Deer Repellents and Scare Tactics in the Garden

— Written By Peg Godwin and last updated by
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Deer are frequent visitors to local gardens because they seem to prefer lush foliage. They enjoy leaves, stems, flowers, fruit and buds of woody plants that are regularly fertilized. These graceful animals are often enjoyed until the area becomes an All You Can Eat Buffet for deer.

Gardeners often reach for deer repellents to slow down the eating. There are many different deer repellents and deterrents on the market and plenty you can make at home. How well they work is almost completely dependent on how they are used. A one-time application does not stop deer from returning to the buffet. These products must be applied consistently, reliably, steadily, unfailingly, regularly, devotedly, conscientiously, loyally, faithfully and dutifully to get the expected results. Success with repellants is measured in the reduction of damage.

There are many commercial products from which to choose. Most repellents work by using a combination of odor and taste deterrent. New formulations continue to become available. Multiple types of repellents and modes of action allow homeowners to switch or rotate materials. It is generally recommended that repellents be changed with each application since deer become used to repellents over time. Changing repellents often will keep the deer cautious and confused. Deer change their feeding patterns seasonally in response to changes in available foods.

Deer repellents often contain:  putrefied eggs, dried blood, hot pepper, garlic, fish oil, ammonia, or soaps. They smell bad to the deer. Deer deterrent products that contain a spreader-sticker can be expected to persist on foliage longer and often leave a white residue behind on leaves. Products that are sprayed on plants have better coverage than products that hang or clip on plants.

Scare tactics are another tool to deter deer in the garden. They include: noise, motion detectors, and dogs. Most frightening devices for deer involve loud noises which may not be suitable in a residential environment. Deer quickly become accustomed to security lights and motion detectors. Recent technology has given us mechanical deterrents that are adjustable. Impulse sprinklers with infrared sensors can be used to deliver a sudden spurt of water when movement is detected. Some of these devices also have sound to startle the unexpected guest. It might also wet a dog or person if you have it placed near the house!

Remember:  the best control of deer is a combination of four tactics. First, choose deer resistant garden plants. Second, use appropriate fencing to reduce landscape damage. Third, use deer repellents faithfully. Fourth, deter deer by scaring them.

For more information look for Deer Problems in the Landscape from NC State University.