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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Problems with Deer (page 2 of 4)

by Karen Jescavage-Bernard

What to Do

Specific strategies vary, depending on the local deer population, available food supplies, cost, plants' (and gardeners'!) damage-tolerance, and types of plants grown. Many solutions are available, but nothing is absolutely foolproof, or deer-proof. Here are some suggestions-ranked in order of effectiveness-and referrals to sources of additional helpful information.

Permanent Fences. For most homeowners, an 8- to 10-foot-high fence provides adequate protection but would be costly (at least $1 per foot) and possibly block views (some fences and walls may violate local zoning or design-control ordinances). In northern areas, a solid snowdrift would provide a convenient launchpad over such a fence for deer. Some gardeners opt for electrified fences baited with peanut butter. Fences of any type must be maintained, and the tall or electrified varieties can be dangerous for children and pets. In commercial or industrial areas, high walls and fences make sense, but for gardeners, an effective barrier against deer can be expensive and unsightly.

For more information about building a deer-proof fence, see Reducing Deer Damage to Home Gardens and Landscape Plantings, prepared for Cornell University's Wildlife Damage Management Program (Ithaca, NY 14853). For more about electrified fences, see Wildlife Pest Control Around Gardens and Homes, (Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, Oakland, CA 94608-1239).

Mesh Fences. This product consists of 100-foot rolls of a black vinyl mesh that can be stapled to trees or posts. However, the materials, including any necessary posts and post-hole diggers, can be expensive. Also, the mesh is only 7 feet high, so it may not keep all deer out. Cost is approximately $20 per roll.

Temporary Fence. If keeping deer out is important but only seasonally, or if you don't want to invest in a permanent fence, here are some alternatives.

Seasonal Barriers. In early spring, when food sources for deer are depleted and new growth on shrubs, trees, and plants is appearing, gardeners can opt for lightweight barriers of fabric row covers over shrubs and small trees, or floating row covers over seedlings and transplants. Bird netting is not a deterrent to deer. They'll munch through it to the fruit you're trying to protect.

A note about netting: When sap starts to flow and later when fruit ripens, fruit trees, bushes, and vines are especially vulnerable to deer. Dormant trunks and twigs can be sprayed or wrapped, but most sprays are toxic, so leaves, buds, blossoms, and fruit would have to be draped with netting. That's difficult, however, because of their height, and large amounts of netting can be expensive. If it's in your budget, you could arrange to have wire cages installed around trees.

Wire Bed-cages. Small, wire cages around beds or individual plants rather than the entire property can protect plantings. If you place tops over them, they would not have to be electrified.

A less expensive option for vegetable gardeners is a modular wire cage over individual beds or a tunnel hoop draped with floating row cover. Both are easy to build and safer than electrified fences for gardeners, children, and pets. Small barriers also can be removed after harvest.

Motion-sensor devices that spray water or blast loud alarms when deer approach are not likely to deter deer for very long, and they may annoy neighbors.

Chemicals repellents are expensive and labor-intensive. Some powders and sprays leave an unsightly white residue on foliage. Many treatments require reapplication every 4 to 6 weeks and after heavy rainstorms. The USDA currently considers only two types, granular Milorganite (approved as a fertilizer, but used asa repellent) and Hinder (an odor-based repellent ) safe enough to use on edible crops. Research the recommended repellents for your area for detailed information on chemical options.

Other strategies such as spraying hot sauce and thyme oil, hanging human-hair sachets, pie pans, or crackling vinyl tape, or even loudly broadcasting all-night talk-radio shows may work, but only temporarily. Sprays and solutions must be refreshed, and gardeners must switch strategies as deer grow accustomed to each ploy. I haven't yet tried Bobbex (slaughterhouse waste) or coyote urine (yes, we all ask: how do they collect that stuff anyway), but gardeners report good results with both.

Dogs. Some homeowners with dogs have reported success in keeping deer away with a family pet acting as garden sentry. Dogs that can be left outdoors at night appear to do a good job. Combined with an underground electric fence that keeps the dog from straying, this approach is another one to consider.

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