Deer typically become a nuisance when they begin foraging on ornamental plants, shrubs, trees and crops. This activity becomes more noticeable when there is a reduced availability of natural foods (such as during a hard winter), and when there is a large deer population (resulting in a higher competition for available food). Deer prefer to stay along the edges of forested areas, which allows them to venture out into open areas for browsing but quickly take cover if danger appears. When natural food sources are limited, deer will be more likely to go into areas they would normally avoid. Deer might also just happen to stumble upon a convenient food source (such as your shrubs) during their travels. If they don't feel threatened and there's plenty to eat, they'll continue to return.
There are several things you can do to deter deer. The best course of action is really dependent on what you want to accomplish and the probability of ongoing problems. If you live in the suburbs and deer aren't that common, you may just need to apply deer repellent on your annuals and shrubs, or put up temporary fencing around your backyard garden. If you live in an area near deer populations, you'll want to take steps to permanently resolve the issue. This would include planting deer tolerant plants if they are eating your ornamentals, or installing a permanent fence if they are invading your garden, crops or orchard. Several approaches are provided below, along with links to any products mentioned.
Like almost all wildlife conflict situations, the solution to deer damage falls into one of the following categories
- Deterrents, using deer repellents, or having dogs on your property
- Harrassment, using sound, lights, or water
- Modification to eliminate what is attracting deer (for example, switching to deer resistant ornamental plants)
- Exclusion, using permanent or temporary fencing
Deer Harrassment And Scare Methods
Because deer are constantly on alert for potential threats, scare tactics and harrassment methods can be helpful if combined with other methods. With the exception of having a dog on your property, most harrassment or scare tactics required that you be on guard to deploy them once deer approach. But thanks to technology innovations, you can deploy these methods without needing to stand watch.
If you are just protecting a small area, motion activated sprinklers are a good way to startle deer both day and night.
Lights are also a good harrassment technique because deer prefer not to be showcased. Outdoor lighting used to require electricity, but solar landscape lighting makes that unnecessary. Having outdoor spotlights on are good, but if they are always on at night deer might get accustomed to them. The best approach would be to use motion-activated lights that would startle the deer as they approach. But just like the spotlights, deer will eventually figure out a path around them to avoid triggering them. To avoid this, move the lights around every few days. Look for solar landscape lights with 8 leds that emit at least 300 lumen.
Deer Harrasment Products
Deer repellents are a popular way to control deer damage for homes, gardens and small commercial crops. Repellents disourage deer browsing by making plants less appetizing or by containing an odor that deer avoid because it triggers an alert that a predator may be nearby. They both have varying degrees of success. Rotating both types of repellents may improve their success; deer won't get used to the taste or smell of the repellent if they are rotated. Deer repellents should be applied regularly, especially after a rain.
Repellents that have a sulphur odor seem to work best. Tests showed that repellents that contained eggs, garlic, predator urine or animal by-products seeemed to be the most effective. The theory is that if it smells like something died nearby, then there's probably a predator nearby. People have used human hair and urine as a repellent, but that won't work if the deer are used to living in close proximity to humans. Products that also contained peppermint and cinnamon seemed to get the best reviews.
Deer Repellent Products
DIY Homemade Deer Repellent Concentrate
4 eggs or 4 TBSP sulphur powder 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper 2 tablespoons garlic powder 1/2 tsp each peppermint and cinnamon (essential oil) 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or castor oil 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap Let the mixture steep for a few hours (preferrably overnight) If you'll be spraying it, strain the mixture and pour into a one gallon garden sprayer and add enough water to fill sprayer. If you're using it on polytape fencing, add the mixture to a gallon bucket, fill with water and then soak the polytape in the bucketfor several hours before installation. Always test the mixture on a few leaves before spraying the entire plant or shrub. If you'll be spraying onto new growth or sensitive foilage, leave out the essential oil and vegetable/castor oil and test a small area before application.
Soap On A Rope :)
A few orchards have said that they were able to discourage deer browsing by hanging soap on their trees or shrubs; specifically, Irish Spring. They were able to protect a 3 square foot area by hanging a small bar of soap four feet off the ground. To hang the soap, they either poked a hole through the bar and used string to suspend it from a branch, or put it in pantyhose and hung it up. The thing to look for in soap as a repellent are the soaps that contain tallow (derived from animal fatty acids). Again, the theory is that if it uses animal parts, then deer worry that there's probably a predator nearby. Most soaps contain animal fatty acids; just look for the ones that say "sodium tallowate" as an ingredient. Avoid the ones that contain delicious edible-sounding oils (coconut oil, almond oil, etc). Studies showed that those may actually attract deer.
Bar Soaps That Contain Tallow
Excluding deer from entering your property is the most effective solution to deer damage. You can install a temporary or permanent fence, depending on your needs.
Protecting Small Plots
To exclude deer from small plots of land, you can erect a repellent-treated polytape fence. There have been good online reviews from users protecting up to an acre. Soak the polytape in deer repellent (see our DIY Homemade Deer Repellent above) then stake the polytape around the plot, 30 inches off the ground. Re-apply deer repellent every 3-4 weeks or after a heavy rain. Re-apply the repellent using a sponge.
Deer Fencing Considerations
- Fence height should be between 5-8 feet. A woven wire fence is best for permanent fencing.
- Deer can crawl underneath an opening larger than 12 inches. Any fencing should be no more than 10 inches off the ground, and the openings above that should be 12 inches apart./li>
- Electric fencing is an economical solution and should provide a minimum of 5,000 volts. If using polytape wire, it should be 32-34 inches off the ground. Use bait (peanut butter) to entice the deer to touch the polytape wire. A few zaps and they just might get the message (which is "stay away").
- 100 lb monofilament fishing line attached to stakes can be used as a temporary barrier for small areas such as a backyard garden. The first row of line should be no more than 10 inches off the ground, and the openings above that should be 12 inches apart./
Deer Fencing Products
Deer Damage To Ornamental Plants
There are several things you can do to deter deer. The best course of action is really dependent on what you want to accomplish and the probability of ongoing problems. If you live in the suburbs and deer aren't that common, you may just need to apply deer repellent on your annuals and shrubs. If you live in an area near deer populations, you'll want to take steps to permanently resolve the issue such as planting deer tolerant plants if they are eating your ornamentals, or installing a permanent fence if they are invading your garden, crops or orchard.
Deer Tolerant Plants
Deer tolerant plants are those that might be unpalatable or just not normally preferred by deer. But this doesn't mean the plants are completely deer resistant; just that under normal circumstances deer prefer not to browse on these plants. But if food or water is scarce, deer will try anything to survive. Below is a short list of plants known to be deer tolerant.
Deer Tolerant ShrubsAnise Bamboo Barberry Boxwood Butterfly Bush Cotoneaster Eleagnus Firethorn Forsythia Gardenia Heavenly Bamboo Holly Japanese Rose Oleander Ornamental grasses Plum Yew Spirea Viburnum
Deer Tolerant AnnualsAgeratum Annual Periwinkle California Poppy Cleome Cornflower Dusty Miller Flowering Tobacco Forget-me-not Gaillardia Lobelia Marigold Morning Glory Parsley Pentas Plectranthus Poppy Scarlet Sage Snapdragon Sweet Pea Verbena Wax Begonia Zinnia
More information about deer-resistant plants is available on the University of Maine's Cooperative website. The following books also provide a listing of deer resistant plants, and are a great reference if you are looking for some really attract flowering plant options. Most are also availble for Kindle download.