by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian

Gazing at a deer roaming the forest conjures thoughts of Bambi and other gentle critters. Seeing them munch on a prize winning bloom may provoke a whole different response. These graceful marauders are being squeezed out of their native habitat, and while most of us want to provide them with an environment where they can live peacefully, it’s just usually not in our gardens. So what’s the solution? 

First, you need to confirm that deer are doing the damage to your plants. If you’ve caught them in the act, it’s pretty clear; however, if you haven’t, you should investigate a bit. Deer graze and browse leaves, stems, and buds of many woody plants including roses. Their telltale evidence is jagged leaf edges on the eaten plants, distinctive cloven hoof prints and bean-shaped droppings on the ground around the plants. If you’re seeing these, you’ve probably got deer.

Next, you need to decide whether you really do want to exclude them from your entire garden or simply your roses. Consider how much damage they are inflicting on your garden, and how much you can tolerate. How much money are you willing to spend on controls? Are aesthetics important to you or are you willing to try anything to preserve your garden? There are simple home remedies that you can try if you’ve seen a little damage and are willing to put up with it, and, at the other extreme, you can spend quite a bit of money to fence the entire garden and eliminate them completely.

The most reliable way to keep deer out of your garden is a fence. Deer are remarkable jumpers and will usually clear anything lower than six feet with relative ease. Your fence can be constructed from any of a variety of materials including wood, field wire, chain link or plastic mesh. 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. The fence should be at least six feet high and have a 30 degree angle to be effective. A fence angled toward the yard or made of wood it’s no psychological barrier.

Electric fencing lures a deer to the fence where they lick it, get a shock. After a painful jolt or two, barring any irresistible taste treats inside, deer will avoid this type of fence. Systems such as the Wireless Deer Fence utilizes two-foot-high posts that contain a strong chemical attractant, and delivers a battery-powered electric shock when deer try to take a sniff. If deer get the message, they will avoid the area in the future. Three to six posts will protect 1/3 acre for a cost of about $60 per year.

You can frighten deer away with lights that are con-trolled by motion detectors, or alarms or other auditory devices, though these aren’t particularly effective, and may be more irritating to homeowners and neighbors than to the deer.

Chemical controls fall into the general category of repellants – things that have an offending smell to the deer (human or dog hair, bar soap) or have a nasty flavor (lavender and rosemary). Some also don’t smell good to us either like rotten eggs, blood meal or predator urine. Contact repellents are applied to the plants, causing them to taste bad and area repellents are distributed in the problem area and repel due to their foul odor. There are lots of commercial products available like Hinder (made from ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids) and Deer-Away (produced from putrescent [rotten] whole egg solids) that are applied periodically according to directions. Tree Guard contains the active ingredient bitrex (denatonium benzoate), a bitter compound that tastes terrible to deer. You can make up your own repellent – add two eggs and a cup or two of cold water mixed in a high speed blender, add to a gallon of water and spray on the foliage. This mixture doesn’t wash off the foliage easily but re-application two or three times a season may be needed. Be forewarned – this is pretty smelly stuff and may not be something you want to use close to the house.

A new, organic deer repellent reputed to keep deer at bay is called Deer Scram. It contains active ingredients (animal by-products) that smell like death to deer but supposedly aren’t offensive to humans. According to the manufacturer, deer reportedly don’t get accustomed to the smell of Deer Scram, and one application is claimed to be effective for up to 90 days in the garden. Deer Scram granules can be applied around a variety of plants, such as vegetables, perennial flowers, shrubs, trees, and vines and as it contains 12 percent nitrogen, it serves as a fertilizer each application.

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 roses.

Photo by Jeff Logan – used with permission from:

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