October 24, 2011

Gardener's Note: Do You Have Deer in Your Garden?

By Brenda Erler

Many of us love living side by side with native wildlife and getting an occasional glimpse of wild creatures roaming through the yard. But, that love affair may dissolve when our backyard garden becomes a feeding station for hungry white-tailed deer. There are a number of ways to discourage deer from nibbling on your prized ornamentals and garden vegetables, but the solution depends greatly on the size of the area you want to protect, the varieties of plants you grow, the size of the area deer population, and your wallet. Some of the possibilities are:
  • Fencing: The most permanent solution is to fence your yard or garden. This can be done with a relatively inexpensive electric fence. The ultimate defense is to put an eight-foot high woven wire fence around your property. Although such a fence is expensive to build, it is fairly invisible and needs very little maintenance.
  • Repellents: Another tactic is to use repellents. Most commercially available deer repellents are made with egg solids or cayenne pepper extract. These are applied directly to the deer’s favorite plants to make them unpalatable. However, this isn’t a good solution for garden vegetables since they’ll become unpalatable to you as well! Repellents can be very expensive to use over large areas, so you may need to be choosy about the plants you want to save. You may also try “smell” repellents such as suspended bags of human hair and ordinary hand soap throughout your garden. For both taste and smell repellents, you will need to switch them around to change their locations from time to time or the local deer will learn how to avoid them.
  • Plantings: If you don’t want to deal with fences or repellents, consider planting ornamentals that deer dislike. Plants that are tough, thorny, hairy, or have milky, bitter, or spicy sap have little appeal for deer. Ornamentals that deer usually avoid include foxglove, yarrow, purple coneflower, lily-of-the-valley, ferns, many herbs, larkspur, Euphorbia, marigolds, and nasturtiums.
  • Other Ideas: Gardeners have used any number of other tactics including sprinklers, motion lights, and row covers among others. You must decide the area you want to protect and how much effort you want to put into deer damage control.
Remember, there are no perfect solutions. In times of drought, heavy snow or when the deer population is high, hungry deer ignore whatever deterrents you put before them.

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