The buck stops here! (as well as the doe and fawn)
My wife and I enjoy hiking in the woods, and we always enjoy seeing deer. However, farmers and gardeners who experience crop damage from these four-legged furbearers may have a different reaction. And the facts show that deer cause tremendous economic loss through damage to crops, vegetable gardens and ornamental plantings.
In the garden, the deer management strategy with the highest success rate is, quite simply, to keep them out. You could try signs, of course, but since most deer can’t read you’d have to use the ones with pictures (rimshot!).
A better strategy, though often impractical for a landscape, is fencing. A tall wooden fence is best, but perhaps you don’t want your yard to look like an 18th century fort. It’s your call.
Electrical fencing can be an effective and relatively inexpensive way to protect specific garden areas. There are various configurations, the simplest being a single strand of wire which, to work, should be “baited” with peanut butter covered aluminum foil so the deer are trained to stay away. Mesh fencing made of heavy duty plastic can also work.
While I’m no wildlife biologist, I have observed that deer are creatures of habit and seem to travel regular routes. Disrupting that route with a strategically placed obstacle may divert them to your neighbor’s garden, which I’m sure you wouldn’t dream of doing. But hypothetically speaking, a short section of wooden or wire fence might do the trick.
There are a number of commercially available repellant sprays that can be quite effective. I would advise targeting high-value or frequently browsed plants. They must be reapplied with regularity and usually not an option for any edible plants, i.e. fruits, herbs and veggies.
At the Cooperative Extension office, we are frequently asked about things that deer don’t eat. I’ve developed a pretty good list, which includes bicycles, lawn furniture, cinderblocks, and chicken nuggets. Oh wait, maybe they wanted a plant list. Well, that’s a bit tougher.
This topic comes up frequently at Extension Master Gardener gatherings, and collectively we’ve identified about four plants that are completely deer proof. Most everything else falls somewhere between “rarely browsed” and “thanks for planting the tasty meal” (a list of those “rarely browsed” plants is available upon request).
There are, of course, a variety of improvised strategies, such as hanging bars of soap or bags of hair, trash bags waving in the wind, motion detector sprinklers, and the like. Success will vary and is highly dependent on the deer pressure in your area.
Of course, none of these address the root of this quite serious problem or provide any relief for the soybean farmer who is trying so hard to feed his family and the rest of the world. Ultimately the deer population needs to be managed across a wide area. Currently hunting is the best tool for doing so and to state the obvious, it’s the does we need to take.
If you don’t hunt, encourage your friends, and offer to be a willing recipient of excess venison (which, I might add, is lean, healthy, and tasty). There are also wonderful programs to encourage new hunters (especially youth and women) through the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Visit their website for details.