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Preventing Deer Damage

Updated on April 25, 2018
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens and learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening and Master Naturalist programs.

Deterring & Repelling Deer in Suburbia

Hmm. I'm pretty sure that white-tailed doe is sending the photographer a message!
Hmm. I'm pretty sure that white-tailed doe is sending the photographer a message! | Source

The deer population in our neighborhood has exploded in the last few years.

For obvious reasons, hunting here in the suburbs isn't allowed, so our deer have no natural predators, excluding cars on foggy mornings.

Small herds hang out in yards and by the side of the road like delinquent youths, hardly moving for walkers, joggers, bikes or even vehicles.

Since many of our neighbors actually feed them (a practice that's not good for health of the deer) the scent of humans doesn't scare them at all, so we've had to continually try new deterrents and repellents in order to keep them from destroying our fruit trees, blueberry bushes, roses, hosta and other plants that are their particular favorites.

Of course, if deer are hungry enough or curious enough, they'll munch on just about any plant that's not poisonous to them. They have eaten down our yarrow repeatedly, and it's often on lists with titles like "Plants That Repel Deer." I have not, however, ever seen deer eat any type of mint.

Unfortunately, if deer are hungry enough, they'll munch on just about any plant that's not poisonous to them.

Deer do a lot of damage in our neighborhood and (sometimes) in our yard. So naturally I'm always on the lookout for ways to repel and deter them.

Last month I participated in a deer damage webinar that featured Scott Hygnstrom of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources.

Hygnstrom is a recognized expert in deer management with 30 years of experience in the field. He's also one of the editors of Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, which is available online through the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. And he helped with the creation of an auditory deer deterrent that uses deer distress calls to shoo deer from crops and landscapes where they could do damage.

Although some of Hygnstrom's advice during the webinar was more suitable for commercial growers and farmers, several of his suggestions would (and do) work well for those of us who live in suburbia.

Unlike commercial growers, we can't hunt the deer in our neighborhoods with guns or even bows and arrows to keep down populations. And we're unlikely to have the ability or the money to dart them with birth control.

But we can do other things to mitigate the damage deer do, primarily by discouraging them from our property. Because deer are smart and adapt, Hygnstrom recommends using a variety of strategies.

Deterring Deer

This looks like our backyard before we forced the deer to change their foraging routes.
This looks like our backyard before we forced the deer to change their foraging routes. | Source

Changing Their Grazing Route

If deer are killing your trees by eating off the bark, wire tree guards or cylinders will provide protection.

FENCES

Deer are intelligent animals that learn fairly quickly, and you can teach them to avoid your yard through deterrents like fencing or other barriers.

Woven Wire & Six-Strand Fencing

Several types of fencing work if your deer aren't extremely determined. For protecting orchards and other permanent features on your property, you may wan to invest in one of two type of fencing: woven wire 8-foot fencing or electrified high-tensile wire 6-strand fencing (measuring 8, then 10, 10, 12, 12 from the bottom up).

Plastic Mesh

In the July/August issue of Hobby Farms, Frank Hyman recommends 7-foot high plastic mesh fencing in his article "Hold the Line."

According to Hyman, black plastic is best, as it's hard for deer to see, so they can't judge the jump.

Single-Strand Electric Fencing

Hyman also recommends single-strand electric fencing at about knee high, which would be perfect around a vegetable garden. Hang strips of aluminum foil dabbed with peanut butter to attract deer (and shock them) so they'll avoid the area rather than jump the fence. To keep out rabbits, you could add a strip of 12-gauge wire mesh along the bottom.

Electrified Polytape Fencing

As a suburban gardener, a less permanent, cheaper and easier-to-install type of fencing is the most appealing to me: electrified polytape fencing.

Hyngstrom recommends using one strand of polytape at three feet high and smearing it with peanut butter every few feet.

Dogs

Dogs can also be effective in keeping deer away from your yard, especially outdoor dogs that are kept within a given area (say an orchard or a backyard that contains a vegetable patch).

Even our indoor dog, who has a slight paunch and a Frosty Paw addiction, does a good job of chasing deer out of our yard—when he's not napping.

Of course, the deer could easily jump the fencing, but when they touch the tape with their nose/tongue to get the peanut butter, they'll get a good jolt that will deter them psychologically from the area.

I'd like to try this fencing for our roses in spring and our vegetable garden in late summer. It's reportedly easy to move and install. And it only costs about 10 to 20 cents per foot.

The only downside that I see is that it doesn't work in winter if your area gets lots of snowfall.

Feeding the deer in your neighborhood may seem like a good idea, but it really isn't.
Feeding the deer in your neighborhood may seem like a good idea, but it really isn't. | Source

Deer don't have upper jaw teeth, so when they feed on plants, they smash through stems rather than make a clean cut like rabbits do. That's why deer will kill your pansies and tulips by pulling them right up out of the ground rather than just eating their tops. I hate that.

Fallen Trees

An even cheaper method for keeping deer out of your yard is to block their travel route with fallen trees. This worked for us for a while. We blocked a beaten down deer trail from the woods into our hard with an 8-foot plus pile of fallen trees set back in the woods.

As it was easier for them to follow a path around our yard rather than get through the pile, they stayed out of our yard for over a year--until out next-door neighbor began feeding them. Then they began drifting from their front yard feeders into our front yard, where they killed several of our herbaceous perennials by pulling them out of the ground as they fed.

Reasons NOT to Feed the Deer

There are so many reasons not to feed wildlife. Here are just a few of biggest reasons you shouldn't feed the deer in your neighborhood.

  • Feeding deer attracts them and the ticks that feed on them to your yard. Like white-footed mice, white-tailed deer are the primary hosts of the deer tick, which carries Lyme Disease.
  • Rich foods like grain can actually kill deer, as they have been known to overeat and ultimately die from it.
  • Attracting deer to your yard with food draws them into areas near roadways where they are likely to be hit by cars. (This is also one of the reasons you shouldn't throw garbage out of your car onto the side of the road.)
  • Deer won't just eat the feed you put out and then leave. They'll continue to feed on your lawn, your hardwoods and other plants in your yard and your neighbors' yards. Shrubs and trees that lose their new growth to deer damage will be severely stunted and could even die.

Repellents

According to Hygnstrom, deterrents that evoke pain and fear in deer (like Deer Out, Miller's Hot Sauce, Plantskydd and Deer Away) are sometimes effective.

Although he hasn't had success with coyote urine as a repellent, rotten egg mixtures like Liquid Fence have worked for him. And they work for me, too.

We buy them in concentrated form and mix them with water. The only downsides to them? You can't apply them directly to edible crops. However, you can spray the stinky stuff near your crops.

I spray it at deer entry points in our property, around the perimeters of our vegetable patches and directly on plants like hosta, dogwood, liriope, roses and other plants in our landscape deer have damaged in the past.

The other downside? You usually have to reapply them, especially after a hard, cleansing rain.

The recipe for deer repellent below contains the same key ingredients that commercial products do: rotten eggs, garlic and cloves. (I think I'd add a little cayenne pepper, too.)

DIY Deer Repellent

Source

© 2013 Jill Spencer

Comments

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      You're welcome, Kerry43! Thanks for stopping by. --Jill

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Hi MsDora! I remember as a kid loving to watch deer at night in our pastures on the farm--their white tails bobbing. There was a lot of room there and, although they would graze with the cattle sometimes, they never bothered the orchards near the house or our gardens. But here in the suburbs, they ate down our tomato plants one year, almost killed our dogwoods, severely stunted our blueberry bushes and have destroyed innumerable herbaceous perennials over the years. I just want them to eat somewhere else! Thanks for commenting. Have a good weekend! --Jill

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Used to pass deer on my way from work in the Michigan countryside during the during the wee hours of the morning. Since they weren't in my yard, I never thought of them doing any damage except causing an accident. I wouldn't want them hurt.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Deb, I agree with you. They should stay wild. When they hang around driveways waiting to be fed, they seem less beautiful & free to me. And it doesn't make them any less hungry--maybe even more so, as feeding them stops deer from finding good foraging routes.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I never realized that deer could be such a problem. It is never a good idea to feed wild animals, anyway, since it takes the "wild" out of wildlife.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      O Glimmer Twin Fan, I can imagine the results of a dog eating soap--it's probably like when our dog gets into the cat food. Aggh! Better hang those soap chunks high! LOL

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      This is the first time I've tried the Irish spring because I have seen it online. Also, we had a yardsale the other day and a landscaper friend said some of his clients had tried it and it worked. Our problem is that our dog likes to eat soap so we can't put it where he will get to it. I'll probably keep spraying too because last year the deer decimated a hydrangea I had.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      I wish the Irish Spring worked for us. It would be cheaper. As is, if we buy the concentrate, and one container of Liquid Fence or some other brand lasts a season--not too bad! Of course, if it's really rainy (as it is this year) we have to reapply a lot. May run out early this year! Thanks for commenting, Jill

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      I like Liquid fence too, but really need to stay on top of it. It's also a bit pricey! I am now trying "irish spring" soap all around to see if that helps. The deer really do damage to some of my nicer specimens so I am trying to stay on top of it. Thanks for more suggestions.

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 

      6 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks

    • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      Fencing is usually recommended for orchards. If you have just a few trees, try metal cylinders for the trunks if deer are chewing or rubbing off the bark. Our fruit trees are mingled into the landscape, so I spray a rotten egg mixture nearby--and let the dog lose when I see deer in the yard. We had only one incidence of damage on a pear tree this year, and that happened while we were out of town. I can't say enough good things about stinky spray like Liquid Fence. I wouldn't bother with hanging tin pans or using a timed water sprayer. That works on birds, but not deer. They're too smart!

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 

      6 years ago from Manhattan

      Any ideas for keeping them from fruit trees?

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