Discouraging Deer

Lynda Ellis, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County, July 25, 2014

We know of Bambi, the cute deer in the woods. But when Bambi and her descendants attack our gardens, they are not quite so cute. We would prefer that they eat elsewhere.

Hungrey Deer in Early Spring

Hungrey Deer in Early Spring

We can plant deer-resistant plants.  Many plants on such lists are eaten when deer are hungry enough. One year, deer ate the leaves of my rhubarb plants! They usually will not eat daffodils, ferns, grasses, sedges or very low plants, such as creeping sedums, creeping phlox or periwinkle.

They may eat some plants early in the season or in a perennial’s multi-year life cycle, and avoid them later. For example, I put a fence around my turtleheads for the first few years, as soon as I saw the first signs of deer damage. Now deer leave them alone. One year they ate a foot off the tops of my garden phlox, including all the flower buds, early in the season. The shortened plants were not touched and bloomed later.

One spring, I planted a high-bush cranberry, a nice 3’ globe. That first year, deer ate every single growing tip. It did not grow an inch, though existing leaves did get bigger. I thought it was a goner. The next year, it branched profusely (natural pruning!). It is now over 6’ tall; deer have never touched it since.

We can use odor repellants. People swear by various odorous commercial deer repellants. Coyote urine or urine from other carnivores is also used. A home-made repellant is two eggs and a cup or two of cold water mixed in a high speed blender, added to a gallon of water and sprayed on the foliage. All such repellants smell terrible and must be reapplied when the smell fades or washes off.  If fragrance is one reason you grow flowers, an odor repellant on them will repel you too.

We can use mechanical repellants, including water, light, and sound. Motion detectors have been connected to sprinklers, flashing lights, or radios. All may work for a while. Alternating methods, changing as each one becomes less effective, can sometimes help.

The only sure way to discourage deer is to use a fence.  Some have reported success with one strand of strongly anchored heavy-duty fishing line, four feet off the ground. If a small garden is bordered by a building on one side, a three-foot temporary nylon mesh fence on three sides can work. Taller, better-anchored fences are needed for free standing gardens. Check local ordinances on fencing height. The gate though the fence can sometimes be a weak link.

Bambi and her descendants were here first, but, with effort, we can carve out a niche for our flowers and vegetables too.

For more information see: Coping with deer in home landscapes and Deer Resistant Plants