Nearly everybody knows that kids love candy, and it’s a good thing for them that moms know a little candy goes a long way and limit the sweets to “occasional-treat" status. Deer are a lot like kids in that respect. They relish human handouts such as bread and table foods -- the stuff is like candy to these critters. People food is yummy and worth hanging around for, but definitely not good for Bambi. Rather than coaxing deer to your backyard with delectable but unhealthy offerings, create a habitat rich with their natural foods and necessities. That will make these beautiful animals visit your yard but forget all about their cravings for candy.
Set a water source such as a plastic kiddie pool or a pedestal birdbath out in your backyard. Deer hang around longer in areas where water for drinking and occasional bathing is handy. Position the water source and all other deer offerings as far away from your dwelling as you can, so the animals won’t be alarmed or disturbed by everyday family activities. Keep your watering hole filled at all times throughout the year, but only about halfway during wet seasons to allow it to collect rainwater. Empty and refill the water source once or twice weekly to keep it fresh.
Put out a few mineral blocks, which are highly attractive to deer. Choose products that contain no more than 40 percent salt. While deer have a low sodium requirement, they do require minerals in their diets for healthy lactation and antler growth. Space the blocks about 20 feet apart to give multiple animals plenty of space so everyone gets a turn.
Open a sort of soup kitchen in your backyard to help supplement deer diets in the fall and winter when natural foods are typically scarce. Apple growers often retail bushels of very inexpensive “seconds” at their farm markets and roadside stands. Enlist the neighborhood kids to help -- offer a bounty for each bucket of acorns, apples or crabapples they pick up from their own yards. You can give deer corn at this time of year, but it can become cost-prohibitive in a hurry. Dump the offerings in 5-gallon pails. Scatter the pails around your backyard with plenty of space in between them to allow multiple animals to feed at the same time.
Pepper your property with the trees and shrubs that deer like best. Most of these plants produce at least one food source in addition to foliage. Deer feed on leaves, buds, twigs, flowers, berries, fruits and seeds. Preferred shrubs and trees include blackberry (Rubus spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9; Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), hardy in zones 4 through 7; elderberry (Sambucus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 11; flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), growing in zones 4 through 9; hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), hardy in zones 5 through 9; juniper (Juniperus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 9; ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), hardy in zone 5; oak (Quercus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 9; serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), hardy in zones 3 through 8; western red cedar (Thuja plicata), hardy in zones 5 through 9; wild rose (Rosa spp.), which grows in zones 4 through 8; and willow (Salix spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 10. Plant hardiness zones depend upon variety.
Plant plenty of flowering plants, which provide buds, blooms and foliage to deer during the summer. These animals readily devour many blooming plants and legumes, including alfalfa (Medicago sativa), hardy in USDA zones 1 through 11; aster (Aster spp.) and clover (Trifolium spp.), both hardy in zones 4 through 8; creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens), hardy in zones 4 through 10; croton (Croton spp.), hardy in zones 6 through 9; sunflower (Helianthus annus); Verbena (Verbena spp.), hardy in zones 7 through 11; violet (Viola sororia), hardy in zones 3 through 9; and wild strawberry (Fragaria), hardy in zones 2 through 11.
Install grasses that appeal most to deer in large areas of your property. Grasses offer feeding opportunities to the animals in early spring before other foods become available. Deer prefer bluegrass (Poa spp.), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7; fescue (Festuca spp.), hardy in zones 2 through 7; oats (Avena fatua), hardy in zones 3 through 9; and wheat (Triticum aestivum), hardy in zones 3 through 8.
Add ferns to shady spots throughout your property. Varieties particularly attractive to deer include deer fern (Blechnum spicant), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, and sword fern (Polystichum munitum), hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Allow wild or lawn fungi to grow anywhere that it will in your backyard. Deer relish these tasty treats and readily devour any that they happen to come across.