Oh deer! Roses, tulips and holly the favourite snacks for garden invaders

Swapping your tulips for daffodils may help prevent damage to displays from hungry deer in the garden, horticultural experts have suggested.

Gardeners blighted by roe, muntjac or fallow deer may also want to give up on growing prize roses and instead pick plants they do not seem to like so much, such as Daphne, red hot pokers and butterfly bushes.

With sightings of deer in urban areas on the increase, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has surveyed members to see which of the mammals they are seeing in their gardens and what kind of damage they are causing.

Nearly 800 gardeners completed the survey from across the country, with 2,000 records of the effects of hungry deer on 185 popular garden plants.

Tulips are at a high risk of being eaten (RHS/Lee Beel/PA)
Tulips are at a high risk of being eaten (RHS/Lee Beel/PA)

The survey found roe deer were the most commonly sighted, in 65% of gardens, followed by Reeves’ muntjac which were seen in 41% of gardens, while fallow deer were spotted in 9% of the gardens of people responding.

If they could see deer had tucked into a plant, people were asked to record the amount of damage on a sliding scale from untouched to impossible to grow.

Where there were more than 65 entries for a plant, the researchers used the scores submitted to work out a percentage likelihood of it being eaten.

It revealed that some popular plants faced a major risk of damage – with a more than 40% chance of being chomped – including tulips, roses and holly.

But 85 plants were largely shunned, with a minimal or less than 20% risk of damage, including daffodils, bay, primula and nerine.

In the case of daffodils, they are known to be mildly toxic, which could account for why they are less appealing to deer.

Daffodils are largely shunned by deer (RHS/Adam Duckworth/PA)
Daffodils are largely shunned by deer (RHS/Adam Duckworth/PA)

While what deer eat will also depend on what is in the garden they visit, the experts hope the findings help highlight which plants are the most popular with the peckish pests and therefore the most susceptible.

Published as the new growing season gets going, the information could help gardeners with a deer problem switch what they are growing and protect their planting.

The RHS also recommends other precautions including planting closer to the house and human activity, protecting all new plants with netting until they are established and erecting deer proof fencing to protect larger areas.

Jenny Bowden, horticultural adviser at the RHS, said: “Our findings suggest that deer have a taste for certain plants, although it’s worth remembering that what is a food favourite in one garden might not be in another.

“While a little bit of damage won’t mean you’ll want to give up, if damage is sustained and bothersome, switching to plants shown to be less appealing might do the trick.

“You never know, you might also be inspired to grow something new.”

Some of the popular plants with minimal (less than 20%) risk of damage were: daffodils, Daphne, bay, globe thistle, red hot poker, butterfly bush, primula, rhubarb and nerine.

And some of the popular plants that are also favourites of deer, with a more than 40% risk of damage, were: tulips, roses, muscari, geraniums, holly, runner beans, raspberry, camellias and rhododendrons.