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Deer can test the patience of even the most expert gardener

There’s no question that Bambi’s relatives can be charming. But charm only goes so far when you see your prize plants nibbled to the stem. Over the years there have been a lot of foul smelling or bad tasting concoctions recommended for discouraging deer from munching on your favorite plants. Unfortunately, these materials, when applied to plants, all work on some deer, but none seems to work on all.

A number of repellents are commercially available that are advertised to repel deer. Repellents work by either having a bad taste or odor to the deer. Although most work in the short term, they often must be applied to the target plants on a regular basis. Products like Hinder, Big Game Repellent, Chew-Not, and Ro-Pel* are just a few that are advertised on the commercial market as deer repellents.

Home-made remedies include everything from hanging soap shavings in cheesecloth bags to spraying desired plants with a Cayenne pepper solution. Others have sworn that hanging human hair or dog hair packed into mesh bags on tree branches will prevent deer invasion. Additional concoctions include using putrefied egg solids, mothballs, and using animal urine. Some swear that blood meal provides the ultimate repellent. Each cure over the years has had its fans.

If you choose to use a commercial deer repellent, make sure you use it according to label directions. Don’t apply the material to edible crops unless the label says you can. Second, make sure the product won’t kill the plants you are trying to protect. Third, and most important, realize that you will have to make numerous re-applications. Rain will continue to wash the material off and new growth will need ongoing protection.

Washington State University Extension favors a sturdy fence as the best long-term solution for keeping deer out. Several home gardens have reported that a simple fence made by stringing fishing line around a garden area at two foot heights up to a height of six feet has been very effective. The theory on this method is that the deer can feel the line, but can’t see it, so back away from the “fenced” area. This type of fencing is commercially available in some catalogs and retail garden stores. Ask for “deer netting”.

If you want to have both the deer and the garden, you need to ask yourself if some changes can be made to accommodate both. Deer love roses, but will normally not touch rhododendrons. Therefore, you may decide to change plant types to eliminate the conflict between your garden and the deer. Planting the vegetables that deer normally will not eat such as cucumbers, potatoes, corn and squash on the side of the garden that the deer usually bother may solve the problem. Moving the garden to a more exposed location is another possible option. Few plant species, if any, are totally resistant to deer, and if natural browse is in short supply, deer will eat foods they would otherwise find unpalatable. Hungry deer will eat almost anything and prefer young tender plants to older, tougher shoots. Preferred deer plants include fruit trees such as apples, pears, and plums; cedars and arborvitae, viburnum, birch, dogwood, daylillies, hostas, hydrangea and yews. Many popular ornamental annual and perennial plants (because they are usually tender and succulent ) are very susceptible to deer browsing.

*Product trade names are used for educational purposes only. No endorsement of products is intended nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.

Donald D. Tapio is the Washington State University Extension regional specialist for Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. He can be reached at 482-2934 or tapiod@wsu.edu.

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