Gardeners vs. deer

By Tom Seymour | May 29, 2014
Photo by: Tom Seymour Deer repellents, from left, include flash tape, The Guardian and Deer Defeat.

Scarce a one can avoid problems with deer. Even people living in the suburbs see deer incursions on shrubs, fruit trees and gardens. Short of erecting a 7-foot fence (deer are not able to jump a 7-foot fence. Supposedly, they can clear a 6-foot fence with relative ease), gardeners must rely upon other deterrents. Fortunately, the market brims with deer-repelling devices. Some of these are more effective than others and for most of us, it’s a trial-and-error situation to find out what works best for our situation.

For those who have never encountered problems with deer, the magnitude of the damage inflicted upon our shrubs and gardens by these persistent ungulates may come as a surprise. Let me give a for-instance.

Perhaps five or six years ago, I decided to create an orchard. To that end, I bought a selection of pear trees and plum trees. This was on a part of my property where I had never seen deer or deer sign. But as I was to learn later, that didn’t matter. “Plant it and they will come,” was my hard-earned lesson.

With the old notion of digging a $5 hole for a $1 plant in my head, I set out digging. That in itself was hard work. Then came the actual planting, soil amending and watering. In the end, my little orchard was firmly established and in only a short time, my fruit trees began growing.

In fact, the trees made remarkable growth during the first year. Thoughts of sweet, juicy pears from my own orchard tantalized me as I watered and tended my trees. Everything was in fine order. Fall changed to winter and when spring rolled around again, I was anxious to see how my trees had fared. But I couldn’t find them. They were gone. My heart sunk. What could have taken my trees?

Then, pawing through the thatch from what was left of the previous season’s grass, I found my trees. They were eaten down to a nub by deer.

In time, shoots came up from the rootstock and these now look as if they will become trees. But of course they won’t be the same kind of fruit that I ordered, but instead will consist of whatever kind of trees the rootstocks were.

Deer repellent

That spring, the three apple trees behind my house put on a showy display of blossoms. Again, I was thrilled that at last, these trees were finally going to yield a crop. Then one night some deer came by and gnawed the tender tips of all the branches and twigs, effectively pruning the trees in a most drastic fashion.

The remaining branches did produce a few apples and some of these persisted through the June drop…that time when fruit trees lose a good percentage of small, hanging fruit. But enough survived to assure me that at least, I would have a dozen or so apples from my own trees. It wasn’t to be, though. True to form, the deer returned and ate the little apples, leaving me nothing.

So it was time to search the market for deer repellent. The number of brands of liquid repellent was staggering. For my first time, I bought the highly-rated Liquid Fence. Previous to that I had tried deodorant soap, human hair, dog hair and even types of urine. Nothing worked.

Reading the instructions for Liquid Fence, I found that it would work best if sprayed on the trees early in the morning or evening, when winds were calm. This made sense, because the stuff is expensive and any liquid lost to wind drift is money wasted. Besides that, the product smells really, really bad, like rotten eggs. Once, a breeze came up while I was spraying my trees and the mist drifted on me. It was simply gross.

The product worked and as long as I applied it regularly, deer stayed away. But rain washes it off, requiring another spraying even ahead of the time allotted on the spray schedule.

Deer Defeat

This past spring, at the Bangor Home & Garden Show, I noticed a display of a new kind of deer repellent, called Deer Defeat. In my estimation, most of these deer repellents don’t differ from each other in any major way. In other words, one seems as good as the other. But Deer Defeat has something in its favor that many others lack. There is no need to apply after a rain. And that’s worth a whole lot.

The directions say that after weekly applications during the rapid growth phase of plants (this would not necessarily hold true for fruit trees), to apply monthly. And this monthly application is despite any but the most heavy and prolonged rainfall.

Besides ruining my pear orchard, deer also found their way into my vegetable gardens and last year, mowed down my green beans. In fact they hit my beans twice, once at the peak of production and then later, after the plants had rebounded. My only hope there was for an electric fence. But the people in the farm supply store said that deer can jump over an electric fence. The only way an electric fence would work would be for me to cover the wire with peanut butter so that the deer would try and lick it off and thereby, get a shock. This would remain in their memories and they would refrain from venturing near my vegetable gardens.

But this didn’t sound too efficient to me. However, the instructions on Deer Defeat say that for edible plants, to spray liberally to the grass 2 feet wide along the garden perimeter. This seems cheaper and easier than maintaining an electric fence and it is one of the measures I will employ this season.

Flash tape

Another product, this one very cheap and at least partially effective, is flash tape. Made to repel birds and deer, the stuff is a thin, flexible and very shiny Mylar. The faintest breeze sets a length of flash tape to fluttering. And as the name implies, the stuff is highly reflective, flashing brightly in the sunlight. It even flashes a bit from reflected moonlight.

I hung flash tape on my apple trees out back and it seems to have helped. Earlier this spring I watched several deer come from the woods and stand on the hill just above the apple trees. The flash tape was blinking and twinkling and the deer stood and looked at it for the longest time. The animals were clearly mulling over whether to stay away from the tape or to disregard it and go for my apple trees. In the end, they walked away without attempting to destroy my trees.

But to protect in-ground gardens, flash tape must be suspended from strings spaced 4 feet apart all around the garden, creating a real eyesore. I set two strips of tape up by my beans last year and the deer ignored it. So it has its limitations.

The Guardian

Not satisfied with just flash tape and Deer Deter, I sought yet another deer deterrent. This I found during an online search and it is an electric device called The Guardian. This baby is like something from a sci-fi story. It has a motion sensor that reaches out for 100 feet, with either an audible or ultrasonic sound that covers 5,000 square feet. Also, it boasts of a motion-triggered strobe light. The thing has various settings so that the user can program it to use any combination of sight and sound.

The Guardian has its own rechargeable battery, plus an AC adapter for plugging directly into an outside receptacle. I think I’ll use the AC adapter and with all the features ready to go, aim it at my vegetable patch which is less than 100 feet away. Waking up at night to strobing light and piercing sounds won’t be fun at all. But it sure beats waking up later that morning to a bed full of mowed-down beans.

The Guardian even comes with a transparent plastic cover to protect it from the rain. So armed with The Guardian, flash tape and waterproof, liquid deer repellent, those marauding whitetails don’t have a chance. Or do they? We shall see.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.