Coping With Pest Deer

Find out how to keep these garden interlopers away.

Deer in Flowers

Deer in Flowers

Step 1: Repellents

There are quite a few products with flavors and odors offensive to deer that gardeners can spray on plants or spread on the soil. Some (fermented egg yolks) offend deer's sense of smell; others (predator urines) frighten them. More of these products are licensed for use on ornamental plants than on food plants; follow directions for application. Home remedies abound, as well, including cayenne, hot-pepper sauce, talcum powder, blood meal, dog hair, and deodorant soap.

Step 2: Scare tactics

You can spend hundreds of dollars on ultrasonic noisemakers, motion-sensitive light systems, and water cannons to drive deer away, or a few cents on aluminum pie tins that flash in the sun. Radios cranked up to all-night talk shows or loud music can work, but check with the neighbors first. A barking dog (real or recorded) behind an invisible fence can persuade deer to stay away, too.

Step 3: Barriers

Permanent boundary fencing requires many tools: the fencing, fence posts, post-hole digger, and a strong crew to put it together. You may also need a permit to erect a fence in your community. Plastic screen netting is cheaper and easier to install.

An electric fence is a good choice for garden beds. Bait the fence with peanut butter, and when the deer come in for their snack, they'll learn that your gardens are to be avoided. To avoid injuries, alert neighborhood children and owners of small pets about your electric fence.

Caging tree saplings and young shrubs is a good option where you have just a few to protect. Once trees are older, they'll be more resistant to browsing deer.

Fabric row covers supported with hoops can protect vegetable beds. "Invisible" mesh netting can be erected over ornamentals to allow viewing but not chewing.

A single strand of monofilament fish line strung across a deer path creates an invisible force that can confuse the creatures enough to detour them around your garden.

Step 4: Plant choices

Food preferences of deer vary based on population pressures and available choices. Here is where information about local herds comes in handy. There is probably a list of plants that deer shun in your area. In general, deer tend to pass on ferns and ornamental grasses, plants with fuzzy foliage, and plants that taste of lemon, mint, or sage, and those that are bitter and pungent (hot and spicy).

Step 5: Plant wisely, fertilize judiciously

Choose plants best suited for your site. Stressed plants are more likely to be browsed. If you fertilize regularly for a lush look, you may attract deer and other pests to your garden, because excess nitrogen in plant tissues makes foliage more appetizing.

Use more than one method to protect your most valuable plants, and alter your strategy frequently to keep deer guessing. 

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