Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bambi Go Home! - An Effort to make a Pet Safe/ Deer Proof Garden

Something ate the new plants.  But it wasn't Abby Lab~

Common culprits with low lying vegetation around town is usually rabbits.  But you'd be surprised where deer wander.  Perhaps not in the heart of a city, but in communities where there are parks and cornfields at hand, deer will travel far and wide, looking for a tasty, easy snack behind or near a low fence, or in an open yard. Our Chicago area village is surrounded on two sides by an enormous stretch of woods and the deer will happily wander across a busy street onto yours if you have tastier plants than in their own home.

Those people think deer and envision Bambi. But having lived out in the country and in the Northwest I see deer and think large wood rat with a rack. Deer are beautiful, in form and function but they are also incredibly destructive.

We lost a few of our newly planted spruce to the rabbits this winter, and I'm going to try my best to keep the deer from eating the rest of them (deer aren't particular fond of spruce but if starving will eat about anything green).
How do you know it's a deer that's been nibbling on your landscaping? "Have a Nice Day spelled out in deer poop near your depleted maples might be a good way, but it's not always that obvious.  There are ways to tell however.  Deer lack upper incisors, so browsed twigs and stems show a rough, shredded surface. Rabbit damage has more of a neat, sharp 45-degree cut. Rodents leave narrow teeth marks when feeding on branches. Deer strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. Hungry deer will find just about any plant tasty, going at it like a Weed-eater on crack.
There really is no "deer proof" plant. There are species however that they find less appetizing if given a choice (you know, like turkey bacon). These include purple coneflower (4th photo from the bottom which is ALSO pet safe), thyme, grape Hyacinth, daffodil's, juniper, hawthorn, pinion pine and Douglas fir. For your flowerbeds specifically, they usually won't eat Lady's Mantle, Butterfly Weed, Foxglove, St. John's Wort, Lavender, Daffodil, Poppy and most pungent herbs. Favorites are apple, maple and plum trees, geraniums and tulips.

What I know doesn't work. No Deer Allowed signs. Things that make noise, like sheets of foil (they get used to it). Dogs, (effective in the day but if the dog is in the house at night sleeping, the deer simply wait until dark. Deer voodoo dolls. Spotlights (they get used to them).
Chemical vs. Natural: Some folks recommend chemical repellents to deter deer. I've used both chemically based, and naturally based but ONLY used the chemically based when the only pet was an indoor cat. Some I've tried with some success, Deer Away (good product, lousy dispenser) and Deer Off . Chemicals that don't work well in testing include denatonium benzoate, so check the label. The best "over the counter" product I've tried with success was Plantskydd, which like the Deer Away is a "fear inducing" repellent. However, it's not a product for the aroma sensitive or those whose bedroom window is directly downwind, for Plantskydd's effective ingredient is pig's blood in a veggie oil binder that helps to keep the product from being washed away too quickly. Ewwww!  The pigs' blood works by emitting an odor that animals associate with predator activity and stimulates a fear-based response which will have deer and other mammals looking for somewhere else to dine lest they be the next woodland creature slaughtered.

In short, it smells REALLY bad and will last for a while on any clothing you get it on.. Just be careful, when and where you spray, but typically the odor fades to the human nose after a day.. It can also discolor leaves, so spray it around the soil at the base of the plants. Of all the "non green" things I've tried, hands down, it worked the best but I was NOT a fan of the smell at all on day one.
There are also taste repellents. some of which you can make at home, naturally and some which you can buy, such as Tree e Guard®, or the McDonald's Big Mac (just kidding)

The BEST pet and child safe product is that I've tried and been very pleased with is called "Deer Scram" and it requires no special handling - just use the scoop and sprinkle it around your plants. A totally "green" mixture, formulated out of organic ingredients, Deer Scram forms a protective odor barrier around your plants and shrubs.  To humans it smells like a very mild fertilizer (which it is) but it's the "smell of death" to deer (and hungry bunnies don't like it either) and you only have to apply it every 45 days or so. (Normal rainfall actually enhances it's effectiveness).  

to order http://www.deerscram.com/

Though not as effective as Deer Scram,  a natural DIY repellents that does seem to work is a mixture of 20% eggs and 80% water. This may clog your sprayer so if you can remove the white membrane attached to the yoke before mixing, that will help. This will need to be reapplied every 30 days but it can be a less expensive alternative, especially if you have chickens handy.There are other "home remedy" methods to repel deer. Hot sauce has been said to repel (though it does not work on Cajun deer). Try 3 tsp per gallon of water and respray after rain, or watering. Others swear by coyote urine (100%). I've had a hard time getting the coyote to pee in the cup so I'll stick with either the egg mixture or Deer Scram

Home-remedy repellents can be questionable at best. Some call for scattering human hair or soap shavings around the plants, or hanging bars of soap and fine mesh bags of hair from the trees, Blair Witch style (replacing both soap and hair bags monthly). Deer have been reported to simply eat the soap bars, and frankly hanging bags of hair from your trees and plants is only going to repel the neighbors (who think you've gone crazy on them and if you've got the freshly slaughtered blood smell wafting from your soil as well from a spray of Playtskydd, you'll find kids won't even come to your house on Halloween any more.)

Materials that work in one area or for one person may not work at all in an area more highly frequented by deer, and there are differences in feeding habits that run state to state.
Netting and Tubing. Tubes of Vexar netting around individual seedlings are an effective method to reduce deer damage to small trees. The material degrades in sunlight and breaks down in three to five years. These tubes can protect just the growing terminals or can completely enclose small trees. Attach tubes to a support stake to keep them upright. Tubes may not protect the trunk from damage when the buck uses the trees to scrape the velvet off of the antlers. A buck in the mood is not going to be deterred by a tube. Another option is flexible, sunlight-degradable netting that expands to slip over seedlings.

Paper or Reemay budcaps. These are used to protect a trees terminal bud during dormant season. They may help reduce browse damage. Budcaps are rectangular pieces of material folded lengthwise and stapled around the terminal leader. These are used most commonly on conifers since deer normally munch on the conifer seedlings in the late fall and early spring when the caps can be installed without interfering with tree growth.
Fencing: Adequate fencing to exclude deer is the only sure way to control deer damage. But don't think the standard fence will do it. Driving down from the Northern part of the state into the city, I pass through a park that is fenced to keep deer out. I've seen a dozen cars hit deer there in the last couple years commuting that way. The deer just pop right over it. A standard deer-proof fence is 8 feet high and made of woven wire.

Some people have luck with tying white plastic shopping bags on the fence every couple of feet. The noise and movement of the plastic bags seems to scare deer and keep them away.

For small gardens and stands of trees (no more than 3 to 4 acres) you can use invisible polypropylene mesh barriers. These are 7 and a half to 8 feet high, UV treated with a high tensile strength that blends in. It comes in rolls 100 to 330 feet long and is attached with hog ring staples to high tension line. The bottom is either staked to the ground or attached to another high tension wire to keep the deer from limbo dancing underneath. Some people use a slanting type deer fence or fortify their electric fences by baiting with peanut butter. Baiting is NOT legal for hunting but it is for teaching a deer what Mr. Fence is all about. The peanut butter will draw them in to a fence/nose encounter (Choosy Mothers Choose . . . Son of a Bitch!) The deer will remember that and will associate the fence with stay the heck away.

If you are in the country and you and your neighbors HAVE NO OUTDOOR PETS- a last resort - the electric fence.  Electric fences also can be used if you are dead serious about it. . Electric fences should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5-gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps .  Several configurations of electric fences are commonly used: vertical five-, seven-, or nine-wire; slanted seven-wire; single strand; and others.

There are restrictions in many areas as to the use of an electric fence and for good reason. If the fence is legal by local or state statute, there may be restrictions as to purpose, number of strands, size and type of charger (might have to be Less Than Lethal approved), must be inside the perimeter of a mechanical fence, setbacks from property lines and public access, etc. (If electric fences are outlawed only outlaws will have electric fences.) So you should check your local ordinances before purchasing and installing. In any event, when using a single strand electric fence you will want to mark the wire with reflective tape or a cloth strip, something to catch the deers eye. Otherwise they won't see it until they've gone right through it.

And remember, if all else fails.

Remind yourselves you don't live in Thailand where giant monitor lizards try and enter your home.


  1. OMD OMD that is the RED MOBIL OIL sign thingy... haven't seen one of those in AGES.

    We tried everythingy to keep deer outta our garden ON THE HILL...nothing WE tried really worked... . NOW it is INSIDE OUR fence... So far... So Good.

  2. Just saw on the News a family awakened to find a HUGE snake of the constrictor variety crawling across their pictures on the wall. Not something we'd like to find. We don't have deer around, so we think they're cute. Our relos in Washington DC, who live INSIDE the beltway always have deer in the back garden.

  3. Thanks for all the good and not-so-good remedies. We do have deer that come and defoliate plants in no time, but we are inundated with rabbits -- and we know for sure because their poop pellets are everywhere!!!

    Woos - Ciara and Lightning

  4. Wow! thanks for all the advice! We have a fenced in yard, and that keeps the bigger animals out. Unfortunately, we think bunnies have a death wish since they somehow squeeze through the smallest openings, and then I, Chester, the greatest bunny catcher in the world, catch and dispatch them. We've never seen deer in our suburban neighborhood, but ghostwriter sees them all the time in the little country town where the nursing home is located. In winter, they walk down the plowed sidewalks like they own the place, before heading over to the supermarket across the main road, probably to raid the salad bar there!

  5. We don't have a deer problem at our house cause we don't have any beautiful flowers. Mom has a black thumb.

    Aroo to you,

    1. My Mom can kill a plant just by being in the same room with it for 10 minutes. Mom and Dad have a deal - she makes homemade bread, rolls and buns and he tends to the yard and garden.

      Abby Lab

  6. I'M glad I'm not in Thailand :o) we mostly use special secret trick from yahoo clever.... but it mostly ends with a fail. Like the smart trick do place dogs hair on the fence... I gathered every hair from Easy and my mother placed it on her fence... we could hear the collective laughing fit from the forest :o) there was another "trick" with dog pooh but my father refused to ride 12 hours in a car together with a stinky bucket :o)

  7. MOL MOL MOL Abby we love your mom's glass 1/2 full. For sure deer are nothing compared to giant monitor lizards. That cracked mom up!!
    Hugs madi and thanks for visiting today

  8. Hard to find but does work. Lion scat. Is there are wildlife park in your area or are you on good terms with a zoo keeper?


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