Known as plants tolerant of shade, hostas originated in China, but they can be grown all over the world in the right conditions. Because they’re such large bushes, many pests are attracted to them, and gardeners often ask do deer eat hostas.
To understand the relationship between deer and hostas better, in today’s article, I’ll analyze this plant and explain all about deer feeding on it.
I’ll also be sharing my recommendations on how to keep deer from eating hostas and thus keep your garden beautiful.
Do Deer Eat Hostas
Unfortunately (but very fortunately for the deer), these animals eat hostas very often. In fact, a university study says that hostas are a plant genus frequently severely damaged by deer, which means they can be called a pest of hostas.
According to experts, this is more common in urban environments where native plants and crops aren’t enough to feed the deer. In such situations, these animals are driven to extreme hunger and they need to invade gardens to survive.
Aside from deer, hostas are frequented by slugs. Both slugs and deer are more attracted to young plants than older ones.
Deer are naturally attracted to aromatic plants, especially bushes. Hostas are large, green bushes, making them an ideal food for deer.
Is It Safe for Deer to Eat Hostas?
This an excellent question and the answer is mixed. Hostas are, believe it or not, toxic! Although they’re often eaten as vegetables in some Asian cultures, they’re toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
They contain saponins, which are chemicals that taste very bitter and are foamy when combined with water. As you might have deduced by now, they’re used as an ingredient in some soaps.
This drives us to a bit of a dead end. Saponins make the plant taste bitter, so why would a deer eat hostas? It’s true, in fact, that we understand the effects of saponin on mammals very poorly. All that’s known is that it’s toxic to ruminants, but the exact level of toxicity depends on the size of the animal and the amount of saponin ingested.
The bottom line is – if ingested in large quantities, hostas can actually kill a deer. The symptoms start out slowly – vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, but they can turn fatal soon.
However, a deer would have to eat copious amounts of hostas to poison itself this much!
This is actually good for you. A deer will eat a few hosta leaves, become ill, and remember not to eat hostas anymore. In the worst-case scenario, the deer will die and it won’t eat your hostas anymore.
This is a short-term solution, though, as new deer will come and eat your hostas time and again. This is why you need to protect your garden from deer, which I’ll get to later.
Will Hostas Regrow After Deer Eat Them?
Yes, hostas will regrow after deer eat them unless they eat literally the entire bush (which is extremely unlikely). Hostas are perennial plants, and these plants live for at least two years. New leaves are a common sight during the growing season.
So, if one of your hostas has fallen prey to deer, you don’t have to worry about it dying completely – that’s not going to happen. Deer will most likely only eat the leaves, and if that is the case, new leaves will grow in their place.
Deer might eat the flowers too, and depending on at what point in the season they eat the flowers, new flowers might grow.
Since it’s recommended to trim hosta flowers before they reach maturity (so the plant focuses its energy on leaf growth), a deer munching on hosta flowers isn’t a bad thing.
It’s also recommended to prune leaves that are damaged by pests (such as deer), illnesses, or the elements (usually hail). This will make the plant look more beautiful, while new leaves will grow in its place.
An important thing to remember is that deer can carry pests and illnesses, which is why it’s best to remove leaves damaged by deer.
Are There Deer Resistant Hostas
Unfortunately, there are no deer-resistant hostas. Although there are about 20 recognized species and more than 20 cultivars of those species, all of these hostas are extremely susceptible to deer damage and if anything, we can call them deer attractants!
How to Keep Deer From Eating Hostas
There is, unfortunately, no guaranteed way of keeping deer away from your hostas. If they can get into your garden, your hostas are almost bound to be eaten.
The only method you can try is planting deer-repelling plants near your hostas. Russian sage and chives are two species known for repelling deer because of their scent.
However, don’t make the mistake of planting the hostas and these plants one next to another or have them overlapping. If a deer is extremely hungry, it’ll still eat your hostas while ignoring the scent of repelling plants. If that happens, your hostas still get eaten while other plants get trampled.
Instead, just plant them nearby. The strength of their scent should neutralize the attractive hosta scent.
Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden
The most effective way of keeping deer away from your hostas is to keep them out of your garden. Here are a few effective methods.
Raising a Fence
Deer don’t have many survival abilities in their arsenal. Jumping, however, is one of the few things they can say for themselves. A deer running from a predator can jump almost 8 feet in height – 7 feet and 10 inches, to be precise.
A starving deer likely can’t jump that much, but you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that it can jump at least 7 feet. This is why the best protection from deer is raising a strong fence that’s at least 7 feet tall.
While this can be expensive, not to mention that it’s a lot of work if you’re doing it on your own, your home will be wide open to deer if you don’t erect a fence.
To take it to another level, you could think about installing an electric fence. Personally, this makes the fence no more effective – deer won’t be able to jump over a 7-foot-tall fence either way and making it electric is a waste of money.
Letting the Dogs Out
Let’s imagine that you’ve only recently installed your regular, 5-foot-tall fence and you simply don’t have the budget to install a new fence, while it’d also be a shame to throw away a perfectly good new fence.
One of the solutions is letting guard dogs do their job in the garden. This applies to naturally defensive breeds, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, etc.
While dog owners always want to be careful when it comes to interactions between dogs and wild animals, and rightfully so, garden-invading animals are usually non-confrontational species.
Deer, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, mice, and all other species you might find amongst your plants most definitely will run if they hear a dog barking (except for the snakes – they’ll have to slither).
So, the danger to your dog in this scenario is minimal – it’s highly likely that deer will run away every time they hear the dog barking and that, with time, they’ll understand that the scent and the barking mean they shouldn’t even try to invade the garden.
Scare Them Away
Aside from dogs, which are the most effective way of scaring deer out of your garden, there are other things you can do to scare them away. Just like humans and all other animals, deer are afraid of sudden, loud noises, bright lights at night, and water.
The simplest thing you can do is hook up a motion sensor to the sprinkler system in your garden and have it spray the water in full circle when it’s activated. No deer will stay in a place where an unknown entity is spraying them with water.
Another option is buying (or making your own) a panic-inducing device that works on the same principle, but with bright lights and loud sounds, instead of water.
I’ll discuss making your own repellant later on, but now let’s focus on biological and chemical ways of keeping deer at bay.
A very effective strategy is planting naturally repelling plants at the edge of your garden – plants with sticky and hairy leaves have proven to be effective, as well as some plants that deer find smelly (Russian sage and chives).
Many people suggest using human hair and rotting boiled eggs spread around the garden edge to keep deer away. Although it’s understandable why deer don’t want to approach either of these things, there’s no study testing the effectiveness of these methods.
Chemical repellents can be very effective, often more effective than homemade repellents, but just like homemade repellents – they can be difficult to maintain. You need to reapply them over and over.
Things You Shouldn’t Do!
There are a few methods of repelling that can be dangerous, ineffective, illegal, or all three things at the same time.
The first one is using mothballs. Mothballs are known to be very effective at deterring moths and based on individual experiences, they can even be effective at keeping deer away from gardens because of their pungent scent.
However, this is very dangerous. If a deer eats a mothball – it will most certainly die, and killing deer is not only illegal but terrible for the ecosystem. Additionally, if a child or a pet were to find the mothball interesting and eat it, they would be in life-threatening danger.
Secondly, killing deer is sometimes legal, but this depends on your location and time of the year. Hunting season doesn’t last through the entire year, so you can’t just shoot deer whenever you feel like it.
Lastly, we have to catch deer and return them to the wild. Although the effort of not harming the animal and returning it is admirable, this is not only extremely difficult, but it can also be bad for the environment.
Deer are known to migrate large distances, and the deer you catch in your garden might not come from your local forest. Dropping it off there could be detrimental to the local environment!
Making Home-Made Deer Repellent
There are a few simple tricks you can pull off to keep deer away from your home.
The simplest one is drilling a hole through bars of heavily-scented soap and hanging it every 3 feet around your plants. Deer don’t like the way soap smells, and if they try eating it, they’ll hate the way it tastes.
Smells That Repel Deer
Deer are afraid of predator smells, which is why human hair might work, but they also dislike the smell of garlic, soap, tabasco sauce, onions, and boiled eggs.
How to Make Home-Made Deer Repellent
This deer repellent is based on Tabasco sauce, and a deer biting into your plant will be in for a nasty surprise. Since animals hate spicy food, the deer won’t return to your garden.
All you need is tabasco sauce and a gallon of water.
Step 1 – Mix Tabasco with Water
Mix two tablespoons of hot tabasco sauce with a gallon of water. Make sure that you mix it well.
Step 2 – Spray It
After mixing it thoroughly, spray it on all plants that fall victim to deer. The deer will bite into a plant, feel the burn, and remember not to return to this garden.
Make sure to reapply every two weeks or after every rain, as it evaporates with ease.
Verdict: Do Deer Eat Hostas
Deer are great fans of hostas and they’re some of their favorite foods when it comes to manmade gardens. Since hostas contain saponin, a deer can actually die if they eat too much of the shrub.
However, there are effective ways of keeping them at bay. Not only can you build a tall fence, but you can use guard dogs, sprinklers, bright lights, loud noises, and homemade repellents to keep deer away from your garden.