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Protecting a garden from deer can be challenging

June 13, 2009
By Kenneth Cobb

Most people will agree that the West Virginia Whitetail deer is a pretty animal. They are also cute, furry, graceful and easy to make up to. In North Bend State Park, the deer are very tame. Ruth and I have had the does or female deer come up to us and eat carrots out of our hands.

Deer can be destructive and a nuisance around a yard or vegetable garden. A well-tended garden can be sensed as an inviting meal to a deer. When I used to have a garden, I can remember when the deer would eat the little green tomatoes off the vines. Deer will eat almost anything from flowers, fruits, leaves and vegetables. One adult deer can do more damage to a garden than half a dozen groundhogs.

Over the years, I have heard several stories about how to keep the deer out of the garden. In the 1970s, many people said that human hair placed around the garden would keep them away. I tried this once and I did not get satisfactory results. A few hours after I put the hair around the garden, a hard rain came along and washed all the human scent away. The deer were back in the garden the next day.

A barking dog can also be another deterrent for deer. Dogs enjoy frightening deer away with their loud barking. If the dog is on a leash or chain, the deer will soon ignore the dog. Pie pans, reflective tape, nose makers, etc., are useful in distracting the deer. Ruth read in Mother Earth News many years ago about making a solution with red onions, cayenne pepper, garlic and boiling water to pour around the garden. We never tried it, but it sounds unappetizing to us so maybe the deer would not like it either.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I tried an experiment of my own. I would keep the grass cut very close with a weed eater all around the perimeter. At night before going to bed, I would sprinkle all the urine I had collected that day around the perimeter. This may sound distasteful to many, but after all, isn't this how animals mark their territory? This experiment worked quite well for several years until someone turned a tame deer loose close to where I live.

Right now, I no longer grow a garden because just about any of the local grocery stores, and definitely farmers markets, have a better vegetable garden than I could grow.

There are many other ways to make a garden unappealing to deer, but to understand how these freeloaders work, a person must think like the deer. Naturally, you do not want them to be eating the fruits of your labor. Deer are browsers, so they have a tendency to sample everything growing in your garden. The items they find to be the most tasty, the deer will wipe out.

Some plants are a deterrent, because of their odor. Flowers like marigolds, morning glories, and buttercups fall in this category. Deer do not care for herbs like rosemary and catmint. Certain trees are also unappealing to deer like birch, maples and spruce.

Organic repellents are available at discount or hardware stores. They are safe to use around children and household pets because they are made of natural ingredients. They must be reapplied after a heavy rain. This could run into a big expense. We certainly have had plenty of rain this spring.

Some people try fencing. Remember, deer are capable of leaping any barrier that is around 6 feet high with no trouble at all. Installing an 8-foot wire mesh fence around a garden of any size is a real expense, but it will keep the deer out of the garden.

Protecting your garden from deer requires determination. Yet if all else fails, I would recommend that people living in rural areas call the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to get a crop damage permit to shoot the deer. To get such a permit, a person must live at least 500 feet away from other houses. A conservation officer will come out to inspect the garden damage. It will be their decision whether to issue a crop damage permit for the gardener to remove the deer. I never tried to get such a permit because if I depended on a vegetable garden to eat, I would have starved to death years ago.



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