I’m all for urban wildlife and I can understand how people might think in-town deer are fun to watch. But not in my backyard. After 35 years of waging war against these eating machines, Bambi has lost his appeal. Rabbits at least just nibble. Deer consume with reckless abandon. Each year they cause millions of dollars of damage to home landscapes, fruit trees, gardens, and annual and perennial flowers.
What to do? The logical thing would be to plant only deer-resistant perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs. But every list of deer-resistant plants published also includes the disclaimer that deer will eat just about anything under the right conditions. And every resistant list I’ve seen includes plants that I’ve had eaten by deer, such as geraniums, marigolds, alyssum, blue salvia and lilacs, all of which are reportedly resistant. Deer were apparently extra hungry.
Plants typically included on the resistant list include annuals: ageratum, alyssum, calendula, begonia, heliotrope, geranium, blue salvia, snapdragon, zinnia, cleome, dusty miller; perennials: yarrow, allium, Echinacea coneflower, daffodil, peony, poppy, Russian sage, baby’s breath, bleeding heart, asclepius, coral bells, foxglove, liatris, monkshood, sage, gas plant and chelone; shrubs: barberry. forsythia, juniper, pine, lilac, spirea, potentilla.
Plants that deer prefer include apple, arborvitae, birch, daylily, hosta, garden lily, euonymus, hydrangea, impatiens, linden and yew.
Besides avoiding deer’s preferred plants, the following can be tried:
- Fencing: Must be at least 6 feet high. Deer can leap higher if they wish, but 6 feet certainly deters them. Higher fencing is difficult in town. Or use 6 feet fencing with an additional wire added a foot above the top fence edge.
- Hit-and-miss repellents: Human hair, mothballs, walking barefoot, fox urine, deodorant soap, pepper, dried blood, noise makers and many others will work beautifully for some people, and have no deterrent effect at all in the next yard. The results are too sporadic to recommend them widespread to protect valuable plants in home yards. We can experiment at our own risk.
- Successful commercial repellents: Research shows the most successful repellents for deterring deer contain putrefied egg, milk, garlic, pepper and soap. Those ingredients are commonly found in the commercial brand repellents that have tested most successfully: Liquid Fence and Deer Away. But they are expensive.
- Successful homemade repellent: After years of using Liquid Fence successfully to deter deer, but wincing every time I paid the price, I investigated whether there was a homemade recipe that contained the same ingredients, because eggs, milk, garlic, pepper, and soap are household items. I’ve used the following homemade version successfully for about five years. It also repels rabbits.
The recipe: Break a dozen eggs, minus shells, into a gallon jug. Add two cups of milk, shake, and place in a warm spot for 7 days. Empty into a five gallon bucket. Add one container each of inexpensive garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Add one-half cup of Dawn dishwashing soap plus water to make 5 gallons. Mix well and apply with watering can on and around non-food plants. Because it contains raw eggs, apply to areas around food plants instead of onto plant parts you‘ll eat. This repellent can be used around the perimeter of flower beds and gardens for deterring deer and rabbits from entering large areas, although it’s most effective applied on or near plants. Most repellents must be replenished after heavy rain, or every 4 to 6 weeks. And no repellent is 100%.
Maybe we can train deer to slowly nibble only lawn grass and nothing else. Researchers should work on that.