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Problems With Deer

Problems With Deer

One sunny afternoon as I approached my garden out back I spied a young deer standing at the far corner of the garden. My first thought was that it would high tail it when it saw me. But it didn’t. Instead, it looked directly in my eyes and started stomping it’s hoof, as if to say, get out of my garden. Well, eventually I won out, well sort of. It left the garden that day but from the tracks in the garden, it looks like it made it back for a midnight snack.

As more land is developed, the winters become milder and predators diminish, deer are finding it more appealing to browse our yards and gardens for food. Whitetails are kind of like a tourist feasting off the buffet on a cruise ship. In some cases they only nibble here and there, doing just minor damage, in other cases they go for the main course and the damage is quite apparent and costly. By some estimates, deer cause up to $100 per acre in damage to agricultural crops. The damage to ornamental landscaping plants is no doubt quite devastating as well.

Is there any hope for the home gardener? The answer is a definite maybe. Every year Americans spend over 50 million dollars trying to control deer. There are several different products out on the market, each one promising the moon. I think I’ve tried them all: soap, sprays, urine, bailing twine and even the all night drone of a talk show program on my radio. It seemed some of these deterrents worked for awhile and then the deer got wise to what I was doing.

If your deer problem is minor and you’re considering the store bought remedies, here are some suggestions. The least effective deterrents, according to Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at University of Vermont, is the taste and smell repellents. They’re also the least expensive, so they may be a good starting point, says Perry. Soaps must be placed where the deer are entering the garden and left in their wrappers so they don’t dissolve in the rain. Sprays must be applied after each rain, thus making more work for yourself. Other stinky solutions include predator urines. These really do stink, so you probably won’t want them up near the house. The problem with all of these products, according to Perry, is deer are smart and learn that there is no predator in the area and will eventually come in and dine.

I’ve used a combination of a scarecrow, human smells and human noises. This was effective for awhile. I turned my radio on to an all night talk show and sat a scarecrow in the middle of the garden. Eventually, though, they seemed to catch on to this trick. Perry suggests that if you use a radio or other types of sound emitters that they be hooked into a motion sensor so they come on when they detect movement and scare the deer. Move the sound emitters often to confuse the deer.

After several years of frustration, I finally installed an electric fence. This work quite well, at least for the deer. Though not practical for everyone, electric fence is a relatively inexpensive way to protect your garden from deer. A farm supply store will sell you everything you need set up an electric fence: wire, insulators, steel posts and a power supply. Installation is fairly simple. If you need instructions on how to install such a system talk to the folks who sold you the equipment.

Okay, you’re saying, but what if the grand kid, the cat or my mother-in-law accidentally comes in contact with the electric fence? And what about rabbits and raccoons?

The option that has worked best for me in my large garden is welded wire. After I saw a bunny hop over the bottom strand of my electric fence and into my garden, I installed a four foot high welded wire around the entire garden. This works quite well, though I have to check around the bottom regularly for signs of burrowing (and there has been signs!).

One product that is fairly new on the market is the polypropylene mesh fence. This product shows promise. It is much less conspicuous than electric wire or welded fence. It is somewhat costly but is probably a good investment over the long haul (some come with 30 year warranties). However, in areas where there is a lot of snowfall, the mesh should be taken down before winter, otherwise it will stretch and possibly tear from the weight of the snow.

One more way to fool the deer is to simply garden with plants the deer don’t find palatable, such as Foxglove (Digitalis), Columbine (Aquilegia), Coneflower (Echinacea) and Bleeding Heart (Dicentra). See below for a link to a more complete list of plants the deer don’t like.

Of course, folks have different ways of dealing with the critters. For instance, Karen Bartender, an undisputed animal lover (and owner of Burdock Farms), takes a live and let live attitude with all critters large and small. She doesn’t waste time and money with the soaps or other remedies. She simply plants enough for everyone, which is evident when you see her expansive spread of flowers, vegetables and native plants around her house and country greenhouse store.

The bottom line on deer repellents? Experiment with different options, but don’t give up on gardening.