How to keep deer out of the garden.

Back in the day when we had a landscaping business in Asheville, NC, one of our Biltmore Forest customers asked us to do something about the deer destroying her prized hostas and other plantings. This was thirty some years ago and there weren’t many legal and non-lethal solutions.

Lacking apex predators, the deer population had grown into a major nuisance. We pondered the solution and decided to experiment with a homemade repellent that would make the deer think a predator was lurking about. The Asheville Zoo accommodated us with a bucket of fresh mountain lion poop!

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We placed the lion poop in little bags of cheesecloth and hung around the lady’s yard. An unpleasant job, to say the least, but it worked! Still, it was a lot of stinking trouble!

Nowadays, there are so many options for keeping the deer (and other critters) away from our gardens and landscape. But which deer deterrent is most effective in keeping deer off of plants and out of the garden?

1. A Great Discovery

The deer repellent we’re using with success and added benefit, is Milorganite.

We first heard of Milorganite for deer repellent from an old-timer at a local feed and seed supply store. I asked him what he used to keep deer out and whether he used fencing, and he said “No, no.. Milorganite.”

So we bought some for deer repellent, only to discover another benefit: Milorganite is a deer repellent and fertilizer! Now we use Milorganite as a fertilizer that also repels deer. We have it around fruit and nut trees and other young trees, and in and around our straw bale garden.

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We appreciate the recycling ingenuity that engineered this product.1) However the drawback in using it for deer is that it does require frequent replenishment.

The drawback with any deer repellent product is that it requires repeat applications, especially after a rain. Whenever we’ve fallen short on reapplying, the pesky deer have taken advantage, so it needs to be applied regularly. We’re applying it roughly twice a month, but if you have a heavy rain, you might need an interim application.

Milorganite works well as deer repellent so long as it’s applied regularly.

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Placing a band of deer repellent around each plant

Having delved into the topic of elderberries for an article, they looked like a great addition to our “upper garden”. We set out four Elderberry plants (2 Yorks and 2 Adams) and they were doing quite well. And can you guess what happened?

That’s right, the deer discovered three of them and nibbled off most all of the leaves and flower heads. We’d not applied any Milorganite and were pretty naive about the deer having plenty else to eat. So, to prevent further damage, we’ve been periodically (after good rains) applying about 2 cups in a circle around each elderberry. In just two and a half weeks, here’s what we have now.

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GardensAll Elderberry bush chomped down by deer… now being fended off by Milorganite.

Deer herds roam through our yard on a regular basis and they’ve not touched the elderberries since the application of Milorganite.

We also took measures to protect our new planting of Jerusalem Artichokes, which the deer devoured last summer. Again, there’s no sign of grazing or even nibbling. Yay!!

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Our Jerusalem Artichoke plants protected by Milorganite fertilizer and deer repellent.

Applying about 2 cups of Milorganite in a circle around each plant has kept it protected from deer. Just be sure to reapply after a heavy rain.

See also, research on the efficacy of Milorganite as a deer repellent.1)http://www.milorganite.com/tools-and-resources/research

2. A Deer Fence is the Very Best Defense

The ultimate best solution for deer is a high fence. Of courses fences cost more and take more to install.  However, consider that once you have it in place, it should serve for years to come.

A fence is a bigger up front investment for a much bigger long term gain.

The Upside – Downside of a Fence

If you just have a smaller, contained garden area, that might be the way to go. Otherwise, not just any ole fence will do when it comes to deer.

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Edible Landscaping Nursery2)http://ediblelandscaping.com/ shared that they had to finally deploy an 8 foot fence and a string of electric fencing atop that because of course deer can jump. The end result has been quite effective, and while costly, especially for a nursery with lots of acreage, once it’s done your deer worries are over. (Then you can focus on the rabbits and moles)!

3. Our Best Deer and Squirrel Repellent

The other thing we’re using this year to keep deer, cats, dogs and squirrels away with good results so far, is a Hoont Motion Activated Water Blaster.

Hoont Jet Burst Water Scarecrow
Hoont Motion Activated Water Blaster

While the deer can adapt to certain odor deterrents, they’re much less likely to stick around when something starts vibrating, rotating, “clucking” and spraying them with water. The added advantage of a motion activated rotating power sprinkler is that it’s also helps to keep the nemesis-of-our-tomatoes at bay: the squirrels!

So far, the Hoont motion sensor sprinkler repellent also keeps away squirrels, cats and dogs from our garden. That’s a real plus because we lost way too many tomatoes to the squirrels in our first year.

In fact, this year, we’re adding two more motion sensor sprinklers this year to take care of a few areas left unprotected.  The squirrels as they got smart and found a couple dry pathways to the tomatoes, so we lost a few, but nothing like the previous year and we’ll be ready for them this year.

What we like most about the motion sensor repellants:
1. They work to deter squirrels and deer
2. They also add a little water to the garden at the same time, so it’s not wasted

4. Deer Repellent Plants

This is our most favorite deer repellent solution because it’s about planting and growing! If we can design our garden landscape to be surrounded by plants that deer do not like, we have a good chance of creating a “living” functional fence that provides beauty and even food, all while serving to keep the deer away.

There are some plants that deer do not like to eat, and there are also plants that repel deer from the smell.

Perennial Deer Repellent Plants

 

5. Dogs as Deer Deterrents

What about dogs?

Many in the Gardens All community say their dogs are highly effective at keeping deer away from their garden. So that can work if you have an outdoor dog, but ours are indoor/outdoor dogs that sleep inside and tend to be wherever we are, which means they often miss the deer.

The other disadvantage to dogs…

Dogs barking frequently or incessantly, as outdoor dogs are inclined to do, isn’t a pleasant neighborhood experience. We have an electric dog fence, so the other liability is that our dogs could be motivated enough to “run the line” if they were actually chasing wildlife. It would be awful to lose them that way, so the dog defense just isn’t a viable or preferable option for us right now.

Here are five more favorites from the Gardens All Facebook community:

6. Fabric softener is reputed to repel deer. They dislike the strong scent. Try pinning some scented dryer sheets around the area you want to shield.

7. Grated bar soap. Because deer dislike strong, soapy scents, some gardeners have discovered grated bar soap to be an successful barrier. Try strong deodorant soap such as bars of Irish Spring or Ivory. Sprinkle the grated soap about the garden to create a barrier.

8. Salt is another distraction that may deter deer. Hunters have recognized for centuries that deer will likely be interested in salt. Set a salt lick exactly where you recognize you will discover deer, but far out of your backyard. Again, it helps when you can intercept and redirect their route.

9. Cats can be useful in deterring deer. The scent of cat and dog urine (and gardeners understand how kitties like to make use of the soft soil of a flower bed to get a lavatory) repels deer. If your cat just isn’t using your flower bed (fortunate you!), attempt sprinkling a number of its used kitty litter about the garden to create a barrier plus dog and cat hair will deter them.

10. Distract the deer with something far better. If your backyard seems to have become a deer path, plant something especially tasty to deer alongside the path and then angled away out of your garden. Some farmers have saved vegetable gardens by planting much better fare away from their gardens.

Deer will adapt to most applied substances over time as they sense it as no longer a threat. When that happens, you’ll need to switch things up and rotate your solutions over time.

Hey… we love deer and enjoy seeing them crossing through our property, but these are the only kind of deer we would want in our garden! (Thought these were super cool, so included them). ?

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If you’re like us and admire the grace and beauty of deer on your land, you still don’t want to share your garden with them. Some of you have indicated that you plant plenty of “deer food” in the woods and available areas for them to enjoy.

A member of the Planting for Retirement group recently shared that while the deer had eaten everything in her garden last year, she did enjoy watching them. Apparently a doe with triplet fawns frequently visited her yard.

 

Doe fawn image by Eileen Miller. Eileen enjoyed regular visits from a mother and her triplets over a summer.
Doe and fawn image by Eileen Miller. Eileen enjoyed regular visits from a mother deer and her triplets over a summer.

Even so, deer don’t recognize that they’re not also welcome to eat whatever else they want and they can quickly destroy your plants and garden. This is where natural deer deterrents can be employed and deployed.

WE HAD AN ENTIRE PATCH OF JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES DEMOLISHED BY DEER OVERNIGHT.

The good thing about Jerusalem artichokes is that it will—and did—come back the next year. But still, you don’t want the deer to come back too! Another bad thing about having deer around is that they carry ticks. By now everyone knows to be wary of the deer tick. Deer ticks, also known as that “black legged tick” are often mistaken for a “brown dog tick”, with black legs and brown body. The deer tick is known to carry Lyme disease and can be brought in by deer and find their way to dogs and humans.3)http://www.orkin.com/other/ticks/deer-ticks/

BETTER TO ENJOY VIEWING THE DEER AT A DISTANCE.

So, if you want to protect yourself and your plants without resorting to synthetic chemical substances or violence (tempting though it may be), you can. There are numerous natural deer deterrents to help you.

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Meanwhile, if you’re into DIY, for a cheap but effective homemade deer alarm system that even trains the deer to stay away, you’ll want to read on and watch Beau’s video.

Homemade Deer Repellent

Beau Ouimette trains the deer to stay away!

“This is how I keep deer out of my garden. It works every year. It is safe for pets and costs almost nothing to install. I live in Western Maryland and we have tons of deer here!” Beau Ouimette, says about his homemade deer repellent fence.

THANKS Beau for sharing this awesome tip!

We also found a couple super handy deer repellent plants guides created by:
1. NC State University Cooperative Extension Service
2. Rutgers, NJ Ag Extension

And… you may enjoy these related articles on keeping rodents, rabbits, and earwigs out of the garden. Also how to attract birds that consume yard and garden pests.

Let’s Keep on Growing!


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