If you’re a keen gardener and love your flowers, dahlias make for a very attractive flowering plant. But if you happen to live in an area where deer are common, you might be wondering if your dahlias are actually safe.
The short answer is that deer don’t usually eat dahlias but it’s not strictly true that they don’t ever eat them.
Are Your Dahlias Safe?
Lots of people think that dahlias are somewhat deer-proof but this is not really the case. There’s nothing stopping deer from eating them apart from the fact that they don’t much care to have them in their diet.
So what factors affect whether the deer in your area will eat your dahlias or not?
1 – Eating Habits and Regional Differences
It’s common knowledge that many deer don’t much like eating dahlias but this does vary by region. In areas where there are few deer, competition for food and foraging areas is low. This means that deer have choices and dahlias may not be on top of their list.
In regions where there are lots of deer, the competition for food is higher and your nice-looking juicy dahlias might be on the menu.
2 – Food Scarcity
Food scarcity is one of the biggest factors that affect deer eating habits. Deer are foraging animals and will look for easy sources of food.
If food is scarce, they might need to forage in areas where they normally wouldn’t, such as your garden beds. They will even eat foods that they would not normally eat, including dahlias.
3 – Seasonal Variation
During the summer and spring seasons, deer are very active. Many female deer are pregnant and others are looking after their young. This means that they’ll need a lot more food for survival, growth, and development.
At these times of the year, your nice-looking dahlias are in full bloom and will look tasty to any foraging deer in the area.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Dahlias?
If you have a nice flowering garden and you really want to protect your dahlias from hungry deer in your area, there are some things that you can do about it:
1 – Take Note of How Many Deer There Are
Before you plant your first dahlia, it’s a good idea to look around and see how many deer are active in your area. Ask the neighbors if you need to.
If there are lots of deer around, the chances are that they’ll take some interest in your dahlias because they’ll be competing for food sources. If you only see deer occasionally, you might be living in an area where there aren’t many, or where there are plenty of other preferred food sources.
In this case, your dahlias are more likely to be safe to plant.
2 – Plant Some Sage
One plant that deer definitely don’t like is sage. For humans, sage is a nice-smelling herb that can be used in cooking.
Deer don’t like the strong smell of sage and are more likely to stay away from your dahlia patch if you plant sage around it.
3 – Use a Fence
If nothing else is working or you live in an area where deer are common and competition for food is extreme enough that they will even ignore plantings of sage, it’s time to erect a fence.
Make sure that the fence you put up is at least six feet tall so that the deer can’t jump over it to get to your dahlias and other plants.
Common Insect Problems
You might have solved your foraging deer problem but this doesn’t mean that your dahlias are completely safe. Some insects love to munch on dahlias:
- Caterpillars: These pests will eat your dahlias very quickly but you can either remove them by hand in the early mornings to cut down their numbers, or use a product called Bacillus thuringiensis, which will kill them when they ingest it.
- Earwigs: These guys are most active at night and will damage dahlias. On the other hand, they do eat other insect pests, such as aphids, so they can be useful. If you have lots of them, roll up some newspaper, leave it overnight, and then throw out all of the trapped earwigs inside.
- Snails and slugs: You can remove these damaging pests by hand but a long-term strategy is best. Rather than use pesticides, keep your mulch level low at around three inches of depth and remove any excess dead foliage around your garden beds so that slugs and snails can’t hide. This is also a good way of removing hiding places for other insect pests too.
Dahlias are lovely flowering plants but they are prone to insect pests and deer will also occasionally eat them if the conditions are right. The good news is that there are a number of steps that you can take to limit the damage to your beautiful garden.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.