Gardening Basics

Controlling Deer

Across the country, deer cost homeowners millions of dollars in damage to landscape plants. Gardening by the Yard host Paul James reviews some methods to stop the all-you-can-eat Bambi buffet.

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A hungry deer will eat vegetation that it normally avoids. Here, Paul James talks about his preferred deer-control methods: repellents and scare tactics.

Experts advise planting things that deer won't eat, but hungry deer can eat just about anything. Two tactics Paul likes: scare tactics and repellents. Both are much less complicated than erecting a fence, which would have to be 12 feet high to keep out leaping deer (or slanted at a 45-degree angle to take advantage of their lack of depth perception).


Repellents are a good first line of defense. They work by virtue of their very bad smell — for example, putrescent egg solids. Apply such a repellent to the perimeter of your lawn to establish a "deer-free" zone. The stench wears off after rainfall or watering, so it will need to be reapplied.

Figure A

A repellent that's not so offensive to human noses is citrus-scented soap (figure A). Simply hang a bar from shrubs at a height the deer would be feeding, and space them about every three feet apart along commonly traveled paths. Use a variety of scents will confuse the deer; over time, one or two of the scents will clearly work best.

Figure B

Another gentle repellent is concentrated garlic oil, available either as a spray (again, establish a perimeter) or a containerized oil (figure B), that can be clipped in convenient spots such as fences and plant stems. Puncture the side of the garlic clips to release the scent, and place them three feet apart in the landscape. If you turn them sideways, rainwater can't dilute the garlic oil. University research shows that of all the repellents mentioned, this is the most effective.

Note: Repellents in powdered form generally last longer than liquids, because rainfall dilutes them more gradually.

Figure C

A good scare

This device (figure C) uses water to scare animals away, not just deer. The range is adjustable, accounting for animals that come close to the home or nibble on the edge of your garden, up to 30 feet away. A motion detector senses a nearby animal and shoots a blast of water in that direction.

Figure D

Another scare device gives a small, harmless shock to the deer as it tries to nibble. Using a battery to develop a charge, the device works in conjunction with bait such as acorn scent (figure D).

"Some folks will swear by these methods; others will say they do no good whatsoever," says Paul. "But the key is to deter the animals before they get too comfortable in the yard."

soap ("Deer No No"); coyote urine ("Shake Away"); garlic clips; water-spray deterrent ("Water De-Fence"); electronic deer repeller ("Electronic Deer Trainer") - Gardeners Supply Co.

garlic powder ("Deer Repellent Powder"): Deerbusters

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