Q&A: Deer Trouble in the Garden

Effective ways to deter deer from the garden.

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Q: I have begun to establish a perennial garden in my backyard. Between deer, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels, it's a struggle. I awoke one morning to see seven deer in my backyard.... they are eating a maple sapling, a young white mountain ash, marigolds and a rose bush; scabosia is being snapped off at mid-stalk.
— Dottie, Endwell, N.Y.

A: We share your pain. As you know, a few sweet-faced deer can lay a garden to waste, and roses can be their favorite treat. Marigolds aren't usually a common snack, but if your area has high numbers of deer and food is scarce, they could be dipping into less-favored foods by necessity. There are quite a few plants such as black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, iris and lavender that deer like even less so you might try those plants.

Remember, though, that deer don't read, so don't load up on a particular plant until you have a pretty good idea the deer in your area don't like it. There's no such thing as a completely deer-proof plant. Also, taste preferences can vary according to region; check with your neighbors and your local extension service to find out which plants they've had good success with. And to help reduce plant loss, plant deer-susceptible plants close to your house or in parts of the yard that you frequent.

Some repellents are effective, but you have to spray regularly (or for some, after a rain) and their effectiveness tends to wear off after a few days. The effectiveness also depends a lot on climate and region. Check with your local extension office for a list of repellents that have shown effectiveness in your area.

You've probably tried all the usual deer-repelling tricks — bags of human hair, playing a cassette radio in the garden, hanging bars of soap, etc. If they work for you, wonderful. If you haven't tried the egg method, it's worth a shot. Deer detest the rotten-egg aroma: blend five eggs with five quarts of water and spray on the plants. (Removing the white membrane of each egg can help prevent the sprayer from clogging.) Or you can dip a rag in an egg-water mixture and hang it near some of their favorite plants.

If you still seem to be losing the deer wars, installing tall deer fencing is usually the best permanent solution.

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