Soap, hair or spice can fight plant-eating deer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It took hours to get those impatiens looking just right and those pole beans growing, only to have them mowed down by hungry deer.

This year, it's time to fight back.

While quick fixes are available at stores - no, not guns - by way of sprays and granular materials to repel deer, help may already be at home. The possibilities are endless, from bar soaps to hair to spicy solutions.

The key is knowing what deer's sensitive noses don't like.

They certainly don't like humans. And human hair, especially those from freshly permed salon customers, works great, as long as gardeners aren't shy about asking stylists to sweep up several handfuls to place alongside their plants or hang above the ground in nylon stockings.

Other home remedies:

Baby powder. If it's good enough for baby, it's good enough for baby plants.

Eggs. Crack a few, mix with 2 quarts of water and apply the solution to plants. The eggs will decompose and deer won't like the smell.

Deodorant soap and dryer sheets. Soap shavings could be scattered on the ground, or drill a hole in the soap and hang them from trees.

Chili powder, cayenne pepper and hot peppers. Matthews suggests chopping some peppers in a blender and add water, let the solution stand overnight, then strain it through cheesecloth and empty into a spray bottle.

'I've never seen a pepper plant, sweet or hot, that's been bothered by a deer,' Matthews said.

Mothballs. They're dangerous around vegetables because of their chemical content and work great in flower beds but could be spotted by curious children. Try crushing them to a less-detectable size.

'Something unnatural like soap, dryer sheets or human hair - I don't want human hair on my tomato plants,' Matthews said. 'You've got to think logically about how you apply this stuff.'

Blood meal. The nitrogen-rich granular fertilizer repels deer but is attractive to dogs.

Visual scare tactics, such as reflective material, flags, balloons, aluminum pie plates and paper streamers. Many won't work if the wind is calm.

If cost isn't an option, a tall fence may outdo any home remedy.

An 8-foot fence is the most practical use around larger-scale operations such as orchards, said Steve Miller, a research horticulturalist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville.

Another option is simply knowing what plants deer like and don't like.

Some of their favorite candy? Columbine, daylily, geranium, hostas, impatiens, pansies, redbud, rhododendron, roses and tulips, and many vegetables, including beans, potatoes and tomatoes.

Annual flowers usually left alone by deer include dahlia, Four O'Clock, flowering tobacco, larkspur, marigold, poppy, snapdragon, strawflower and vinca.

According to Dave Jensen, owner of Deer-Resistant Landscape Nursery in Clare, Mich., some top deer-resistant perennials are barberry, bleeding heart, bluebeard, boxwood, butterfly bush, catmint, daffodils, foxglove, hellebores, hyssop, lavender, monkshood, mullein, ornamental grasses, meadow and Russian sage, and spurge.