The Yardavore: Deerly Departed
by Maria Reidelbach
Last month we talked about the havoc that deer wreak in your garden. We covered how deer are gourmets and like to eat baby plants and most of the same fruit and vegetables we like, how they’re creatures of habit and tend to stick to the same habits and trails. One interesting fact I’ve learned in the meantime is that the leaping deer signs so common on our roads often mark the spots where deer trails cross the road. They’re like deer crosswalks (cross leaps?). Who knew? Also, another deer resistant edible plant to add to the list from last month: our local currant maven, Ray Tousey of Clermont, told me that deer won’t eat black currant plants—only the black currant has the fragrant greenery deer scorn, the other colors don’t.
Last month we talked about deflecting methods, this month we’ll talk about more active measures to take to protect your dinner, because once deer know that your yard is yummy, they’ll make sure to cruise it regularly for anything fresh and new and it will become one of their habitual paths. The most extreme and permanent solution is fencing; it’s also the most expensive and I’ll leave that for last.
A combination of more modest strategies will often do the trick. Scare devices work, especially if you regularly rotate them to keep deer on their toes (do deer have toes?). You can try motion-triggered lights or water sprays. Scare tape and balloons may be effective, as can be the classic scarecrow, especially if you dress it with shiny objects like sequins and metallic items (why should drag queens have all the fun?). Wind chimes with shiny danglers hung from trees can work, too.
The next resort are repellent substances. Repellents work best if you use them before deer have made your place their daily hangout. And again, for the best results, alternate what you use. There are a bunch of different products out there, some of them are stinky, some noisy, some emit electronic waves. Liquid repellents seem to work the best, and are used either on the plant itself (contact repellent) or are sprinkled around the plants (area repellent). Deer Defeat, a company in Red Hook, has developed a nontoxic product that works so well that Victoria Garden’s landscaping crews use it in many of the gardens they care for. You spray on or around the plants you want to protect, several times a season, as directed. You can use it on food plants, but because it contains raw eggs, it’s not recommended for use on plants you expect to eat any time soon. For the surprise effect, alternate stinky repellent with “sweet” repellent made with cinnamon, also available commercially.
You can make your own repellent; the essential ingredients are eggs and water. It may not last as long as commercial products, but you probably still only need to apply it every couple of weeks. Here’s a recipe for a tweaked version.
Stinky or Sweet Deer Repellent
3 raw eggs
3 Tbsp garlic juice or chopped garlic OR 15 drops of cinnamon oil
Use a blender to puree the ingredients with enough water to keep everything whirling. Add the mixture to one gallon of water. Use the liquid as a spray either directly on the plants or on surrounding vegetation.
This repellent may also be effective against rabbits and groundhogs.
Other common home deer repellents, such as hanging bars of Irish Spring soap or balls of hair, don’t seem to be as effective as sprays, with reports of deer actually eating the soap, but again, try things out, and talk to your neighbors about what they’ve found effective. Deer gangs have their cultures and herd mentalities.
The most expensive, but most sure-fire solution to keeping deer away is a fence. The best kind of fence varies regionally, but here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, there are several good choices. A minimalist approach that works near houses was shared with me by Chris Hewitt, the publisher of this paper and a master gardener. He drives six-foot pieces of rebar into the ground around the edges of beds. Then he runs three rows of nylon fishing line low, middle and high on the bars. Deer bump the line and don’t know what it is. Chris cautions that this works best in beds around houses where people are and deer are skittish, otherwise the deer figure out that they can push through.
Diane Greenberg of Catskill Native Nursery works on the front lines of deerland all the time. She has used picket fences with added taller posts to which a running chain is attached, making the fence look more imposing—to a deer. Chris says a five-foot fence can work around a small garden; deer are hesitant to jump into a small, enclosed space. A six-foot fence can be made to look taller with the addition of sticks poking above. But you really need a seven-foot fence, in this area, to reliably keep deer out. For best value, Chris recommends using 2×4 welded wire fencing and cedar posts—there are cheaper deer-netting materials, but they are not very durable. The wire fencing is also available in a black vinyl coated version that is less visible.
For those set against constructed fences, Diane suggests living fences—thick, tall hedges made of a variety of deer repellent and resistant bushes and grasses, with constructed gates at entry points. Hedges have the virtue of adding beauty and a natural border to your garden.
Ray Tousey has a table at the Kingston winter farmers’ market where he has his own currant juice and crème de Cassis, among other tasty produce and products. He’s got plants in season.
Deer Defeat, more info at deerdefeat.com
Herzog’s Supply Company, Kingston, herzogs.com, carries sweet deer repellent and 2×4 welded wire fencing.
Catskill Native Nursery, Kerhonkson, catskillnativenursery.com, edible deer-resistant plants and herbs.
Victoria Gardens, Rosendale, carries deer repelling supplies and plants.
Phantom Gardener, Rhinebeck, thephantomgardener.com, an organic source of gardening and deer repelling supplies.
Maria Reidelbach is creator and proprietress of Homegrown Mini-Golf on Kelder’s Farm and is quite busy getting the edible landscaping ready for spring.