Deer Management and Control

Deer Management and Control - Garden Pest Tip

I've been fighting the Bambi Wars on my five acre plot in Colorado for twelve years, some years with more success than others. Deer are a fact of life for gardeners in much of the country. Unless you install a deer-resistant fence-that's eight feet high, extend the wire below the soil, and electrify the top-you're going to experience some deer damage to your plantings. In years with severe winters, damage is extensive. In milder years, the herd of 12 does and fawns which migrates through my yard are much more selective in their tastes.

Imagine how your garden looks to hungry deer. After a winter spent browsing on twigs, deer think your lush green plants and bushes are a gourmet smorgasbord. Your tulip buds and hybrid tea roses are dessert. My tulips were planted for eight years before they actually bloomed one year and I found out what color they were. (Yellow. I thought I had planted red.)

There are dozens of deer repellants available. To be effective, they must be reapplied after every rain or watering if you use overhead watering techniques. Dr. William Andelt from the Department of Fishery and Wildlife Biology at Colorado State University, tested numerous repellents. Those with the greatest success were Big Game Repellent (a commercial brand), coyote urine and a 20% egg solution (one egg to one cup of water, strained and applied by sprayer.)

Eggs may repel deer well, but after a few days in the sun, I guarantee they repel gardeners. Coyote urine and mountain lion dung may be satisfactory, but I've had little success convincing the coyotes to urinate on my Hostas, nor do I care to stalk a mountain lion waiting for it to excrete. Some say human urine works as well. My husband and son declined to assist in protecting the rose garden.

Noise-makers and flashing lights, including loud radios and motion detecting devices startle deer, but the reaction from your nearest neighbors may startle you as well. Strong-smelling soaps and human hair hung in bushes did not work in CSU tests, but bars of Irish Spring soap "planted" on stakes kept deer out of my rose garden successfully last year-until my dogs ate them and spent several days foaming at the mouth.

The best way to minimize deer damage is to plant "deer resistant" plants, and avoid plants that deer favor. A number are water-conserving as well. In general, deer don't care for plants with fuzzy leaves or those that taste bitter. They avoid poisonous plants instinctively.

Annuals with good deer resistance include ageratum, ice plant, pincushion flower, verbena and zinnias. Perennials to select include Apache plume, most of the artemesia and sagebrush family, bleeding heart, clematis, coneflower and daffodils, delphiniums, foxglove, wild geraniums, iris, poppies, peonies, Russian sage, tansy and yarrow. For shrubs and trees, try ash, barberry, box elder, bush cinquefoil, butterfly bush (buddlia), cotoneaster, currants and gooseberries, euonymous, forsythia, lilac (though my deer love them), mahonia, and viburnum. Species roses, shrub roses and old garden roses are more resistant to deer than tender hybrid teas, and far hardier. Plants deer especially dislike include catmint, chives, lavender, sage, spearmint, thyme and yarrow-all useful and easy to grow in this area.

If you plant just those recommended plants, will deer avoid your garden? Don't count on it! Individual deer have plant preferences just like people do. The minute you convert your entire yard to yucca and yarrow, you're sure to be visited by the one deer in America that prefers these plants. Perhaps the best thing to cultivate in the Bambi wars is an enjoyment of these graceful, gentle herbivores who share our environment-and our gardens.

Copyright Carol Wallace, All Rights Reserved.

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