When it comes to deer deterrents that really work – the answer is “it’s complicated.”
Deer Psychology- Important!
Deer are both creatures of habit and skittish. So they like to travel the same route and get upset if something is “different”.
Our job as gardeners is to approach deer control from several different perspectives. The first is to create something that’s constantly different in their lives so they are less likely to approach our gardens and the second is to encourage them to travel in different areas.
How Do We Create Something Different?
The main way we do this is by introducing different fragrances to the area. Deer have a keen sense of smell and when they smell a new fragrance they become skittish and tend to avoid the area if possible. So we hang out soap bars on apple trees, pee around the yard (yes you read it right) and do all kinds of things that provide different fragrances.
Important note re Fragrances That Are Deer Deterrents
You have to alternate fragrances. Remember a deer gets used to a fragrance and the deal is that you have to constantly create something new in their lives.
Rotate fragrances, move the location of them around from side to side or length to length of your area, keep the animal off-balance and always sensing something different and possibly threatening. They’ll then tend to want to move away from your garden.
I’m not saying they won’t still be there but if another area is more attractive, they’ll tend to move that way.
The bottom line however is that a hungry deer will eat almost anything. There are countless lists on the Net with plants deer won’t eat. Yeah right. There are also countless complaints that my deer ate that plant!
A hungry deer will eat anything up to and including daffodils (but those are very hungry deer). Yews, thorny plants – no problems.
- What it eats in your garden, it ignores in mine.
- What it makes a main course in mine, your deer never touch.
- There is no “rule” for what a hungry deer won’t eat – no single plant that works everywhere.
- There is no fragrance that works in every garden – every year.
The Ultimate Solution
The ultimate solution to convince a deer to travel in different directions is a deer fence
We’re not talking about a low farm fence, we’re talking about a nearly invisible kind of plastic netting that they can’t jump over.
There are two weights of this plastic. The lightweight is good for animal stopping- a deer won’t see it and will walk right into it. The lightweight handles this kind of activity with no problem.
But it’s light, it will not handle the crashing weight of a large buck being chased by dogs. He’ll go right through it… and then he’s trapped inside.
I know the heavyweight is more expensive, but compared to the value your landscaping adds to your house, it’s a minor cost to protect your investment (never mind your annuals and perennials) in evergreens, shrubs, and trees.
My Personal Bottom Line
It’s an ongoing battle – just when you think you have it sorted out, the deer will change up so you have to be smarter than a deer. 🙂
In Wild Areas
What I did do was start clearing land (20 foot swaths) through some of the underbrush areas and piling the brush along one side of the clearing so deer won’t want to walk through it – deer like to have clear footing and won’t willingly enter an area where the brush is lying on the ground.
I also spray different material around those cleared areas to warn the deer off. Instead of thick underbrush, they had cleared areas that smelled different. They actually started avoiding this area and switched their traffic pattern to the front of the property. This spraying will be repeated this spring and I’ll start laying in the fences for a good deer control program.
I use both kinds of deer control. I use different fragrances and I intend to use fencing. I don’t necessarily want to hurt the animals, I want them to avoid my garden. They can eat anything else they want, as long as they leave my personal plants alone.
This is by far and away the best solution if you live in a semi-urban area on a small lot or acreage. There is special deer fencing that is almost invisible to the human eye (and deer run into it regularly) but it is tough and tall.
Deer don’t jump it. The only problem is with the entrance and exit points to your property (driveways).
Generally, cattle gates (slots in the road that deer – and cows – do not like to walk on) are the preferred solution You’ll find deer fencing on the Internet or a local fencing contractor can provide it for you.
Deer Resistant Plants
And I have a bridge I can sell you. In the literature of deer resistant plants, there are multiple listings of plants that deer don’t like to eat.
The reality is that a hungry deer will eat almost anything up to but excluding cactus. Non-hungry deer are a little more picky and will pass on some plants. They will eat almost every woody shrub and evergreen if hungry enough (yes, including yew). So, you can feed the deer to protect your plants if you are desperate enough. In controlling deer in the nursery, I didn’t find anything that would stop them from eating the perennial geraniums.
An interesting and little known “fact” is that deer in different areas seem to prefer different foods. So what they won’t eat in my yard, they’ll chow down in another area a few miles away. I’m not sure why this is so (maybe deer pass along what’s good to eat from generation to generation) but I do know it’s going to take experimenting to find the plant deer won’t eat in your yard.
Some dogs do act effectively at controlling deer. I can tell you my Old English Sheepdog wasn’t much of one. With all that hair, she couldn’t see them and if she could, she’d want to play with them – not chase them away. The deer browsed up to within 20 feet of the old farmhouse. The use of dog urine marking a territory will deter less-than-starving animals. Dogs running inside a fence at night will deter deer.
Spraying Evil Smelling Stuff
Some of these are reputed to be excellent for controlling deer. The key here is to spray regularly and often.
If the deer get used to hanging around your yard and then you start spraying, they will often not get the point. You have to start early in the spring and continue season long.
Now – different products will make different claims (my spray lasts a “month” – but mine lasts a “year” – – etc) but the reality is that you have to spray most of these immediately after a rain or every 10 days or so if you want them to continue controlling deer in your garden.
Some sprays are eating deterrents – you spray them on the tender shoots of perennials or shrubs and the bitter taste means the deer won’t eat them after the first taste. These work but definitely have to be started early and continued all season (and into the winter if the deer browse on your shrubbery). Controlling deer with these means proving you can outlast the deer – you spray more than they can visit.
Some sprays are said to provide a “liquid fence” type of control where the deer don’t like the smell of these products and will stay away. The best thing I can tell you about these products is that they seem to work for controlling deer in different areas. You may have to try several before you find one that “your” deer don’t like.
Deer Repelling Fragrances You Can Do Yourself
- There’s a ton of references in the literature to hanging soap in the trees (there are reports of deer eating the soap).
- hanging bags of human hair in trees (apparently works for a short time but needs replacing regularly – OK if you’re a hairdresser I suppose)
- hanging meat in trees to rot (now this is gross and sometime effective)
- spraying rotten eggs around the edges of the property – the basis for some commercial sprays that are effective at controlling deer.
- having the male members of the family “mark” the edges of the property with their urine (this works after a fashion if repeated regularly and deer aren’t overly hungry) One can have one’s beer and provide an effective controlling deer patrol at the same time.
- Irish Spring Soap has been touted. Carve off shavings and distribute them. Hang bars of soap in trees and near plants you want to protect. Replace regularly.
Do any of these deer deterrents work effectively for extended periods of time?
I rather doubt it so do keep the idea of changing and rotating your system regularly.
Electronic Pest Control
Electronic scarecrows with motion detector systems seem to be effective in close spaces. The ones that control a burst of water will protect the plants within the water spray area. Electronic sound devices are not rated for deer.
Modern electric fencing works if you can get the deer to sniff the wire. Slather peanut butter on the wire every week to 10 days (unplug the unit first). Two-wire fencing is recommended – one at 3 feet and another at 5 feet and both coated in p.b. The deer can’t resist the smell of the peanut butter and will stick their noses into the wire for a good taste. The shock will cause them to really jump back and they’ll be quite wary of this kind of fencing. Mark the fencing with red tape every few feet so the deer can see it (the object is not to hide this fence but to let the deer know they’ll get zapped if they cross it).
Fencing or a Visual Barrier
Solid wood fencing works.
Combining an electric fence with a solid wood fence (at least 6′ tall) will stop most deer as they won’t jump into something they can’t see through. Deer fencing – 10-feet tall works most of the time although you do have to control entrances and exits (driveways etc) with cattle guards (slotted paving) or tall gates. Many folks simply use deer fencing around their gardens allowing the deer access to the other areas.
The Bottom Line in Controlling Deer
- Deer that are not hungry are easy enough to control with any of the products or techniques listed above.
- Hungry deer are only controlled physically with deer fencing or a tall solid board fence. No technique or spray will stop a starving deer from eating your garden.
- Rotate at least two to three sprays or visual effects on an ongoing basis – regularly every two weeks or so to keep the deer “on edge” and nervous around your property.
- They’ll avoid you if they’re not really hungry.
- But if they’re hungry, only a fence works every time.