Gardeners have a “love-hate” relationship with Georgia’s official state mammal – the white-tailed deer.
Named for the white underside of its tail, the white-tailed deer uses its tail to flash warnings to other deer to run from danger. These graceful athletes can run up to 40 miles per hour and jump a fence over 8 feet tall! Unfortunately white-tailed deer have overtaken the state. It is estimated there are over one million deer roaming throughout Georgia, decimating our landscapes. Deer can also carry ticks that spread Lyme disease, a debilitating illness that affects both people and dogs.
There are many methods for deterring deer in the garden. Your success rate will be directly related to the severity of your problem. If you have a small or moderate deer problem, some of the controls suggested may work for you, at least for a while. If your landscape is a deer highway or rest stop, you may need to learn to tolerant a certain level of damage or spend the money for a tall fence! Here are a few ideas to keep these grazers out of your garden.
Rearrange your plants to make your garden less deer-friendly.
There is no such thing as a completely deer-proof plant. Deer will eat just about any plant when they are hungry. But, you can keep your garden from becoming a deer magnet by eliminating or hiding deer- attracting plants. Keep plants deer love to eat closer to the house and surround them with plants deer usually avoid.
Certain plants and shrubs can be used as taste-based, smell-based, or texture-based repellents. Plants deer often avoid because of their pungent taste or smell include rosemary, lavender, garlic, chives, lemon balm, anise, dill and mint.
Make sure you don’t overwhelm your garden with too many different scents! Plants deer often avoid because of their texture are perennial grasses, plants with fuzzy leaves, like lamb’s ear, barbed plants, like barberry, and toxic plants like daffodil and hellebores (Lenten rose). For ideas on what to plant, you can download a publication from the UGA Extension Office called Deer-Tolerant Ornamental Plants.
Add multi levels to your garden.
Not only is it a good design principle to create several levels in your garden for visual interest, but levels can be daunting to deer. Terraces, stairs, slopes, decks, tall screen hedges and dry creek beds filled with river rock all make a garden less navigable for deer, and they may decide to avoid your garden for your neighbor’s more maneuverable, one-dimensional landscape.
Use screens, hedges and borders to keep deer from noticing your yard.
If deer can’t see through your border hedge, they are often too cautious to proceed and may choose to graze in another yard that is more open.
Try some scare tactics.
Deer startle easily. Unexpected sounds and movement encourage deer to avoid your yard. Wind chimes, pinwheels, twirlers, flags and whirlygigs are simple and inexpensive devices to place around your garden to provide a distraction. Motion-activated lights can startle deer at night and encourage them to move away. Motion-activated sprinklers attached to your garden hose can be tripped by deer and blast them with a high-power stream of water. But your best scare tactic is to get a yappy dog to discourage deer from coming into your yard.
Build a fence.
The best way to attack your deer problem is to build a fence that is at least eight feet high and has no gaps wider than six inches. There are multiple deer fencing options on the market including “invisible” mesh fencing and electrified fencing. Two websites to research are Benners Gardens.com and DeerBusters.com. Always check with your city/county or CC&R regulations before purchasing fencing. If you find fencing your entire yard is too expensive, or impractical, consider enclosing your vegetable garden or prized plants with netting or chicken wire.
Concoct your own home remedy repellent.
Home remedies are inexpensive and worth trying. A good offense (offensive smells or tastes) is a good defense against deer damage. Some home remedies may work for a while until the deer become accustomed to the smell or taste, so it is best to vary your repellents. Georgia Department of Natural Resources shares its recipe for noxious deer spray: 4-6 raw eggs mixed with one gallon of water and sprayed directly on plants. For a more intense spray, mix 6-12 rotten eggs with one gallon water, one cup liquid soap or shampoo, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp. cayenne pepper and 2 tbsp. Tabasco sauce. Be careful! Wear gloves and goggles when mixing, and strain and test the concoction first before spraying all your plants.
Another drastic home remedy tried by frustrated gardeners is sprinkling human or dog urine around plants as a deterrent. If that sounds distasteful, you can also try sprinkling shaved soap or tucking fabric softener sheets around your plants. Hanging mesh bags or panty hose filled with human, dog or cat hair, or hanging soap (Irish Spring or Dial) have worked for some. Other gardeners suggest using dirty diapers, used cat litter and unwashed athletic socks as deterrents! Milorganite ®, a slow-release fertilizer made from composted sewage, and blood meal, a slow-release source of nitrogen, have also been used effectively as repellents when sprinkled around plants.
Buy a commercial repellent.
Liquid Fence, ® Deer Out® and Deer Off® have many fans. These products are sold in an already-mixed spray bottle or in a concentrate form that you mix with water and spray on plants. They leave an odor and taste that repel deer. For best results, follow manufacturer’s instructions and apply again after a hard rain. Another commercial repellent, the Wireless Deer Fence ™ Deer Repellent System, features posts with a sweet scent that are positioned around plants. When the deer investigate the scent, they receive a harmless shock, encouraging them to leave the area.
For more information on garden designs that are deer-resistant, go to gardendesign.com/plants/deer-resistant.