Craig Everett

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) provide abundant recreation opportunities for hunters and wildlife watchers. Unfortunately, they can also cost us millions of dollars every year.

Imagine you are driving down a poorly lit road at night, when suddenly a deer appears on the road in front of you. Despite your honking and screeching brakes, the animal remains frozen in its tracks, exhibiting to perfection “the deer in headlights look.”

Deer vehicle collisions are incredibly dangerous and often costly. Now is the time when deer are on the move, and extra caution is advised when out on the roadways.

So, what is happening in November that increases the chances of Ohio motorists colliding with deer?

Some people may think that hunting causes an increase in deer movement, particularly across roads and highways, but this is not always the case. Research conducted in Pennsylvania of deer wearing GPS radio collars were tracked during the weeks before, during, and after muzzleloader and firearms seasons. The research concluded there were no changes in deer activity patterns due to the hunting season. However, the study did note deer may increase movement while under intense hunting pressure. Normally, though, deer stay within their normal home ranges. Deer are on the move at this time of year for other reasons.

Possibly the biggest reason for the increase in deer movement is the breeding season (rut), which takes place October through December in Ohio. In November, deer are entering the peak of their breeding season. Males are actively searching for mates, which frequently bring them across roadways. The total distance a single deer moves during a 24-hour period varies from one to four miles, but that distance is increased dramatically in males during the breeding season. While some female deer may take a brief breeding excursion outside their normal range in search of a mate, the majority stay put and do not travel more than normal during the breeding season.

Another factor that can contribute to increased deer movements is food availability. This time of year, deer need to increase food consumption in preparation for winter. Depending on the available resources in their home range, deer may have to travel farther to find enough food — including your backyard.

A colleague of mine said the deer are destroying his landscape, and it’s expensive to replant every year.

Leonard Perry, horticulture professor, University of Vermont, gives his insight on deer resistant plants for the landscape. Deer get about one third of their water from moisture in plants. Therefore, they often go for new growth, usually on the outer parts of plants, such as new leaves and buds.

There are almost no plants that are “deer-proof,” but merely resistant. Resistant plants will vary with region, deer pressure, food source, and deer preferences. Which plants are resistant will also vary depending on the season of the year. When deer are hungry in early spring, especially after a long, hard winter, most anything green (such as your tulips) is a treat.

Woody landscape plants to avoid include arborvitae, euonymus (burning bush), forsythia, roses, saucer magnolia, and yews. Herbaceous plants to avoid include clematis, crocus, dahlias, daylilies, hostas, impatiens, iris, peonies, phlox, vinca, and trillium. Lilies and tulips are known as deer bon-bon candy.

Trees generally resistant to deer include buckeyes, honey locust, pines, river birch and spruce. Some shrubs that are generally deer resistant include barberries (considered invasive, and not planted, in many areas), bush cinquefoil, evergreen hollies, junipers, lilacs, spireas, and viburnums.

Some herbaceous plants to consider as resistant include astilbe, barrenwort, bee balm, blanket flower, bleeding heart, columbine, dead nettle, false indigo, ferns, globe thistle, hellebore, hollyhock, lungwort, lupine, meadowsweet, monkshood, mugwort, peony, primrose, purple coneflower, Russian sage, Siberian bugloss, speedwell, sunflower and yarrow.

Most ornamental grasses are considered deer resistant, including blue fescue, little bluestem, blue oat grass, maiden grass, reed grass and panic grass.

Many bulbs generally are deer resistant, and include daffodils, fritillaries, Dutch iris, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, squill and alliums.

Deer generally avoid plants with a strong aroma that hurts their delicate sense of smell, with fuzzy leaves such as lamb’s ears, prickly leaves such as evergreen hollies, or with a bitter or alkaloid taste, such as yarrows. Other plants deer tend to steer from include aromatic plants. Some aromatic or fragrant plants that generally deter deer include catmint, chives, lavender, mind, sage and thyme.

Craig Everett