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The CSU Extension in Gilpin County helps mountain residents improve their quality of life by offering a website, classes and programs that provide unbiased, research-based information on forestry, wildfire, wildlife, mountain gardening, noxious weeds and many other issues. Through our 4-H programs, we help youth develop life skills through leadership opportunities.

Gardening with Mountain Wildlife   arrow

Gardening with Mountain Wildlife

by Sandy Hollingsworth, Master Gardener

Is something nibbling at your flowers and plants? Figuring out which mountain critter is to blame is the first step to taking preventative measures in your garden.

Identifying Hints:

Deer leave a rough shredded and unclean bite and tend to eat mostly grass in the early spring and mostly other plants in the summer and fall, to strip bark without leaving teeth marks and to browse, especially at the 4 – 5 feet level.

Elk are grazers, eating mostly grasses. They eat until the plant is completely gone and will pull the roots out; they leave tooth marks when stripping off the bark of soft trees like aspen.

Rabbits leave a clean, neat, 45º cut — primarily on leafy vegetables and grasses.

Voles leave irregular gnaw marks on the bark at the base of trees and shrubs. They also leave narrow teeth marks on low branches. They create runways above and burrows below the ground, plus the ground becomes spongy. They feed on grasses, flowers and crops above ground.

Pocket gophers feed on roots and leave solid “logs” of dirt above ground when the snow melts which may bury your perennials.

Chipmunks will often eat just the buds off of plants, soft pinecones and leafy vegetables.


To keep wildlife out of your garden, try barriers such as fencing, netting, tubing around the base of trees, edging 6” below the surface and resistant planting. Add resistant plants at the edges of your garden or property to create an uninviting barrier. Keep in mind that no plant is truly deer proof, but many are less desirable due to their unsavory taste, texture, scent or even toxicity. Wildlife resistant planting is referred to as camouflage gardening. Some resistant perennial plants include thyme, artemisia, yarrow, bee balm, catmints and hyssops. Pots of lavender and annual verbenas are also helpful.

Additionally, animals stepping on woolly or creeping thyme will have their sense of smell confused. Pine, balsam and camphor are other aromatics that can overwhelm a creatures sense of smell. Fuzzy plants like lambs ear will tickle their mouth and irritate their gut. Tough, woody plants will deter eating since they are harder to chew and digest. Plants that are considered toxic include barberry, cotoneaster, digitalis, annual alyssum and dead nettle. Gardeners may also try deterrents such as a 20% egg and water solution, hot sauce in water or commercial preparations. (Keep in mind that each of these mixtures requires frequent reapplication to be effective.)

Some animals, like deer, are curious and will try a new plant once, especially in drought conditions when the pickings are slim. Interspersing resistant plants with wildlife favorites will help deter browsing. Placing the most desirable plants in the back of the garden can also help. Keeping grasses and weeds trimmed near garden beds will deter voles by reducing their cover. And some gardeners choose to have a sacrificial garden bed away from their prized display garden – offering the wildlife a bite to eat on a first come first served basis!

For more information on specific problem animals, go to the eXtension Wildlife Damage Management page.

For more information contact your local CSU Cooperative Extension Office and ask for a Master Gardener or Extension Agent.

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