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Garden Help Desk: What can I grow that deer will ignore?

By USU Extension - | Sep 17, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Supporting tomatoes and peppers with stakes or trellises can reduce plant damage and protect leaf coverage for fruits.

I am trying to design our garden and need to know what plants need protection from the deer (fencing, etc.) and which do not. I can you give me a list of vegetables and fruits deer do NOT like to eat. I have found a useful list of good trees and shrubs on the USU Extension website, but no list for palatability of fruits and vegetables.

As you probably know, there are no deer-proof plants, ornamental or edible. Hungry deer will eat whatever they can find, but there are some edibles that they’re less likely to bother if they have other options.

Deer are less inclined to eat strongly scented or pungent herbs and vegetables, and they will leave plants that have thorny or prickly structures untouched unless they’re desperate. Other less favored foods include anything in the onion family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks), artichokes, squash, cucumbers, kale, tomatoes, peppers and potato plants. That said, I walked past some bell pepper plants the other day that deer had been sampling.

Deer are less likely to eat aromatic herbs like basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro if other foods are available.

As for fruits you can grow that deer don’t like, I’m afraid they are very partial to all the tree fruits and berries. Deer are also very fond of most plants in the broccoli family, pumpkins, carrot and beet tops, lettuce, spinach, corn, beans, peas and many other vegetables that we grow.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Undersized plants can expose pepper fruits to hot, direct sun. Providing plants with adequate fertilizer and deep, infrequent watering will improve plant growth and leaf coverage.

So, what is the takeaway here? If you want to grow fruits and vegetables in your landscape, and you know that deer visit your neighborhood, you’ll need to protect your edibles with fencing, sturdy row cover, or some other kind of exclusion unless you’re willing to share with the local wildlife.

I put a fence around my garden bed, but something ate my pepper plant anyway. What happened?

It looks like a hungry deer harvested some of your bell peppers. Peppers aren’t one of their favorite foods, but if a deer is hungry and not finding enough food and water elsewhere, a juicy, crispy bell pepper will be irresistible.

Your fencing is great for keeping your plants from leaning out of the raised bed, but the openings are too large to protect your veggies from deer and other wildlife. You can fit your fist through the openings, which means that just about any local critter can fit through or at least squeeze their nose through to have a snack. Next year, try securing chicken wire or a fine-mesh hardware cloth to your fencing, and I think you’ll have better luck.

Some of my peppers have thin brown patches on them. Is this a disease? Should I spray my other peppers to protect them?

Courtesy photo

When deer are a problem, it's important to use fencing and screening materials that will block their access to garden plants.

There’s no need to spray. This isn’t a disease, it’s sunscald, AKA sunburn. Direct exposure to midday or afternoon sun during the summer can raise the surface temperature of peppers, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables by as much as 25 to 30 degrees above air temperature, overheating small areas of the fruit surface and killing that part of the fruit.

Sunburn on vegetables can be reduced or prevented in a few ways:

  • Look for sunscald-resistant varieties. They may be sturdier and bushier, providing leaf coverage for developing fruits.
  • Provide your plants with adequate (but not excess) fertilizer and deep, infrequent watering to promote robust growth, healthy plants and enough of foliage to shade the fruits.
  • Use stakes, trellises, or sturdy cages to support your plants so that they don’t bend or break, opening up the plants and exposing the fruits to direct sun.
  • Scout frequently for pests and diseases that could defoliate your plants or cause their leaves to curl, exposing fruits to the sun.
  • Consider using 20-30% shade cloth over your peppers and tomatoes once they have started to set fruit.
  • Be careful when harvesting. Avoid breaking away leaves, branches and vines that could have provided shade for developing fruits.

Don’t throw away the peppers and tomatoes that have a little sunburn on them. Once you trim away the damage, the rest of the fruit is still useable.

Without good leaf coverage, peppers can sunburn unless shade cloth, paper lunch sacks or some other sun protection is used.

A gap between leaves can expose a section of a pepper to direct sun at a critical time during the day. A sturdy, healthy plant with a leafy canopy can prevent this.


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