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Dealing with Deer - Deer Free Landscapes

by Dan Eskelson on Dec 18, 2015

As with most pest problems related to our landscapes, when considering the problem of deer damage, it's better to consider concepts of "control" rather than strict programs of "eradication". Most natural pests are far more adapted to the earth's environment than us humans and can adapt to changing conditions rapidly. For these reasons, it's not realistic to believe we can achieve 100% control 100% of the time.

Successful control of deer damage to the landscape requires a combination of observation, study, cultural/physical/chemical controls, and a good attitude.

In most areas, deer will cause the greatest amount of damage to the landscape when natural food sources are scarce. In my area, we can count on deer returning to the gardens sometime in mid to late August, when some of their favored forest foods have dried up or been consumed. By understanding this timing, we're able to protect susceptible plants as needed or desired.

Deer will visit occasionally throughout the winter, nibbling on anything palatable, even sunflower seed hulls below our bird feeders. It's important to protect dormant stems of young shrubs and trees...deer browsing not only removes important tip growth but also leaves ragged, torn stems, inviting rot and disease.

The first flush of new growth in spring can bring very high levels of deer damage...after a long, lean winter, the succulent new growth of our pampered garden plants is extremely tempting. a few hungry deer can wipe out a susceptible garden overnight.

Your deer herd may have different habits...by understanding them, you'll be more prepared to protect your gardens.

Following are the control measures I use and recommend:

  1. Plant deer-resistant plants - note that a very hungry deer will eat almost anything (except, in my experience, barberry and potentilla) - but by using many *resistant* plants, we'll have less damage.
  2. Observe which plants are most susceptible to your region - some may be those listed as deer resistant. When browsing is most likely, be sure to use a repellant. Mixing the dry form is a bit of a hassle, it's more economical than the pre-mixed.
  3. For absolute control in larger areas, there is no substitute for an eight-foot high fence. We enclosed our vegetable garden with "deer fencing" made of heavy-duty black polypropylene - unlike metal fencing, it's very unobtrusive.
  4. To safeguard a single tree or shrub, use the above, or metal, fencing around the plant and stake the fence to the ground. When a tree grows to the stage where the lower branches are above browsing height (4-6 feet), remove the enclosure.

There have been numerous other techniques suggested for deer control including repellents made of human hair, coyote urine, bars of soap, rotten eggs, etc. Most of these are useful for just a short while until the effective odor is diluted by rain or irrigation. The product mentioned above seems to be able to retain its effectiveness. also, NOT TONIGHT DEER has proven effective.

So if you first observe and study the habits of your local deer population, you'll be able to apply specific techniques to greatly reduce deer damage. Don't forget to bring the right attitude to the effort - you won't have 100% success because our "cousins" in the animal world are amazingly adaptable and possess wisdom unavailable to us humans.

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