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This week's Book of the Week feature is Preventing Deer Damage, by Robert G. Juhre.
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From Chapter 8: Repellents — Home remedies
Smell to repel! There are many repellents that can be formulated at home for a modest cost and sometimes from ingredients that are found around the home. They can be fairly effective for small area protection or to safeguard against specific plantings. Repellents work because their odor is repugnant to deer or the pungent taste is offensive to their bland taste preference.
The advantages of home remedies include low cost, easy application and no unsightly barriers. They do have their downside, such as the need to replenish after rains or long exposure to hot, dry or windy periods. If the mixture contains eggs, you will have to pour the mixture over the plant foliage instead of using a sprayer, as the egg coagulates and will clog the sprayer nozzle. Blood meal is an ingredient in some of these concoctions and can attract dogs and other carnivores. Putrid egg mixes seem to attract raccoons and the fats in soap are tasty to rodents. Most of the time these repellents will not be a cause for concern, but it is possible to create a new problem while trying to solve an old one.
Repellents need to be applied early in the growing season, before the deer begin to feed in the spring. It is much more difficult to dissuade them after their feeding patterns are established. The following are some tried and true remedies.
Hair is readily obtained from your local barber shop or beauty salon. Spread it around the base of the plant to be protected and at the drip line (the outside perimeter of the plant foliage). Human hair is protein and will gradually break down. Periodic replacement is necessary. Do not use treated hair.
Dog & Cat Hair
Dog and cat hair is obtainable from your local veterinarian or dog grooming parlor. Watch out for the fleas.
Blood meal is used as a slow-release fertilizer and is available in small packages at nurseries and garden centers and in larger bags from farm supply stores. Blood meal, although a fertilizer, will not burn your plants. It can be spread at the base of your plants or mixed with water and sprayed on the foliage. A common method of application is to place three or four tablespoons of blood meal in a cheese cloth or nylon bag and tie onto the branches of the plants. If the plants cannot support the bags, then attach them to stakes driven into the ground near the plants. This method is double barreled in that it not only repels, but fertilizes as well. The blood meal must be replaced periodically, as it dries out or is leached away by rain.
Eggs, Soap & Pepper Mix
Mix raw eggs with liquid soap and hot cayenne pepper. The soap helps the mixture adhere to the foliage and has some repellent power of its own. The rotten egg smell is repugnant to a deer’s sense of smell and the pepper is definitely offensive to its taste buds. Always test your mixture sparingly on a plant before making a wholesale application. Most of these mixtures have no toxic effects on most plants, but play it safe anyway.
Eggs & Onion Mix
This mixture is a variation of the standard egg, soap and pepper mix. Blend two eggs, including the shells, with two cups of chopped green onions, one tablespoon of fresh cayenne or chili powder and two cups of water. If you make too much, add some vinegar and oil and you have a fine marinade. A bit of garlic won’t hurt either.
Some rose growers report that applying a mixture of six eggs to one gallon of water will act as an effective repellent. Apply to the ground under the rose bushes as well as the stems and leaves. Remember to wash your cut roses before displaying them in the house, unless the sulfur smell is appealing to you. There is a small part of the general population that finds skunk smell appealing, so perhaps these are sulfur lovers also?
This is just a way to dispense any of the homemade concoctions. Soak your old socks (use the one the washer didn’t eat) in the egg and pepper mix. Add some hair or blood meal or both to the mix. No soap is necessary. Attach the socks to branches or stakes. They are not very attractive, but novel. I wonder if it is the old socks or the repellent that offends the deer?
This is a biennial plant (Euphorbia lathyris) that supposedly keeps gophers from your garden and also repels the deer. I have not found it to be effective for stopping deer or gophers from performing their favorite pastime.
Gallon Holding Tanks
This is for the person that doesn’t want to continually refresh their repellent. However, in dry country, evaporation will diminish the mix and in rainy parts of the country, continual rain will dilute it. Dig a hole in the ground to accommodate whatever size plastic container you propose to use as your holding tank. Place the jug in the hole, leaving 1/2” of the lip protruding. Fill the container with a loose tepee of sticks. Replenish as needed.
Tape Gold Dial soap into tree trunks, branches, fence posts or stakes. Some claim Irish Spring is preferable. Replace the bar as needed.
A study conducted in Connecticut apple orchards revealed the key to successfully using soap to repel small numbers of deer was the distance between bars of soap. The researchers hung bars of Dial, Cashmere Bouquet, Ivory, Shield, Coast, Irish Spring, Safeguard, and Jergens from branches in the browse zone.
The distance between the bars was 2’ to 6’. Damage was reduced by about 70% on branches located not more than 3’ from the soap bars. There was no significant reduction on limbs located more than 3’ from a bar. Soap apparently will not deter an entire herd, but will reduce damage if only a few deer are involved. You’ll need a wholesale source for soap.
Some individuals still swear by certain brands based on their own experience. Perhaps there are regional differences? It may pay to experiment and stick with what works for you. Logic doesn’t enter into this battle. Sometimes the easiest way to attach soap to the branches is to leave the paper covers on and drill a hole through the bar. The bar will last longer with the paper on and apparently is porous enough to still be effective. If the bar is foil wrapped, it’s probably better to remove the foil covering. If you use twine to attach the soap, rather than wire, you will find it will not cut through the bar while hanging from the branch.
Most of these home remedies will work for part of a year, but sometimes fail to be effective later on. At other times they will work great for the entire year, but will not be as effective the next year. There really hasn’t been enough scientific research done to understand all the nuances of what is happening. Perhaps changes in the weather, stress on the herd or availability of food are some of the factors affecting the effectiveness of these deterrents. You will have to make your own observations and draw your own conclusions. You are not the only one in your area with the problem. Talk to your neighbors and the local agencies regarding their success stories.
A while ago, USA Today had an interesting quote from Mike McGrath, then editor of Organic Gardening magazine. He was interviewed at the Philadelphia Flower Show about what he would do about deer. His reply was, “You have to mark your territory. You have to pee along your border. You have to get a carnivore to come over and pee around your garden if you’re a vegetarian.” This may work if you have a small garden, but it does have its limitations, unless you are a really big coffee drinker.
Scottish Deerhound Dogs
The origin of the deerhound breed is so obscure and of such antiquity that it is difficult to ascertain whether the Deerhound was at one time the same as the Irish Wolfdog (or Wolfhound) or whether over the course of centuries it was bred to be better suited to hunt the stags of Scotland.
So highly was the Deerhound held in esteem that it almost led to its demise due to restrictive breeding. The high value of the Deerhound was not only due to its relative scarcity, but also due to its prowess as a hunter. He has a very keen scent, great endurance, speed and strength, which was necessary coping with Scottish Deer, which often weighed 250 pounds. This dog craves human companionship, is quiet and dignified as well as being smart and alert. It is not aggressive, but has great courage and persistence. Dogs can certainly keep deer at bay. They can also chase them (bad news). Bark a lot (even worse news) and they seem to sleep a lot (the worse news). But if you opt for a dog, the Deerhound would be a more suitable family dog than Rottweilers or Wolfdogs.
This is not a fence, nor a repellent, but it is still an alternative. A woman in Damascus, Pennsylvania wrote me to say she has several acres under cultivation. She uses repellents in the spring on her gardens, but also feeds the deer year-round at a feeding station. She finds she is using less repellents each year. Many wildlife biologists, though, oppose this method as it can introduce diseases.
Learn more about Preventing Deer Damage here.
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About the Author:
Robert G. Juhre spent more than 50 years gardening in deer country and he tried just about every repellent and barrier option out there to figure out what works. On his remote mountaintop property in Washington, Juhre managed to successfully secure 4 acres of gardens and orchards from deer, bear, and elk. Knowing that it's their home too, he did leave the rest of his 16-acre property open for wildlife to use. Juhre passed away in 2012, leaving behind an impressive legacy of knowledge for generations to come.
Similar Books of Interest:
The Guide To Humane Natural Critter Control, by Theresa Rooney
Electric Fencing: How to Choose, Build, and Maintain the Best Fence for Your Plants and Animals, by Ann Larkin Hansen