A Review of Methods to Repel Deer
Repelling deer, or at least keeping them out of your yard or garden is a lot like ridding your yard or barn of mice. There are lots of ways to get rid of mice — with everything from secure food storage to humane mousetraps to cats. Similarly, there are lots of ways to repel deer — the main ones being natural measures, deer repellents, repellors (ultrasound generators and water sprayers), guns, dogs, electric fences, and barrier fences. They all repel/keep out deer to one degree or another, so let’s take each in turn.
Natural Measures to Repel Deer
These are like keeping mice away by putting all your food in mouse-proof containers. Recommendations include growing plants to repel deer — plants deer don’t like (such as sage, lavender, bee balm, daffodils, and plants with fuzz), avoiding hostas (which they adore), putting vulnerable plants near your home (an area that these animals supposedly avoid), installing hedges that they can’t see through, etc.
Experienced gardeners have trouble with such methods. That’s partly because in varying degrees they are time-consuming and laborious. Also, they make the gardener arrange things to repel deer rather than following his or her own preferences. And beyond that, these strategies for repelling deer are prone to fail. They’re pretty marginal. That is, if deer abound, or if they’re really hungry, they won’t be repelled because they will ignore these measures.
For instance, consider rhododendrons, whose leaves contain mild toxins that for most of the year will keep deer away. Under normal conditions they are spared them. But in winter, when the deer tend to get really hungry, they won’t be repelled, and they won’t hesitate to gobble rhododendrons. Large arboretums, as well as nurseries and lovers of these shrubs everywhere, recognize this as an established fact. And rhododendrons are not the only plants involved. Far from it. Indeed, starving deer, far from being repelled by deer-averse plants, will eat nearly anything that’s green. Which suggests there’s no harm trying to repel deer with these natural measures if you like, so long as you realize they tend to yield marginal results.
Chemical Repellents that Repel Deer
As their name suggests, there’s more of a chance to repel deer with deer repellents, both homemade and commercial. Homemade deer repellents include human hair and various solutions made with grocery products.
The human hair can be hung in little bags or sprinkled around the border of your yard or garden.
To make a liquid at home that will repel deer, create a solution containing things things they don’t like — typically eggs and various herbs and/or spices. For example, take a bowl and combine hot water, two raw eggs, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Whisk these ingredients together. Then cover the mix and let the solution ferment a day or two. At the end of that time pour it through a filter, put it in a spray bottle, and spray it around the border of your garden or on your vulnerable landscape plants, making sure first by spraying a few leaves that it will not harm the plants your are protecting. This solution really will repel deer.
If you want something commercial to repel deer, get one of the branded deer repellents. They keep deer away just as well, and are generally both invisible and affordable. Some, like the well-regarded and affordable Bobbex Deer Repellent (circa $30 per gallon), smell bad, but the smell diminishes with time. Also, many impart a bad taste to the plants treated and so should not be sprayed on garden vegetables. These, however, are relatively minor problems that vary from repellent to repellent. Hence, so long as one chooses wisely, these problems can be overcome.
But while deer repellents work, they don’t last. Depending on the weather, the climate, the deer pressure, and the product used, in somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months all of them need to be replaced. Depending on how large an area is treated, this can be both time-consuming (if a homeowner does it) and costly (if a landscaper does it). One must also know how soon to reapply the deer repellent, something that involves some guesswork, to keep unprotected plants from being ravaged. And one must be wary of the repelled deer becoming used to any given repellent and thus becoming willing to eat the treated plants.
Noisemakers, Water Sprayers, Etc.
If you have a yard or garden sprinkler system, it can actually be used to repel deer. While you might see some deer in the day, a lot of them typically browse at night. If that’s the case, set your sprinkler system to run briefly (5 or 10 minutes) during several night-time hours. The sprinklers will make the intruders high-tail it off your property and hopefully opt for a less active yard.
Other clever gadgets use a motion detector to turn on a noise-maker and/or water sprayer when they detect motion, and turn it off when the motion stops. Most noisemakers don’t bother people, because the noise is made on an ultrasonic frequency that repels deer but not people. The water-sprayers, of course, require a 24-hour dedicated hose line, which is a nuisance. And all of these devices provide limited coverage. For that reason they are best used to repel deer by keeping them out of small areas like vegetable gardens rather than large yards.
Another serious drawback of these methods is that deer, rather than being repelled permanently, become accustomed to them. Imagine you are wandering around your yard some evening when a child (perhaps on Halloween) jumps out from behind a tree and shouts “Boo!” You would understandably be spooked. But if it happened again the next night, and again the next, you would get used to it. Deer react much like that. So it’s important to move motion-responsive gadgets about and to switch them from time to time. And, as with chemical deer repellents, it’s important (though not always possible) to determine when the repelled deer are getting accustomed to them, meaning that their effective life is ending.
A moderately powerful electric fence in the right configuration, operated with understanding and proper maintenance, will repel deer — that is, it will keep most deer out of yards and large gardens and will reliably keep them out of small gardens. Such fences are affordable, and if the perimeter is large their cost per foot is really low. That’s why farmers with large acreages to protect favor them over other methods. However, even though the shock is generally harmless, private homeowners tend to dislike having electric fences around their yards or gardens. It’s not so much the cost or the need for maintenance or the lack of complete reliability that makes electric fences unpopular in residential settings. It is the shock. And it is likewise the shock that has given rise to local ordinances banning electric fences from many residential communities.
For those who have guns and don’t mind shooting deer, this is an enticing alternative. However, guns in residential settings are dangerous, and their use among closely spaced houses is generally banned. Also, shooting deer outside of deer season is illegal in most areas, and a gun only works while the shooter is attached to it. For all these reasons, except where the shooting is allowed and the deer pressure is light, guns tend to be an ineffective way to repel deer.
Dogs Can Repel Deer
Dogs can help repel deer. Depending on how large and how aggressive the dog is, this may be somewhat risky for the dog. Also, unless the target deer have been trained by the dog to stay away, it only works when the dog is barking loudly or outside. So in general one wants the dog outside in the yard as much as possible, and that suggests that one should have a fenced yard for keeping in the dog.
Barrier Deer Fences
A 7 to 8-foot barrier deer fence, the most reliable way to repel deer by exclusion, has two principal disadvantages, these being high cost and visibility.
The cost can be reduced but not eliminated through careful planning. One should also regard the fence as an investment, since it typically has an expected life of 10 to 20 years. So if one is not planning to move soon, the material cost (typically $4 to $8 per foot) seems reasonable.
Like cost, visibility can be reduced. That’s why deer fence professionals use low-visibility fencing (black polypropylene and metal hexagrid) that fade into near-invisibility, especially when viewed against a green or wooded background. It’s also one reason why they use no railing at the top of the fence, just a support wire, visible to neither deer nor people. And it’s part of the reason why they prefer thin black metal posts to wooden posts, because the thin black posts fade into the background.
Visibility is less of an issue for vegetable gardeners, where some sort of visible fencing seems welcome, than it is for homeowners seeking to protect their yards. So if you are a homeowner determined to repel deer who is considering a deer fence for your yard, it’s worth giving some thought to planning. If the fence runs along or through a wooded area, that’s great — especially if some trees can be used as posts. Likewise, if the front or other parts of the yard boast a full landscape planting with trees and/or tall shrubs, that is an area well-suited to the fence. On the other hand, if the front of the yard is wide open it may be useful to have the fencing include the back and side yards and then come in to the sides of the house, so that the enclosed area does not include the front. And it may also be useful to install round black steel posts, with or without drive sleeves, because they look well in residential and estate settings, rather than using angle-iron posts, t-posts, or wooden posts that are better suited to farms and gardens.
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