! There are many NOVA natives that are relatively unpalatable to deer and that make a good choice in deer-ridden environments. The ones that are vulnerable to deer need our protection. Give them a place to grow! Those deer-sensitive plants such as Viburnums, whose berries are so valuable for migrating birds but which are largely missing now from our woods, are on average more important to the ecosystem than the deer-resistant plants.

Here's what you can do:

1= Resistant to deer browse


2= Somewhat resistant to deer browse


3= Moderately vulnerable to deer browse

4= Considerably vulnerable to deer browse

5= Highly vulnerable to deer browse.

Help expand the list—
take the deer survey!

If deer have been a problem in your landscape, add your observations of which plants are browsed the most or the least. You may view the tally of other people's responses after you submit your results. Be a good citizen scientist—only check the box for plants you can identify accurately by species and which you have personally observed closely enough to know about deer damage​

​​​Protect your plants! Here are seven ways to keep deer away from your plants.


1. Fencing. The only completely reliable protection is a fence. Six feet might do, eight feet is safer. Home supply stores sell a tough black plastic mesh in rolls for this purpose which is nearly invisible when seen from a distance and which can be attached to trees or posts.

2. Temporary enclosures. Newly planted trees and shrubs may be protected by cages made out of wire fence cloth, which you can buy by the roll.

​3. A barrier of deer-resistant plants. Some people have had good success with first establishing a bed of plants that deer find distasteful, then planting other plants inside it. As the deer snuff along the ground, they turn away from plants they don't much like, such as Mountain Mint, Yarrow, Golden Ragwort, Boneset, Lyre-leaf Sage, Gray Goldenrod, and native grasses.

4. Repellants. It works best to use multiple strategies at once and to rotate products periodically.

5. Smelly sprays.  Usually based on "putrescent egg solids," sometimes mixed with other oils such as rosemary or lavender, and a spreader sticker.  Must be re-applied periodically, usually every 30 days.

6. Granules such as Deer Scram. These are applied to the ground monthly.

7. Capsaican tablets. These are put into the ground in spring. As the plant grows, the roots take up the capsaicin, which makes the leaves less palatable.


8. Pin small plant plugs down with garden staples.


9. Motion activated sprinklers - can be quite effective, if you have a hookup with good water pressure.

10. Solar-powered electric fence set-up - an easy, inexpensive, effective, and under-utlized alternative. This YouTube video explains.


 Netting over the garden bed is relatively effective, but NOT recommended. Birds and other animals may get caught in it, with gruesome consequences.

Learn more about the effect of deer on the environment.

York and blue flowers April 28, 2011.jpg

Dealing with dogs

Dogs can be hard on plants. Dogs scratch and dig, make trails through the yard, and their poo and pee can kill even trees. Washing the area immediately helps, but that is impractical for dogs that live in the yard. It helps to put new shrubs in cages until they are well established. Dogs tend to avoid plants with thorns and spines. But they need somewhere to relieve themselves, so give them a place to pee, such as a boulder or a "fire hydrant."


We asked people what plants they have had that stood up to the dogs and received these reports:


Eurybia divaricata

Packera aurea

Phlox stolonifera

Zizia aurea


Parthenociccus quinquefolia


Amorpha fruticosa

Aronia melanocarpa

Corylus americana

Hamamelis virginiana

Hydrangea arborescens

Ilex opaca

Ilex verticillata

Lindera benzoin

Sambucus canadensis

Viburnum dentatum

bottom of page