Homeowners want lush gardens in spite of a rebounding deer population. Whitetail deer are the most common.
According to Dr. Clay Nielsen, Southern Illinois University, by 1930 U.S. populations were approximately 300,000, now there are roughly 29 million. Any plants with foliage or edible stems can become food sources. Neil Soderstrom’s book, “Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 other Pesky Mammals” (Rodale, 2009), addresses these growth explosions.
|Deer Browsing Our Woodland Area|
“Today deer overpopulation among whitetails has proven almost disastrous in many wild areas,” writes Soderstrom. “In over-browsed areas, amphibians and insects have no cover . . . Birds and other wildlife that are dependent on those same insects must move on or starve.” Some forestland has more than 200 whitetails browsing per square mile. A healthy deciduous forest will support about 15. Rock Creek Park in the Washington, DC region is estimated to have 375 deer living there, reported by Chief Ranger Nick Bartolomeo on May 30, 2012.
Deer control theories begin with keeping them away from your plants. They are beautiful to watch, but “not in my backyard,” from a gardener’s standpoint.
Keep them from your garden with fences too high for them to jump -- 8’. Most county codes here allow 6-7’. If you must meet a 6’ height code, widen the horizontal distance deer must jump with deer resistant tall, spreading shrubs along both sides of the fence.
One fence is stiff plastic mesh that comes in rolls. It can be wrapped around and drawn between trees for support in woodland areas without staking. It’s black and not very visible. For information, call Benner’s Gardens at 1-800-753-4660, www.bennersgardens.com. Also check see-through mesh netting available as Poly Deer Fence, www.deerfence.com.
Other deterrents are draping netting over favorite plants, hanging CDs on shrubs to scare them; water blasting from motion activated automatic sprinklers (Scarecrow) and deer repellents.
Based on the fact that deer are herbivores, you can try home remedies such as hanging human hair in wool bags on plants, rubbing and stringing bar soap on shrubs and trees, and suet, if you’re using bird feeders.
Commercial repellants range from putrescent eggs to animal urine. Try an egg-based product like Deer Guard, www.repelproducts.com/deerguardgrowing.aspx or Coyote Urine, www.deerbusters.com/coyote-urine-lure, a deer and rabbit repellent made of ammonium salts of fatty acids.
Another class of repellents makes plants taste bad. We've had tremendous success in our garden with Messina Wildlife’s Deer Stopper, www.messinawildlife.com, approved for organic growers. Active ingredients are rosemary oil, mint oil and putrescent whole egg solids.
Use plants deer don’t like – those with thorny, hairy leaves, thick, leathery foliage or herbs (because of their strong flavor or odor). Deer prefer fertilized and irrigated plants. The more accustomed they are to people, the better the chance they’ll eat ornamentals. If they’re hungry, they’ll try almost anything. They’re known to have varied tastes.
Two Web sites that offer excellent suggestions for deer resistant plants and additional information about deer control are:
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, http://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance and Out Out Deer, http://outoutdeer.com/deer-resistant-plants/
©2012 Joel M. Lerner
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