If you live in an environment that allows you to plant different vegetable plants and allows them to thrive, consider yourself lucky!
However, having the opportunity also means you probably live in areas that also attract various forms of wildlife, deer being one of them.
Deer are typically categorized as ruminant animals, meaning they have a totally unique digestive tract from humans and other animals, which makes it possible for them to digest a wide variety of food.
Do deer eat potato plants? They do. Especially when food sources are scarce.
What is a ruminant animal?
Ruminant animals cover a wide range of different animals from across the world. This list includes cattle, sheep, buffalo, different types of deer, elk, giraffes, and camels.
As previously mentioned, these kinds of animals run on different digestive tracts. While humans only have one stomach compartment, ruminant animals have four. No, you didn’t misread it. They have FOUR.
These four compartments are called the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. The digestive process starts with the digestive center and the first stomach chamber which is the rumen, filled with millions of microorganisms, a diverse collection of bacteria, protozoa, and yeasts, for the most part, that help break down whatever food is ingested.
Most of these animals commonly take in the grass and other variations of coarsely-textured vegetation. Animals with only one stomach usually cannot digest these types of food sources.
Since these animals do not chew their food completely, the partially chewed food goes into the rumen where it is broken down by those microorganisms, made into balls of what they like to call, “cud”.
These balls of cud are then transported into the next three stomach compartments.
Most plants that cannot be ingested by humans in its simplest forms are able to be eaten and digested by ruminant animals because of their bodies’ abilities to turn these plants and their residues into protein which comes to us in the forms of their meat and milk.
What do deer like to eat?
Generally, deer are herbivores for the most part. However, when food sources are scarce, deer are good at adapting. They aren’t really picky eaters, to begin with.
Sometimes, their diet starts changing based on the season. Because they aren’t indiscriminate eaters, they eat whatever is readily available to them.
During warmer months, they typically look for leaves or twigs (can be in the forms of shrubs or trees), weeds, fruits, nuts (mostly acorns and chestnuts), mushrooms, corn, and greens (grass and other forms of plants).
During the cold, they find satisfaction in bark and shoots, anything that might not be destroyed by harsh winters.
Leaves and twigs are usually referred to as “browse” and they are usually readily available for deer to eat all year round, no matter the season. Despite losing leaves during the dry/cold season, twigs and branches still contain nutrients.
Nuts and fruits are referred to as “mast” and are the main sources of energy that deer need for developing their bodies and antlers. Blackberries, mulberries, plums, and even grapes are some of the most energy-rich sources that can promote antler growth.
Deer also commonly eat acorns and chestnuts because of their fat content and protein. Mushrooms produce phosphorus and protein that help with antler mineralization.
What about deer lingering in my area?
Deer are quite erratic animals that have their guards up at all times, which makes them eat pretty quickly, and very rarely do they stick around the same spot, but if you’ve got an unfenced garden you can find yourself an unwelcome visitor!
This doesn’t happen very often but an abundant supply of food may attract deer to keep coming back, especially if they’ve run out of sources to scout for food from.
Will they harm my vegetables/eat my potato plant?
Deer don’t really “harm” anything per se, they’re just trying to survive like most of us out here. But any damage to crops or their main roots can hinder crop growth entirely or put it at risk to disease or insect infestation overall.
Because of the innate need to survive, deer will take anything that’s made available to them, like your potatoes.
But it is also important to remember that apart from the list of food that deer actually eat, they will nibble on different plants to see if they are good to eat. They might be taking a tour through your garden trying to find which they like most.
Deer don’t really run to eat regular potato plants, but they are found to be particularly fond of sweet potato leaves, so it’s best to keep this in mind.
How do I protect my crops?
If you’ve already got some of these planted in your garden, you may want to consider one of the extensive deer-repellent options that are available.
From mechanical repellents and electric fences that block off deer from getting anywhere close to your crops to sprayable scented and taste-based repellents.
Scented repellents are probably your best bet, as deer will be able to detect the scent from quite the distance, and it won’t really require them to try to get a bite off your plant to deter them.
You can also make your own deer repellent using eggs and beef, as well as dish soap. The stinky solution will surely turn away any mischievous deer that might want to take a bite out of your plants.
However, if you’re only planning on starting your own vegetable garden in an area that has a significant deer population, you’ll want to consider planting crops that deer aren’t readily appealing to deer.
- Plants with strong smell/taste: Onions, garlic, chives, dill, mint
- Hairy/fuzzy/prickly plants: Squash variations, pumpkins, cucumbers
- Nightshade: Most nightshade species are poisonous to ruminants. Potatoes, eggplants, peppers
- Root vegetables: Deers aren’t really diggers, so they’re less likely to be attracted to root vegetables but in special cases, deer would dig for carrots and beets.
- Other plants that deer do not go for include: Asparagus, lavender, leeks, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes
Rhubarb and cucumber leaves are also toxic to deer.
Steer clear of these plants, as these will attract deer:
- Basil, bok choy, brussels sprouts, cilantro, corn, kale, radish, summer and winter squash
- Apples, beans, berries, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, pears, plums, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, turnips
Yes, deer can find themselves feasting on your hard-grown potatoes, but there is an array of ways to deter or repel them.
Remember that deer finding their way into your garden and consuming your potatoes is one of the last things they consider doing, chances are they are pretty hungry so it’s best to be patient and maybe feed them alternative food!