Deer are more of a problem than ever. Urban sprawl and encroachment on their habitats has made them less fearful of human presence, looking to our gardens as their primary food source in many cases. As populations increase and natural habitats decrease, the challenge to keep deer out of even urban gardens is becoming a greater problem.
There are three primary ways commonly used to repel or deter deer; physical barriers, scare tactics and repellents. However, anything short of exclusion will result in only limited success at best.
It is widely known that deer can clear a fence or object that is 10’ tall or more from a standing position. So you can see the challenge of creating a physical barrier that is tall enough. Fortunately, deer will not jump over an item where they cannot see their landing zone, nor will they jump over wide objects, such as a wide hedge or a fence that has a row of wires angling outward. This can make building or planting a deer resistant physical barrier a bit more manageable. Still, the physical size of the garden or property can preclude this type of barrier as an option.
On a more manageable level, this leaves us with the two remaining options. The first are scare tactics. There are many commercial products and home remedies that can be effective, temporarily. The biggest limitation, no matter how effective it is initially, is that once the deer become acclimated or accustomed to the ‘scare device’ they’ll resume their normal feeding habits. The length of time this takes will vary. But the bottom line is that it is only a matter of time and eventually scare tactics alone will not be enough.
You may likely have ideas you swear by and find them to be very effective. I even know of one large-scale gardener that claims the combination of motion activated strobe lights and the sound of classical music is highly effective in keeping the deer in his area away. Bet that works on the neighbors too! Whatever success you may be enjoying, we have yet to find the universally effective tactic that works across the country.
The other method of deterring deer from devouring your plants is to use repellants in the form of offensive tastes and smells. A common example of a tastefully offensive repellent is to use putrescent whole egg solids. It is the main ingredient of many commercially available deer and animal repellents but it can be homemade. (And it’s easy to do. At my house it happens naturally…leave the breakfast dishes in the sink for a few days and presto! No deer for miles). Fortunately, not all commercially available repellents have an odor that is offensive to humans. The Liquid Fence Company offers a number of repellents that fit this description yet are effective on a number of critters, large and small.
I have read studies performed by the forest service that attest to the effectiveness of this type of deterrent. Other taste repellents including mint oil, garlic oil and capsaicin can be effective for limited periods. As with any topical application though, it is only a matter of time and weather conditions such as rain, before reapplication becomes necessary to remain effective.
You can place decoy plants around your property as a way to distract deer to a tasteful, but less valuable plant. And there is some merit to this strategy. It should be noted that even the most effective repellents or scare tactics or the most unappetizing plants would not stop deer if they were hungry enough. It is best to use a combination of deterrents simultaneously to achieve the most effective, long-term results.
Until the end of time, deer will likely be the most challenging and destructive pest many home and commercial gardeners face. They’ll take out your prized plants without a second thought and come back for more the next day.
Stay proactive and use multiple strategies that incorporate a combination of physical exclusion, scare tactics and repellents that are offensive in taste and smell. Home remedies abound and no one will think you are tacky when you hang bars of green soap in panty hose along the edge of your garden. If it works for you, that’s a great place to start.
Photo by iStock