This month I have decided to address a subject that is not so ‘DEER’ to our hearts. How often do we all venture into our gardens to see and admire the perfect form of a growing shrub? Or the buds ready to pop on one of our favorite flowing plants… The perfection of nature… One day we wake up and find in horror that our lovely flowers and plants have been decapitated. Our hostas are left with long stalks, and ragged leaves. Many azaleas and rhododendrons have been ripped and left with large holes.
The culprit? White-tailed deer. Deer have become quite a common site in our backyards. Although their natural home is the open forests, it seems as though the surrounding neighborhoods have become comfortable habitats with an array of delicacies that fit their pallet quite nicely…. You know how it is, once you’ve found a restaurant you really like, you just keep returning. Deer do the same. If they’ve found food they like they’ll return until, well, it’s all gone. This can be very discouraging, especially if you’ve taken the time and expense to expand your garden area. They will eat in your woodland garden, along your borders, and even be so bold as to eat certain trees, shrubs, and plants right up and along the foundation of your home.
The first step to handling this dilemma is to accept the fact that the deer are definitely a creature you are going to have to learn to live in harmony with. If you live in deer country, they probably aren’t going to go away.
I know, you’ve tried taste and odor repellents like predator urines, soap repellents, human hair, noise repellents, including ultrasonic emitters and radios. Have you nearly given up? Some of these work for people, some don’t. Sometimes we need to use more than one suggestion…
Physical deterrents such as fences are the most effective way to keep deer OUT of your property, but may also be the most expensive and unsightly way to prevent deer from eating your most prized plants. An eight foot fence is an effective height. You should also check the local laws regarding installing fences before doing so. Each town has regulations as to the type and height a fence can be. If a fence is used, especially a chain link fence, be sure not to plant delectables to close. They’ll reach in and get them. And if a fence is not high enough, they’re bound to jump it. A fence should be buried deep enough into the ground so that they cannot dig under it. Dogs may be enough just to chase them away as long as you catch them before the act. Deer will learn after a while how to carefully approach a property once they’ve learned that there are dogs present and may even chase the dogs away. One may even distract a dog while the remaining forage and feast. Pretty Smart, Hah!
Deer have an incredible sense of smell and hearing, but their eyesight is poor. Place plants they dislike along the border of the garden or along the fence and desirables on the inside portion of the garden. There are plants that are more desirable than others. However, I have found over the past few years that if the deer, especially the young, are hungry enough they may nibble on plants that are usually considered unpalatable. If they try plants they do not like, they may venture away from the area.
If you must use repellents: TRAIN YOUR DEER VISITORS. If you use a purchased repellent or home made solution, use it often, weekly, and after a rainfall. If the deer consistently encounter a bad smell they will learn that this place is not such a good place to dine and move on to better eateries.
I have many clients with landscapes close to open woodland areas and have been pretty successful with some of the following brews: Try one or another or combine them, but be sure to apply frequently especially in the fall when the deer are getting ready for the hard winter and in the spring when you think you may have eradicated the visitors and once again they have shown up at your back door.
Fishy Deer Detergent
- 1 cup of fish emulsion
- 3 tbsp. of liquid kelp
- 3 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid
Mix the fish emulsion, kelp in a 3 gallon pump sprayer, and add water up to the fill line. Apply to plants to the point of run-off. Reapply every 7 to 10 days, or following any heavy rain that washes the mixture off of the leaves. Great for bulbs.
Deer-Buster Eggnog Tonic
- 2 eggs
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp. of Tabasco sauce
- 2 tbsp. of cayenne pepper
- 2 Cups of water
Put these ingredients in a blender and puree them. Allow the mixture to sit for two days, then pour or spray it around all of the plants you need to protect. Reapply it every other week or so (or after a rain) to keep the odor fresh, and deer will head for friendlier territory.
Hot Bite Brew
- 3 tbsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp. of Tabasco sauce
- 1 tbsp. of ammonia
- 1 tbsp. of baby shampoo
- 2 cups of hot water
Mix the cayenne pepper with the hot water in a bottle, and shake well. Let the mixture sit overnight, then pour off the liquid without disturbing the sediment.
Mix the liquid with the remaining ingredients in a hand-held sprayer. Spritz critter-susceptible plants as often as you can to keep them hot, hot, hot! It’s strong medicine, so make sure you wear rubber gloves while you are handling this brew. This one will keep the deer from browsing. Sometimes a good spray to use on plants along the border of the property. You can even mix the baby shampoo and the ammonia from the Hot Bite Brew with the ingredients From the Deer Buster Eggnog Tonic.
Learning what deer like and don’t like is just as important as using repellents to keep them away. They do seem to be attracted by plants with succulent stems and leaves like Sedums, Asters, Phlox, Hostas. Cypress Trees and Arborviteas seem to be some of their favorites. Shrubs may include Forsythia, Honeysuckle, Azaleas, many Rhododendrons, Blue Pacific Junipers, even Viburnums and some of the softer needle pines.
The following plants are those that deer are most likely to leave alone early in the season: False Indigo (Baptisia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and Primrose (Primula). Deer avoid bulbs like Fritillaria, Daffodils (Narcissus), and Squills (Scilla), Ornamental Onions (Alliums).
Summer-blooming perennials like Yarrow (Achillea), Peony (Paeonia), Ornamental Poppy (Papaver), Astilbe, Irises are all early summer flowering plants that deer, unless absolutely starving, will avoid. Later summer-flowering perennials include Meadowsweet (Filipendula), Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Tickseed (Coreopsis), Condflower (Echinacea), Bee Balm (Monarda), and Speedwells (Veronica). Last are some fall flowers like Sindflower (Anemone) and some of the Goldenrods (Solidago).
Deer stay away from many of the herb plants like Mints (Mentha), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Catmint (Nepata), Oregano (Origanum), and Lavender (Lavendula). These are great plants to use to keep Deer away from your garden. Ferns (all types) are great choices for shady woodland areas. There are a variety of other plants that can be found on the Web and are available through several mail order catalogues, as well as, local nurseries. Books like Wild Neighbors by John Hadidian and Deer Proofing Your Yard & Garden by Rhonda Massingham Hart are great reference sources for understanding wild life and how to cope with them. Each has recommended solutions for dealing with problems from not only deer, but chipmunks, bats, mice, voles, skunks, fox, etc.