Ask The County Agent: ‘How do I keep deer out of my landscape?’
Pictured above is Deer Damage on Holly. (Photo by UGA Cooperative Extension)
BY STEPHANIE BUTCHER, UGA Extension Coweta County Director
QUESTION: How can I keep deer out of my landscape?
AGENT: Whitetail deer tend to have two nutritional stress periods during the year: the end of summer and the end of winter. Right now, we are not getting much rain, so the lack of rain lessens the amount of available forage for deer, and they go in search of lush, irrigated plants that are often found in our landscapes.
There are several things that you can do to limit deer damage in your landscape, but depending on how hungry the deer are, you may not be able to avoid deer completely unless you invest in a fence.
Habitat modification works best for protecting ornamental plantings, but not as well for vegetable and fruit gardens. Change the habitat by choosing landscape and garden plants that are less desirable to deer. There are many deer-resistant plants and ornamental trees that achieve the same visual objectives. Remember though that deer “tolerant” does not mean deer “proof”. These plants do not have complete resistance; they are simply less palatable to deer and are less likely to be browsed on by deer.
Harassment techniques are limited and are often a short-term “fix”. In fact, they may be more disturbing to homeowners and neighbors than they are to deer. Most deer become accustomed to scare tactics like barking dogs, shiny objects, and motion activated lights or noises.
Exclusion is one of the best methods for preventing deer damage and uses fencing and tree guards to prevent entry or access. Tree guards are effective in preventing antler rubbing on trees.
A variety of fence designs can be used to keep deer out of your landscape and garden, but research shows that they must be at least eight feet high to prevent deer from jumping over them. The key is to choose the least expensive, yet effective, option. Woven wire fencing is typically more effective for excluding rabbits than deer and tends to be expensive and labor intensive to build.
Electric fencing constructed out of 10- to 14-gauge, bare, galvanized steel wire is highly effective and relatively cheap to build. These fences work well for home landscapes as well as specialty orchard crops and can be temporary or permanent in nature. Attaching aluminum foil with peanut butter to the charged wire strand allows deer to become habituated to the fence line. They associate the negative experience of being shocked to the area surrounded by the fence and avoid it.
Chemical repellants can keep deer from browsing ornamental plants. These are often sprays or powders that can be applied directly on or around plants. This changes the smell or taste of the plant, making it less desirable to the deer. Typically, foul odors, like sulfur, and bitter tastes deter browsing.
Spicy tastes can also be effective in deterring deer and sometimes work better than bitter flavors. There are many over-the-counter products including Milorganite® that works well but it may need to be reapplied after rain. Home repellants often include human hair, coyote urine, hot sauce, ammonia and rotten eggs.
Many repellants are highly effective but require repeated applications and frequent adjustments to remain effective.
Using habitat modification along with exclusionary devices has been shown to be most effective in preventing deer damage in the landscape.
For a list of deer-tolerant plants, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or email [email protected] and ask for the publications, “Deer-Tolerant Ornamental Plants”. For more details about keeping deer out of your landscape, ask for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources publication, “Controlling Deer Damage in Georgia.”