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October 23, 2013

Deer in the Garden

When your backyard buffet draws hooved wildlife

deer grazing in backyard

Janet Snyder/The HSUS

Deer conflicts in the garden can be easily avoided or minimized thanks to a variety of readily available solutions. There may not be a perfect answer, but we do have a good toolbox for you to work with. 

Tolerance
Adjust what you plant
Good fences
Electric Fences
Netting and chicken wire
Repellents
Tips for applying repellents

 

Tolerance is a good thing

Tolerance is needed when figuring out the best solution for your particular deer problems. Some damage is bound to happen where there are deer, but you can minimize the damage. Under mild browsing conditions, a good repellent may be all that's needed. Under heavy browsing conditions, you may need to limit your plants to the more deer-resistant varieties and use deer-proof fencing around your garden.

Adjust what you plant

Take a look at is what is attracting the deer and where it is planted. Replace hard-hit flowers and other plants with more deer-resistant species. There are many deer-resistant annual and perennial flowers, ornamentals, and tree species to choose from. 

A deer's taste buds vary geographically and seasonally, and are affected by what alternative plants are available. Your local Cooperative Extension Service office can be an excellent source of information on what types of flowers and ornamentals deer usually avoid in your area. Deerfriendly.org gives state-by-state web links for this information. 

Good fences make good deer neighbors

Where deer browsing is a serious problem, the only completely effective way to protect crops or plants is with fencing. However, when deer are really hungry, they will jump fences up to eight feet high (some say even higher).

Where deer browsing is a serious problem, the only completely effective way to protect crops or plants is with fencing.

There are a variety of fencing options ranging from 8-foot woven wire fencing to electric fence garden kits to poly-tape (electrified nylon) fences, which are portable and good for more temporary use. The best type depends on how large an area you need to protect and for how long, so check with your local garden store or local Cooperative Extension agents before buying anything. The eight-foot-high woven wire fence stands out as the most effective deer barrier, and it lasts 20-plus years.

Electric fences

Electric fences can work very well for deterring deer, yet these provide more of a "psychological barrier" than a physical one. (Deer can jump over them, but the use of electric shock teaches deer to stay away.) They can be constructed in a variety of configurations (such as baited; single strand; 5, 7, or 9 wires pitched either horizontally or vertically) and are powered by high-voltage, low-amperage chargers that provide timed pulses of short duration.

To ensure that deer learn their lesson, some electric fences have a scented bait attachment which entices the deer to make contact with the fence—after which they receive a mild jolt to their nose or tongue. Aluminum foil squares containing a dab of peanut butter can provide the same "enhancement" when folded over single or multi-strand electric fences. 

Electric fences must be maintained with regular voltage checks and mowing so that overgrowth doesn't short out the lower wires.

Netting, chicken wire, and hardware cloth (wire mesh)

"Buck rubs" are the damage caused by bucks rubbing against trees to remove the velvet from their antlers. Prevent buck rubs by wrapping trees with any commercial product sold for that purpose, or by placing cylinders of hardware cloth or corrugated plastic sleeves around the trunks.

To prevent browsing on young saplings, use small-scale, temporary fencing enclosures or individual tree "shelters" (plastic or hardware cloth cylinders) until they reach a height of four to five feet.

You can drape mesh netting over low-growing plants or vegetables that are likely to get eaten, or encapsulate them with protective netting, chicken wire, or hardware cloth. We have received reports of birds getting caught in the netting, so use it with caution or consider using hardware cloth instead. 

Repellents

A variety of repellent products, used singly or—better yet—in combination, can create a very effective multi-sensory deterrent to repel deer. Commercial repellents work by creating unpleasant tastes or odors, gastrointestinal discomfort, or a sense of pain (hot pepper or peppermint) when the active ingredient comes in contact with the eyes, nose, or mucous membranes.

Some of the more effective repellents contain a sulphurous odor (e.g., rotten eggs), believed to induce fear by giving off smells that deer associate with rotten meat or a predator. Some examples of popular repellents include Liquid Fence, Bobbex, and Deer Away® Big Game Repellent. Liquid Fence and Deer Away Big Game Repellent score consistently high in studies assessing repellent effectiveness. 

A variety of repellents is stocked at your local garden, farm supply, or hardware store. Ask which particular repellent seems to work best in your area. 

Tips for applying repellents

  • All repellents work best if applied before the deer's feeding pattern becomes established. Apply repellents before bud-break and as new growth appears, to prevent a browsing habit from forming.
  • Reapply repellents after heavy rains and at least every two to three weeks.
  • Deer may become accustomed to the same repellent, so alternate repellents to keep the deer confused and more wary. At the height of growing season, use an odor repellent over a taste-based one. Taste-based repellents need to be constantly applied to any new growth to keep the whole plant tasting bad.
  • Hang bars of soap that are high in fatty acid (e.g., Irish Spring brand) on trees or shrubs you want to protect. With any strategy, moving things around and switching types of products will help keep deer on their toes and make them wary.
  • Predator urines make big promises but have scored poorly in studies. The source of predator urine products are fur farms, which raise wild animals for their pelts. The animals suffer from terrible, cramped conditions and die extremely inhumane deaths. For this reason alone, predator urine products should never be used.

Scare devices

The key to using scare devices is to couple them with other strategies (repellents, for example), to vary the kind used, and to change their location in the yard or garden.

  • The Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler attaches to a garden hose. When a deer comes into its adjustable, motion-detecting range, a sharp burst of water is sprayed at the animal. The combination of physical sensation and a startle effect provide effective aversive conditioning.
  • The Havahart Spray-Away Elite Motion Detector is similar in action to the Scarecrow, yet is hose-free and solar powered. This device uses infra-red technology to detect animal movement
  • The Havahart 5250 Electronic Deer Repellent consists of 3 stake-like devices and a scent lure. Deer are attracted to the lure and then receive a mild electric shock when they reach it.
  • The Deer Shield Electronic Deer Guard is a device which emits varied digital recordings of alarmed and territorial deer, thereby using their own form of communication to inspire deer to go elsewhere.

A final word

Deer are curious and motivated by their need to eat, so they may test and retest the barriers and deterrents you use. You can stay a step ahead of them by changing what you apply so they don't get accustomed to any one strategy. With a little ingenuity and diligence, you will find it really is possible to live in deer country—and have your flowers and vegetables too.

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