Deer got you down? Silently tiptoeing through the garden and munching your prize-winning roses can be frustrating and difficult to manage. As housing and commercial development squeeze these graceful marauders out of their native habitat, they’re likely to show up anywhere there’s vegetation and water – and that just may be your garden.
Deer browse and graze leaves, stems, and buds of many woody plants, grasses, fruit, nut, and ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, and garden vegetables. Telltale evidence of these giant pests are jagged leaf edges on the eaten plants, distinctive cloven hoof prints and bean-shaped droppings on the ground around the plants. Additionally, they can trample plants and damage young trees and shrubs by rubbing their antlers on trunks and limbs. In our climate, late summer through early spring is when deer are most in need of food and likely to be invading residential areas.
Mechanical and physical methods are the most reliable way to keep deer out of your garden, particularly with fencing. Deer are remarkable jumpers and can clear anything lower than six feet with relative ease. If the fence is angled away from the yard, it creates both a psychological and physical barrier. Deer will hesitate to jump over something in which they fear becoming entangled. Fences can be constructed from any of a variety of materials including wood, field wire, chain link or plastic mesh. They should be at least six feet high and have a thirty degree angle to be effective. Deer will crawl under or through a fence if they can, so make sure you secure the fence close to the ground and repair any breaks.
Electric fencing lures a deer to a point where they lick it and get a shock. After a jolt or two, deer will usually avoid this type of fence. Lights controlled by motion detectors, alarms or other auditory devices can frighten deer away though they may not be very effective and can be more irritating to homeowners and neighbors than to the deer.
Chemical methods of control are predominantly repellants – things that have an offending or frightening smell or a nasty flavor. Area repellents are distributed in the problem space and repel deer due to their foul or scary odor (think coyote urine!). Contact repellents are applied directly to the plants causing them to taste bad.
Repellents should be applied before damage occurs and must be reapplied frequently, especially after a rain, heavy dew, or sprinkler irrigation. Contact repellents, to remain effective, must be applied to new foliage as it develops. Some repellants can be injurious to certain trees or shrubs, especially to the new growth. Test the repellent on a single plant to make sure it is not harmful to the plant.
The effectiveness of any deterrent comes down to how hungry the deer are and how many there are. You may want to experiment with a variety of controls to determine what works best in keeping the marauders out of your garden.
By Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian