Brian Maddy County extension agent
February 14, 2014
Several years ago my wife became enamored about raising hostas. She selected many different cultivars and we made three beds for them.
We soon discovered that hostas were to deer like ice cream was to humans. We tried various solutions for repelling them. We tried hanging bars of soap, bags of human hair and dog hair with little effect. Since then, our hosta collection has shrunk to just a few survivors.
We also discovered how quickly buck deer can damage small trees during the rut season. They actually girdled one tree in one night before action could be taken. Some folks believe that Troup County is blessed with a large deer population. Others would disagree. The big question is how we keep deer out of our yards.
In order to keep deer out, we need to know why they like to frequent our yards. Deer love to feast on nutrition-rich plants. Since most homeowners fertilize their yards, this provides a tastier proposition than the nearby woods.
The newest growth also tends to be the most nutritious as well. That’s why you may see the ends clipped off at the same height throughout a planting. This is called the browse layer. Be sure to identify that the damage is indeed deer feeding on your plants.
Now that you know that they are feeding on your landscape, how do you keep them out? One method of control is called the HERL model. The HERL method includes a step-by-step approach to limiting damage. H stands for habitat modification or harassment; E stands for exclusion, including fencing; R is for repellant or removal; and L for lethal control.
Habitat modification may be the least evasive method. Planting landscape material that deer do not like to eat is the first step. We have a long list of plant material that’s available at the extension office or online that will help the homeowner make selections. They call this material “deer-tolerant ornamental plants.”
Protecting your plantings by exclusion is the next step. This works well with gardens. Erecting an electric fence around the vegetable garden is very effective repelling deer. Some folks put peanut butter on the fence to train the deer about electricity.
Tying white rags to the wire also alerts the deer to where the fence is located since deer like to feed at dawn and dusk. This prevents them from getting tangled up. Placing a twelve foot woven wire fence may not be economically feasible for most homeowners but you will see them around test plots at UGA and Fort Valley State University. Placing staked, chicken-wire fences around young trees will effectively prevent damage during the rutting season.
Using repellents is another option. Most home remedies as mentioned above have been found mostly ineffective. Using any product containing rotten or putrescent eggs should never be used around gardens or any food item destined for human consumption.
Mothballs are illegal to use outdoors. Repellants containing oils like garlic and mint can be used with some success. Spray on repellents work only until the next rain. Some have to be applied weekly.
One product that has been found to temporarily repel white-tailed deer in food plots is specially treated sewage sludge. It is not labeled as a deer repellant but is sold as a fertilizer in many home improvement and garden centers.
Before using any lethal means, first contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for guidance.
One of the most important considerations when trying to keep deer out of the landscape is to start the repellant program as soon as damage is noticed. Never wait. The deer will form the habit of feeding on your property.
You also must be persistent. You have to keep the fence electrified, spray the repellants on the correct schedule and keep the barriers up and in good condition. Evaluate your program to determine, which works best with your lifestyle.
One final consideration is that deer feeding is affected by how abundant forage may be. In droughty years, deer will be more desperate to feed on your irrigated landscape plants that have been fertilized well. Always read and follow the label on any deer repellants and products.