One morning last January after a light snowfall while checking out some climbers in the back of the garden, I froze, not from cold but from the sight of something I had never seen before – fresh hoof prints! Not paw prints from cats, squirrels, raccoons or the occasional red fox but hoof prints from deer. I brought Angelina out to show her and we slowly tracked the hoof prints around the garden like a modern-day Daniel and Mrs. Boone. We found where the raider, there was only one, had stopped to browse on rose hips and chew off the tips of late season growth. We discovered the neat little pellet pile where the invader had stopped for a break. We found the entry point – the yard next door; and the exit point – over the back fence. After 40 years of listening to all the horror stories from friends about deer in their gardens now we had them in ours.
During the spring and summer months, from April through mid August, they prefer to stay in wooded areas out of the public eye apparently finding enough to eat. However, deer are capable of raiding anyone’s garden at anytime. They fancy succulent new growth like rose buds and fresh stems but will eat almost anything vegetative. A couple of deer can destroy a whole bloom cycle in a rose garden in one night. It’s when their natural food supply diminishes later in the year that the animals wander out of their usual habitats in force and forage where they are not wanted.
As destructive as deer feeding is, Lyme disease, transmitted by the deer ticks that hitch a ride on white-tailed deer (and other animals), is even of more concern. This tick-borne bacterial disease features joint pain, headaches, fever and fatigue and requires immediate treatment. The main vector is deer ticks that spend part of their life cycle on deer and another part lying in tall grasses, leaf litter, and other vegetation where deer may pass. This scrub vegetation is where humans come into contact with these ticks, get bitten, get infected, and get sick. Lyme disease is a serious and painful sickness that is wide spread in our area due to the proliferation of deer.
Because of these concerns, we were unwilling to surrender our gardens to these predators and decided on a course of action. My research showed a broad spectrum of possible remedies to discourage deer with various degrees of success. These included products like coyote urine, human hair, bars of scented soap, or other organic products that deer aren’t supposed to like. Other choices were various motion sensitive devices that would activate something that moved, like a rotating water jet, which would spook deer into leaving. The only sure-fire solution, however, was fencing. Our solution was based on a few premises. First, deer are creatures of habit and will return to good eats. Second, if they cannot actually see good eats they may go someplace else. Thirdly, make the good eats taste bad.
We started with the installation of a 6-foot stockade fence along one side of the property, the side where deer habitually entered, cutting off that avenue of attack. The fence also prevented deer from seeing into our garden. (I was told that deer can jump over a six-foot fence, but that has not been the case.) We had no problems from late March through mid August, although some of our neighbors did, when they returned one night for a snack. I immediately applied a treatment of Liquid Fence: Deer & Rabbit Repellant – foul-tasting, stinky stuff that deer hate – to rose foliage. (There is a wide range of other similar products with the same basic ingredients that will work as well.) The overt smell persisted for a few days to human noses and then disappeared but the residue lasts for quite a while and makes plant growth unpalatable to deer. The drawback is it looks like toothpaste on my roses but by August I could tolerate it. It seemed to work as there have been no more raids. Angelina thinks that the animals can smell the Liquid Fence from afar and that dissuades them. I plan on another application before Christmas. For now, I go out each morning on deer patrol to check for signs of infiltration and am relieved when I find none.
I do not think deer have disappeared for good, only for awhile. I suspect that they will return when they get hungry enough perhaps gaining access through a short fence elsewhere on the property. If and when that happens, Daniel and Mrs. Boone will be ready with Plan B.
If any of you have had deer problems and found reasonable solutions, let me know.