Deer-resistant Gardening

Making Your Yard Deer Resistant

As residents of the west coast of BC, it is becoming more and more prevalent that we must strive to find new and innovative ways to coexist with the wildlife we share our communities with. One tactic that we can exploit to dissuade deer from browsing within our yards are repellents and deterrents. Through the use of sprays, fences, and introducing ‘deer-resistant’ plants into our yards, we can minimize the damage to gardens and encourage deer to spend time foraging in other areas.

The following tips and tricks have been taken and revised from The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you have any tips that you have found to be effective, please submit them at info@uwss.ca

Repellents

Deer repellents use a disagreeable odor or taste, or a combination of both, to dissuade deer from eating the treated plant. They are easy to apply and homemade solutions are inexpensive.

Numerous odor and taste repellents have been developed to reduce deer damage, and new products are continually becoming available. There have been numerous studies to test the effectiveness of these repellents, often producing conflicting results. No repellent eliminates deer damage entirely, but they may inhibit initial feeding patterns, or reduce foraging on new or budding plants.

An All-in-One Homemade Deer Repellent

Mix the following in a 1-gallon tank sprayer:

  • 2 beaten and strained eggs— strain them to remove the white strings surrounding the yolk, which otherwise will plug up your sprayer).
  • 1 cup milk, yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
  • 20 drops essential oil of clove, cinnamon, or eucalyptus, found in small bottles at health food stores
  • 1 tsp. cooking oil or dormant oil 
  • 1 tsp. liquid dish soap

Top off the tank with water and pump it up. Shake the sprayer occasionally and mist onto dry foliage. One application will last for 2 to 4 weeks in dry weather.

Repellents work best if applied before the deer develop a routine feeding pattern. This means applying repellents before leaves or flower buds emerge and as new growth appears. It’s easier and more effective to prevent a feeding habit from forming than to try to break an established one.

Repellent facts:

  • Spray-on repellents need to be applied frequently to protect the new plant growth, and will need to be reapplied after rain and long exposure to hot, dry, or windy weather. 
  • Deer may become accustomed to the same repellent over time, and eventually ignore it. Alternating repellents may help keep deer confused and more wary of eating your plants. 
  • Repellents that are applied to plant surfaces are generally more effective than capsules containing garlic oil, bags of hair, or other devices that produce an odor intended to protect a specific area. 
  • Finally, before putting complete faith in a repellent, first try it on a small area. Always use commercial repellents according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Scare Tactics

Like most animals, deer are neophobic (fearful of novel objects), and many scare tactics take advantage of this behavior. However, deer soon get accustomed to new things and damage resumes after they realize no actual harm will come to them. As with repellents, a given tactic will work on some deer, but no single one seems to work on all of them. If the animals are already use to feeding in the area, scare tactics will last an even shorter length of time.

Scare tactics can be visual (scarecrows, bright lights, spare blankets), auditory (noisemaking devices such as exploders, whistles, recorded dog barks, etc.), or olfactory (predator urine or droppings).

Deer Resistant Plants

Whether or not a particular plant will be eaten depends upon several factors: the deer’s nutritional needs, its previous feeding experience, plant palatability, time of year, and availability of wild foods. When preferred foods are scarce, there are very few plants that deer will not eat. A large deer population can create competition for food, causing deer to eat many plants that they normally would avoid.

Deer develop predictable travel patterns, and prior damage is often a good indicator of potential future problems. Any new plantings added to an existing landscape or garden already suffering from severe deer damage will likely also be browsed, so it is important to take preventative measures as a first step if possible. The following table includes a list of plants that can be cultivated on the West Coast and are normally not palatable for black-tailed deer.

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