A couple of years ago, I lost pretty much everything I planted to our local fauna. Rose buds, hosta leaves, lettuce, green beans, tomato leaves, spinach were all gone and to add insult to injury the deer had been bedding down in my vinca! When I told my friend of my woes, she said, “Give it up for this year, you lost!” After discussing my losses with fellow Master Gardeners, it became clear that once the deer had a taste, it would be very unlikely that I could control their browsing. I tried several spray on products, granules, and barriers of all kinds, but it was too little, too late. So, this year, I started early to get ahead of the damage.
The construction behind my neighbors across the street has pushed wildlife this way. They had to find something to eat! Master Gardeners’ classes taught us that there are no plants safe from deer if they are hungry. It is always good to know how many deer are feeding in your yard. You may have to be more vigilant if you are working with a large herd. (I have seen six deer in my yard.) Working to control likely damage, I found that there are three main courses of action. Make it difficult to get to your plants, distract or make another area more desirable, make your plants unappetizing-less tasty or smell horrid. Some would add a fourth — scare them away. (I’ll admit, a dog is a real asset here!)
Although I have a lot of supposedly deer resistant plants — ferns, Lenten rose (hellebore), marigolds, rosemary, peony, bee balm, etc. — I didn’t feel I had a garden without my beautiful hydrangeas and hostas which, incidentally, make up a deer salad bar. The best you can do is to protect the plants from the browsers.
I live in a subdivision with a very opinionated HOA, so 8-foot fences are a no-go, as are electric fences … golfers beware! (Just kidding) Surprisingly, the 3-4 foot wire fences and cages have worked pretty well. Some of my gardener friends use bird netting when they first plant their crops, flowers, etc. It is virtually invisible and will deter deer as well as other pests from the get-go, so hopefully they will find easier pickings somewhere else and forget about your tender plants. Also, cat scat mats seem to deter most pests, but be careful if you have family pets and children that run barefoot!
There are areas that cannot be protected with barriers. If you have a large area, you can feed the deer on another part of your property and use diversion defense. If they are over there eating, then it’s possible your hosta in another area will be ignored. Planting deer resistant plants on the perimeter might discourage the deer. One master gardener was told that deer don’t like to pass through bamboo. I know people who were threatened because the bamboo found its way to their neighbor’s yard. A case where the cure made things worse!
The smells of predator animals (usually urine), dried blood, rotten eggs or strong spices can turn a group of deer away. The biggest problem is the need to reapply the scent every 4-6 weeks or after a heavy rain. It seems that the worse the smell, the better the protection. My problem is the sprayers invariably break down about ½ way through application. Make sure you are not downwind when you are spraying! If you make your own smelly product, make sure you strain it before putting it in the sprayer or use a watering can. I checked several websites of prominent gardeners and watched their videos. The active ingredients that seem the most effective include egg solids, dried blood, hot pepper or capsaicin. Milorganite, a lawn treatment, has been reported to repel deer. We are in fawning season so be aware that fawns are new to the game and will apparently chew on any plants.
I need to add here that things like irrigation sprinklers that are set off by motions sensors only work for a short time. Add to the list of waste of time and money: human or dog hair, soap flakes (Irish Spring) and spinning pie plates. Check out the products available and the list of active ingredients — bring a magnifying glass to read the label!
Next time: Moles, chipmunks, squirrels and ground hogs.