DALY: Keeping deer away from your plants

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

As suburban sprawl continues to encroach on wildlife habitats, humans and wild animals are having encounters that frequently result in property damage. Of all of the questions concerning animals the Extension office receives, the most calls come from homeowners concerned about deer eating their landscape plants.

How can they keep these animals from feasting on their garden plants? Although there are no silver bullets, there are several control tactics that will help minimize their damage.

Deer prefer to feed on some plant materials more than others. Red maple, bald cypress, butterfly bushes, barberry, Carolina jessamine, marigolds and zinnias are some of the plants they avoid. Also, deer do not like plants with strong aromas, such as lantana, rosemary, sage and thyme. However, these plants are not always avoided. When deer populations get high and food is scarce, they will consume almost any plant material.

Using fences to exclude deer is the most effective method. The fence should be at least eight feet tall to prevent deer from jumping over it. However, this is not always economical and practical for the homeowner.

Several deer repellents exist to control deer browsing. They reduce the amount of damage but do not totally eliminate it. Commercially available liquid repellents are sold at local garden centers. Hinder deer repellent has an ammonia smell and is labeled to be used on edible plants. Deer-Away is an egg-based repellent that smells and tastes like rotten eggs. Ro-pel has a bitter taste that will deter deer from desirable plants. Milorganite is an organic fertilizer containing composted sewage sludge that has been shown to keep deer away. These repellents are only effective for a limited period and must be reapplied periodically.

Sometimes certain scare tactics can deter deer. Objects can be placed in trees like pie tins, aluminum foil and other items to frighten them. Lights, sprinklers and barking dogs can also scare them away.

Again, as the human population encroaches on wildlife habitats, more pressure is put on deer. They are being forced to turn to landscape plants as an alternative since their natural food sources are being destroyed. None of these tactics will completely prevent deer damage, but they can help reduce the level of it.

Timothy Daly is an Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent with Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.