Ways to deter deer from consuming garden plants

Ways to deter deer from consuming garden plants
Here are some ways to deter deer from consuming garden plants. (Source: Pexels/stock image)

EAST TEXAS - A few weeks ago, I attempted to write about what plants were not attractive to white tailed deer. The idea was to provide a list of plants that deer wouldn’t find palatable.

But some readers responded by saying that they didn’t want to change the plants in their landscape but wanted to know how to keep deer out of existing gardens and landscapes. Those graceful white-tailed deer causing extensive damage by feeding on plants and rubbing antlers against trees needed to be stopped!

Before I list some measures that several smart folks have told me over the years, let me provide a few basics.

First, it is difficult to move deer out of areas where they are not wanted.

Second, a hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable, so no plant is “deer proof.”

Next one should understand there are two types of deer repellents: contact repellents and area repellents.

Only netting can reduce deer damage to small trees.

And finally, adequate fencing to exclude deer is the only sure way to control deer damage.

In residential areas, home landscapes may become the major source of food during long dry spells specifically because well-watered landscapes provide an abundance of high-quality food browsing. As a result, damage is most commonly noticed on new, succulent growth.

It is difficult to move deer out of areas where they are not wanted. Not all strategies are practical for every homeowner. Frightening deer with loud noises, strobe lights, pyrotechnics or tethered dogs typically provides only temporary relief. More practical management strategies include selecting plants unattractive to deer, treating plants with deer repellents, netting, and fencing.

The two types of deer repellents are contact repellents and area repellents. Contact repellents are applied directly to plants, causing them to taste bad. Area repellents are placed in a problem area and repel by their foul odor. Repellents are generally more effective on less preferred plants.

Apply repellents on a dry day. Treat young trees completely. Older trees may be treated only on their new growth. As deer browse from the top down. Hang or apply repellents at the bud or new growth level of the plants you wish to protect.

A spray of 20 percent whole eggs and 80 percent water is one of the most effective repellents according to research conducted by wildlife professionals in Colorado. To prevent the sprayer from clogging, remove the chalaza or white membrane attached to the yolk before mixing the eggs. The egg mixture is weather “resistant” but must be reapplied in about 30 days.

Home-remedy repellents are questionable at best. These include small, fine-mesh bags of human hair (about two handfuls) and bar soap hung from branches of trees. Replace both soap and hair bags monthly. Deer have been reported to eat the soap bars. Materials that work in one area or for one person may not work at all in an area more highly frequented by deer.

Tubes placed around the trunks of larger trees will help prevent trunk damage. Tubes may not, however, protect trunks from damage when bucks use the trees to scrape the velvet off their antlers. Fencing may be required.

Adequate fencing to exclude deer is the only sure way to control deer damage. The conventional deer-proof fence is 8 feet high and made of woven wire. Electric fences also can be used. Electric fences should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5-gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps and 3,000 to 4,500 volts.

Several configurations of electric fences are used: vertical five-, seven-, or nine-wire; slanted seven-wire; single strand; and others. When using a single strand electric fence it helps the deer to ‘notice’ that the wire is there if it is marked with cloth strips, reflective tape or something similar. Otherwise, the deer may not see it in time and go right through it.

Some folks have used peanut butter to ‘bait’ deer to the fence for a corrective shock. Baited fences attract deer to the fence instead of what’s inside the fence. These administer a safe correction that trains the deer to stay away. They are effective for small Gardens, nurseries and orchards (up to 3 to 4 acres) that are subject to moderate deer pressure.

Several repellants have also been tried. Chicken eggs (20% eggs, 80% water) have proven very effective in trials as well as coyote urine (100% strength).

Some of the hot pepper sprays were only reported to have moderate success. Habanero peppers (8% pepper, 92% water) and Tabasco sauce (50% Tabasco, 50% water) were both tried in research in Colorado with moderate success.

That same report only gave soaps and other scents a low to moderate rating.

Listing to several folks from over the years, there are lots of deterrents that will work for a couple of days.

The trick may just be to try several, rotated over time to adequately keep deer from garden and landscape.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu .