Want to keep deer out of your garden? Follow these helpful hints for deer-proofing your yard and garden.
By Ann Wied
Waukesha County, Wisconsin
If you’ve ever planted a favorite flower or shrub only to have it damaged by deer, you’re not alone. With their native habitat shrinking, these sizable creatures are seeking new places to call home—which means that more gardeners are finding that deer think of trees and plants as an all-you-can-eat buffet. And if that wasn’t enough, the bucks can cause even more damage by rubbing their antlers along tree trunks and branches.
But by practicing defensive gardening, it’s possible to outsmart Bambi.
Curb their appetites. Note which of your growing things the deer avoid—it will vary according to where you live—and then plant more of them. Wisconsin deer, for instance, prefer tulips to daffodils; your local extension office will have recommendations for your area. Of course, very hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable, especially in severe weather.
Fence them out. For a small garden, a 4- to 5-foot barrier fence may be sufficient. But gardens big enough for a deer to jump into easily will need higher fencing, which might not work with your landscape. Try camouflaging a fence by using it as a trellis for vines. In winter, prevent rubbing damage from bucks by wrapping a plastic snow fence or tree trunk guard around your plants.
Repel them. Start at the first sign of damage; deer are creatures of habit, and you don’t want them to establish a feeding pattern in your yard. You can use an area repellent that deters deer with its smell, a bad-tasting contact spray or both. Again, an extension agent can often suggest a repellent that works well locally.
A reader told me she had success with a commercial repellent called Plantskydd. Made from blood meal and vegetable oil, it is considered an organic repellent. She reported it left an unpleasant smell for two days after application. Though I’m not familiar with Plantskydd, I know there are several registered, legal deer repellents on the market that make plants smell or taste bad to the deer. Not every product will work for every garden, but if you find one that works when applied as directed, keep using it. If it doesn’t, or if it stops working, try another.
Hanging area repellents from the plants you want to protect or on stakes around the garden is an economical way to handle big spaces. Two low-cost examples are bars of soap (drill a hole or two, then insert string or twine for hanging), and fine-mesh bags filled with human hair.
Apply contact repellents, like hot pepper spray, directly to plants, making sure to avoid any part of the plant you might eat later. Be sure to read label instructions and warnings; you may need to reapply every few weeks for best results.
Keep at it. The effectiveness of repellents varies with weather, deer population and availability of other food. So judge your efforts by whether you’re seeing less damage, rather than no damage at all. And if you’re not getting the results you want, try a different kind of repellent. New ones come on the market all the time.
About our Expert: Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.