As an avid gardener and nature lover, I’m always curious about deer behavior and how it impacts gardens. Dahlias are a popular flower known for their bright colors and unique shapes, but do deer eat dahlias? In this blog post, I will give you a comprehensive guide to deer and dahlias.
Deer will occasionally eat dahlias, but they tend to prefer tastier options when available. Dahlias are not a deer favorite, but they may nibble on buds, flowers, or stems if hungry enough. Protect young plants and use repellents or fencing if deer are a major problem.
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Why Deer Eat Dahlias (Sometimes)?
While dahlias are not a preferred deer food, there are a few reasons why a deer might opt to munch on your prized flowers:
- Food scarcity – When deer’s favored foods like hostas, daylilies and fruits are in short supply, they will eat almost anything to survive.
- High nutrition – Well-cared-for garden plants like dahlias may be more nutritious than wild options, making them more tempting.
- Hydration – Dahlias have high water content, which helps deer meet their hydration needs.
- Population pressure – When deer populations are very high, competition for food is fierce and deer must eat whatever they can find.
- Tastier growth – Deer seem to favor the buds and new growth on dahlias over mature foliage and flowers.
- Individual tastes – Some individual deer develop a liking for dahlias, even if most avoid them.
Signs That Deer Are Eating Your Dahlias
It can be tricky to determine if deer are responsible for damage in your garden. Here are some signs to look for if you suspect deer are snacking on your dahlias:
- Flowers missing – Deer often go for the blooms first.
- Reduced height – Stems may be bitten off, making plants shorter.
- Loss of leaves – Deer eat leaves from the top down.
- Damaged buds – Deer seem to favor flower buds over mature blooms.
- Hoof prints – Check for deer tracks in soft soil around damaged plants.
- Droppings – Large brown pellet-like deer poop may be found nearby.
Deer tend to eat an entire plant, while squirrels and other critters leave tattered edges on leaves. Also look for damage overnight rather than over several days, as deer can decimate a garden bed quickly whereas other pests take longer to cause significant damage.
Which Parts of Dahlias Do Deer Eat?
An important question to understand is which parts of the dahlia plant deer prefer to eat. This can help you know what needs the most protection.
Here are the dahlia parts deer tend to favor:
- Flower buds – Deer seem to find the unopened buds tastier than mature, open flowers.
- Flowers – The flower heads with bright petals are often nibbled first.
- Stems – Deer may bite through stems to get the most tender top growth.
- Leaves – When hungry, deer will eat dahlia leaves, starting with the tops of plants.
- Roots – In very rare cases when food is scarce, deer may dig up and eat dahlia tubers.
Based on these preferred plant parts, it’s clear that protecting buds, flowers and the upper portion of dahlia plants is crucial. Fencing and repellents are smart precautions if deer pressure is high in your area.
How To Stop Deer From Eating Dahlias
An integrated approach utilizing multiple deterrents works best to protect dahlias and minimize deer damage. Here are some of the most effective tactics to stop deer dining on your dahlias:
- Fencing – A properly installed 8-foot garden fence provides the best protection against deer invasion.
- Repellents – Spraying plants with smelly homemade or commercial repellent sprays can discourage browsing.
- Motion sprinklers – These devices detect deer movement and spray water to startle them away.
- Lighting – Motion-activated garden lights help scare deer away from your plants at night.
- Scare tactics – Items like deer whistles, hanging aluminum pans, or wind chimes can deter deer when strategically placed.
- Dogs – Allowing dogs access to your landscape helps deter deer with their scent and activity.
A diligent integrated pest management approach makes keeping deer away from your dahlias much more successful. Be consistent and proactive in your efforts.
How To Make Dahlias Less Appetizing to Deer
More than deterring deer, some tactics focus on making dahlias less palatable so deer are less motivated to eat them in the first place:
- Use dahlia varieties with complex double flowers, which deer seem to find less tasty.
- Plant dahlias with pungent herbs like lavender, sage, and alliums that deer detest.
- Spray plants with hot pepper wax, garlic oil or other natural repellents with strong scents deer dislike.
- Use dahlia fertilizer with higher nitrogen that produces lush growth deer tend to avoid.
- Allow dahlia flowers to fully open since deer seem to prefer buds over mature blooms.
Getting inside a deer’s mind can help you outsmart their browsing habits in your garden. Combine deterrents with less palatable plants for best success.
Should You Use Deer Repellent Spray on Dahlias?
Applying smelly, bad-tasting deer repellent spray to dahlia leaves and flowers is an excellent tactic for protecting plants from grazing. Popular homemade brews include:
- Garlic spray – Mix garlic oil or minced cloves with water and cayenne pepper and apply liberally.
- Hot pepper spray – Blend hot peppers with water and a bit of soap and spray plants.
- Rotten egg spray – Mix putrid but harmless spoiled eggs, milk and water and apply to foliage.
- Soap spray – Add castile soap to water and spray on plants; reapply after rain.
There are also several effective commercial deer repellent sprays. Examples include Bobbex, Liquid Fence, and Deer Out. Always follow label directions carefully.
Apply these noxious repellents in early morning or evening when deer activity is highest. Focus on new growth deer prefer. Reapply regularly for best results.
Should You Build a Fence to Keep Deer Away From Dahlias?
Installing fencing is hands down the most effective approach to protect dahlias and other garden plants from deer. To succeed, your fence needs these features:
- 8 feet tall minimum – Deer can easily jump a shorter fence.
- Sturdy materials – Wood, rigid wire mesh, or heavy-duty plastic deer fencing all work well.
- Small openings – Openings of 6 inches or less prevent deer from sticking their heads through to grab plants.
- Buried base – Bury fence bottoms 6-12 inches underground so deer can’t crawl under.
For smaller spaces, individual wire cages around plants can also be effective. Just be sure to sink the cage into the ground 6 inches or more.
Fencing requires an investment but pays off in the long run by eliminating deer damage. For dahlia growers plagued by deer, fencing provides great peace of mind.
Use Companion Plantings That Deter Deer From Dahlias
Certain plants naturally repel deer with their strong scent or taste. Interplanting these around dahlias can help hide and protect them from grazing. Good options include:
- Lavender – Deer dislike the strong fragrance.
- Sage – The aroma and flavor deter deer.
- Daffodils – Toxic alkaloids make them unappetizing.
- Alliums – The onion smell overwhelms deer’s sensitive noses.
- Vinca – Contains alkaloids deer steer clear of.
- Lantana – Deer find the foliage and smell unappealing.
Plant these deer-repelling plants densely around the perimeter of your dahlia bed. You can also place pots of them near vulnerable new growth. Just be sure companion plants have similar sun and water requirements as dahlias.
Should You Use Ultrasonic Deer Repellents for Dahlias?
Ultrasonic deer deterrents claim to scare deer away using high-frequency sounds humans can’t detect. These battery-powered devices are installed around your landscape.
However, Rutgers Cooperative Extension found ultrasonic devices alone provided no protection from deer damage. They only worked when paired with motion-activated sprinklers delivering a startling spray of water.
Ultrasound repellents are pricy, ranging from $50 up to $150 or more. They may discourage curious deer initially but are frequently ineffective as deer become habituated. Use them only in combination with other tactics, not as a standalone solution.
Homemade Deer Repellent Recipe for Dahlias
Concocting your own smelly deer deterrent spray at home can help protect dahlias cost-effectively. Here is an easy homemade recipe to try:
- 3 eggs
- 1 gallon water
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon Castile soap
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Crack 4 eggs into a blender or food processor and blend until fully mixed and liquidy.
- Add 1 gallon of water, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of soap, 2 tablespoons of garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon of hot sauce.
- Blend ingredients on high for 1-3 minutes until fully incorporated.
- Pour homemade deer repellent into a spray bottle.
- Shake well before each use.
- Thoroughly coat all dahlia leaves, stems and buds, especially new growth.
- Reapply after rain or every 4-8 days.
This unpleasant concoction mimics deer danger signals, making dahlias less enticing. Reapply frequently for best protection.
You can find more DIY deer-repellent recipes here.
When To Apply Deer Repellents for Dahlias
Timing is everything when it comes to repelling deer from your dahlias. Follow these tips:
- Treat plants as soon as they emerge in spring when most vulnerable.
- Spray young tender growth deer prefer.
- Reapply after rain, heavy morning dew or every 4-8 days.
- Refresh repellent after new growth appears.
- Spray in evenings or early mornings when deer activity peaks.
- Use rain-resistant formulas that persist longer.
- Continue treating until plants are mature and established by midsummer.
Consistent spraying in the evening and morning hours when deer are most active gives dahlias the best protection from browsing.
Do Deer Eat Certain Types or Colors of Dahlias Most?
There is debate among gardeners as to whether deer prefer particular varieties or colors of dahlias over others. No conclusive research proves deer favor specific dahlia types, but anecdotal evidence provides some clues.
Dahlia flowers come in virtually endless shapes, sizes and colors. However, there are a few interesting patterns that emerge regarding deer preferences:
- Simple flowers – Deer seem to prefer single dahlias over doubles, suggesting simpler flower forms are more appetizing.
- Smaller blooms – Giant dinnerplate dahlias appear slightly less tempting than compact varieties.
- Bright colors – Pale dahlias like white or yellow may be favored over vivid hot colors that deer can’t see as well.
- Flowering size – Short bedding dahlias are most vulnerable, versus tall cut flower types deer can’t reach.
In reality, no dahlia is 100% deer-proof if a deer is determined. But opting for tall, vividly colored varieties with complex flower shapes may outwit them a bit better. Most importantly, protect all young plants until well established.
Are Some Dahlia Varieties More Deer Resistant Than Others?
There are thousands of named dahlia varieties, but none are considered totally deer resistant. However, the American Dahlia Society notes a few varieties anecdotally seem to incur less deer damage, including:
- Giant dahlias – Taller types like ‘Thomas Edison’ are harder for deer to reach.
- Jowey Mirella – This compact purple dahlia has survived deer invasions when others were eaten.
- Hillcrest Royal – A formal decorative purple dahlia that appears less tempting.
- Jersey’s Double Pink – A formal decorative pink blend that holds up well.
In the end, any dahlia is at risk of deer browsing if hungry enough. But opting for some of these reported “deer-resistant” choices may provide an advantage, especially when combined with other deterrents.
Do Deer Eat Dahlia Tubers or Bulbs?
Dahlias grow from tubers, which are enlarged stems that store nutrients over winter. There are very few reports of deer digging up and consuming dahlia tubers. However, it could happen in theory during winter or early spring when other food is scarce.
Other animals pose a much bigger threat to your stored dahlia tubers, including:
- Voles – These small rodents will gladly nibble on tubers underground.
- Chipmunks and squirrels – They dig up and eat planted tubers.
- Insects – Slugs, sowbugs, and wireworms damage tubers.
For this reason, proper storage and protection of dahlia tubers over winter is essential. Store clumps in a cool, dry place indoors or treat tubers with insecticidal dust before replanting.
When Are Dahlias Most at Risk From Deer?
Young, vulnerable dahlia plants are most likely to suffer deer damage. Here are the high-risk times to be on alert:
- Spring – Deer browse voraciously on new growth as food sources are scarce.
- Dry weather – Deer consume more vegetation for hydration when water is limited.
- Winter – With fewer food options, deer may eat anything they can find.
- Night – Deer are braver to enter gardens under cover of darkness.
- Fall and early winter – Preparing for breeding season makes deer aggressive foragers.
Protecting dahlias is most critical in spring when plants are young and tender. A deer-resistant regime should continue until plants are well-established midseason.
Do Deer Eat Dahlias in All Regions?
Deer populations vary greatly across the United States, impacting the risk dahlias face in different regions. These are areas gardeners report frequent dahlia damage from deer browsing:
- Northeast – High deer densities in New England, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey put dahlias at high risk.
- Mid-Atlantic – Abundant deer in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas threaten garden plants.
- Midwest – Large deer populations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio consider dahlias fair game.
- Plains states – Kansas, Missouri and pockets across the plains see high deer pressure on landscapes.
- Pacific Northwest – Dahlias suffer deer damage in rural areas of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
In contrast, dahlia-loving gardeners report less deer damage in these regions:
- South – With more ample habitat, deer impact on gardens is reduced across the southern U.S.
- Southwest – Drier climates support lower deer populations, reducing dahlia threats.
- California and Hawaii – Minimal deer pressure gives dahlias good odds of avoiding damage.
- Alaska and Canada – Harsh winters keep deer numbers relatively low much of the year.
Check with local gardeners or extension agents to gauge deer activity in your exact area. Urban and suburban settings typically see less pressure than rural landscapes.
Do deer eat dahlias? While dahlias are not a preferred food source, deer will eat them when hungry enough. Young tender plants and flower buds seem to be most at risk. Heavy deer pressure, food scarcity, dry weather, and certain regions with high deer populations also increase the likelihood of damage.
Fortunately, gardeners have many options to safeguard dahlias from deer browsing. Fencing, repellents, companion plants, and scare tactics used diligently and in combination offer the best results. A bit of extra effort pays off in vibrant, deer-free dahlia blooms all season long.
Protecting your prized dahlias from deer and other wildlife takes commitment. But the beauty of lush, thriving dahlia plants and spectacular blooms is well worth it! With smart tactics, your garden can flourish, even in areas with abundant deer.
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