The Buck Stops Here

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Did you ever notice how some things can be a blessing and a curse both at the same time? 

We had had some much-needed rain and could not get the grass mown for over a week. Naturally, it was rather tall by the time we got to it. Nestled out by the chicken house in some tall grass was a small fawn all curled up. It was so new that it had to have been born the previous night, right in that spot. How cute!

Well, it wasn’t so cute when I noticed that its mom and dad, and probably a few other relatives, had been chowing down on my hostas, rose bushes, and a few other choice plants. They had probably chosen these for dessert since I had kept the deer out of the garden by spraying the plants there with an all-natural deterrent. Seems like everything is bittersweet.

More and more folks are having trouble with deer helping themselves to garden vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other ornamentals. I don’t want to harm them, after all it is not their fault. They are just hungry. But it’s not my fault either and I should not have to sacrifice my plants for their cause.

Spring and early summer is when they are the hungriest, so it’s no wonder that they are a little braver then. Researchers estimate that there are between 18 and 24 adult deer per square mile, depending on the area. These adults eat between 6 and 10 pounds of greenery per day. What’s a person to do?

After doing a little research, I found that there are some non-harmful ways to repel them from yards and gardens. Here are some suggestions:

1. Especially if you live near a wooded area, keep gardens, flowering shrubs, and flowers as close to the house as possible. Along the edges plant garlic, chives, mint, lavender or marigolds to deter deer. Also plant thorny or prickly shrubs at the perimeters. Plants like barberries and cleome will sometimes deter them, depending on how brave and hungry they are. Last year they ate my black raspberry bushes and this year they feasted on my roses, thorns and all.
2. On the same note, you can try deer-resistant substitutions. Scotch or regosa roses may ward them off more so than other varieties. Trade tulips for daffodils.
3. Especially for gardens, if you can surround them with thick hedges of boxwoods or spruce trees you may have a better chance of keeping your garden for you. Many times, they don’t bother what they can’t see.
4. Trim tall grasses to deter bedding. Just as in my case, the grass was tall enough that mama doe could make a bed for her fawn. If it had been cut, she may have chosen elsewhere.
5. Create levels. Deer are jumpers but not climbers. Try sunken gardens or terraces. Some folks have even stacked pallets around areas where they want to keep them out. True, pallets aren’t sightly, but sometimes you have to make choices.
6. They tend to fear the unfamiliar. Try scarecrows, sundials, garden ornaments, wind chimes, and bright lights. We rigged up a spotlight one year and turned it on at dusk every night and they did not bother the garden. Different noises sometimes work too. Some people let radios play, especially between stations where it is all static. Of course, you need to be able to stand to listen to it too! Wind chimes made from tin cans and motion sensors will help.
7. Wrapping new plantings so that deer cannot get to the trunks and putting netting over fruits, bulbs, and bushes helps too. However, this can be time consuming and it can also make it hard to harvest the fruits and vegetables. On this note, some people have had success by stringing fishing line around certain plants, starting 2 to 3 inches above the ground. This is like an invisible barrier.
8. If you have a dog, let it out as much as possible. Deer aren’t too fond of their barking and scent.
9. Use repellents. There are a number on the market, but if you are going to go this route just be sure that they are made from natural ingredients and are non-toxic. I have used Deer Out brand, which can be bought as a concentrate and mixed with water or comes premixed and ready to use. It is made from essential oils and other natural scents that deer do not like, but is not offensive to people. You spray it on the plants and around the perimeters of gardens and flower beds. It is definitely effective because when I used this in the garden the deer did not enter the garden but went for my flower beds. The downside is that it needs reapplied after rain. Other products that are reported to work are Havahart’s Deer Away Big Game repellent, which is a powder that contains smelly egg solids to target their sense of smell; Deer Off, which contains capsaicin that targets their taste; and Hinder with ammonium salts.
10. Some home remedies also work. People have hung bars of soap and fabric softener sheets out to confuse their sense of smell. Also on the list are hot pepper sprays, garlic and rotten egg mixtures, blood meal, and bags of human hair. One of my favorites is sprinkling red pepper on the plants to give them a real thrill when they take their first bite. A remedy that I have not tried but sounds promising is to take 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap, 2 bunches of scallions, 2 heads of garlic, 4 eggs, and LOTS of chili powder and put everything except the soap in cheesecloth in cheesecloth. Fill half of a 5-gallon bucket with hot water and put the bag in it and shave the soap in the bucket to dissolve the soap. Fill the rest of the bucket with water, cover and let it set one week. Strain the liquid off and put in a sprayer and spray plants after rain or every two weeks…that is if you can stand the smell!
11. Last but not least, if everything else fails you can always build an 8-foot-high fence. This will definitely keep them out, but it will also be harder for you to get in to till and weed the garden and harvest the produce, not to mention the cost and labor of building the fence.

The key to all of these deterrents is to change them up. After a while the deer will get wise to your game if you use just one method and it won’t bother them anymore. Rotate your kinds of spray, go after their sense of taste, then put noise deterrents up and then go for the bright light. The idea is to stay one step ahead of them.

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you go to the trouble to have a garden and flower beds, then it is worth it to protect them. I like to see deer, they just need to know their place. I’m standing my ground on this one — the buck stops here!

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