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Lawn and Garden

Keeping Deer Away From Your Plants

by Andrew Jozwik
Johnny Appleseed Greenhouses

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06/01/2012 - This spring was one of the sunniest I can remember. I don't recall having any real precipitation from March all the way until Memorial Day. As I am sure you have noticed all that sun made the plants come out extra early. Flowers that would normally bloom now started blooming weeks ago. One bi-product of all that sun and very little rain is that the native forage for animals such as mule deer has not developed as much as it would in a wet year, and so the deer are going to be after your garden plants even more than usual this year. The dry spring and a recent request I got prompted me to share some of the deer protection methods in this article. The first and most fool proof way to keep deer off of your garden plants and trees is to fence them out. No, I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I only say that because no other means of deterrence will work as well as a good barricade between the deer and your plants. For example the only way to keep deer from rubbing aspens in the fall is to put some wire around them to keep them away.

Short of putting up a fence there are some other ways that you can protect your plants that won't take away from the view. One of the most common questions that I get asked each year is "What can I use to get the deer to leave my plants alone?", or, "What plants do you have that are deer resistant?" To the first question I usually have many answers. Let's talk first about deer sprays. Many of the sprays are very good in theory, but they usually do not have the longevity they need to be practical. Not to mention they usually are made of some pretty unpleasant things. I have seen them made from coyote urine, putrid egg solids (seriously), and even dried blood. None of the active ingredients I have mentioned sound like they belong on roses, or even more so on food crops.

I have a friend in town who has beautiful hostas and the garden creek/ poplar street deer kept attacking them. He was desperate for protection, so he bought just about every deer repellant known to man. Some seemed to work for a period, and then fade away, but the deer always came back. Sound familiar? He was not messing around either. He was buying the expensive deer sprays. You know, the ones that cost so much that you don't know whether to spray them on your plants, or to spritz some on your own neck for a night out on the town. No matter what spray it is, they have to be reapplied at regular intervals, and many have to be reapplied after each rain or watering. To make a long story short I am not a big believer in deer sprays; if you have one that works for you consistently please tell me.

So what does a person do? Well, I know of something that works well for us at the store. As many of you know we display our roses and other perennials outside. Although there is a small fence, it does not keep the deer out because there are openings. We have vicious deer in our neighborhood, no plants are safe, and in fact the only deer herd plants fear more is the garden creek herd. At any rate, they will come dine on rosebuds in broad daylight without our protection. Once we lay out our protection they go away for a couple weeks. Our protection is very simple, we found something deer think smells worse than coyote urine and putrid egg solids… it's "US". You may not believe this but the ONLY thing we have used to protect our plants at the greenhouse from deer for the past 40 yrs. is bath soap. We take various bar soaps and cut them into about thumb size chunks. We drop these chunks on the ground at the base of our potted plants every foot or so, and refresh them every couple weeks. It works great for us, but there are some things you should know. My Dad found that three soaps work best, white ivory, white dial, and Irish spring. Others didn't work as well. In addition, if you are going to be putting the soap on an area where you are growing in the soil the soap will be sitting on. You must put it in cans or saucers so it doesn't affect your growing plants. It cannot go on grass either because it will hurt it. But for us it has worked great, and we only put it on about three times a year. If you are thinking about trying it, come up and see how we are doing it.

Now if soap is not the best way for you because of one reason or another, there are also audio devices that can keep them away; just look them up online. I do not prefer them because I feel like I can hear them when they are on. As I said before there are many people who are looking for a good and not too smelly way to keep the deer off their plants, so if you have one that works share it. If you try mine and it doesn't work, try another. The soap has worked at the store for many years. I hope it works for some of you.

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