For most of us in urban or suburban areas, our options for preventing damage to our landscape plants by deer are quite limited. Fencing or hunting are not either legal or practical. Planting species and cultivars that are known to be resistant to deer damage can help but it severely limits the range of plants available to you.

So, the use of repellants to discourage deer from browsing on your plants is the only practical solution for most of us. People are always searching for that "miracle" repellent to solve all their deer problems. By this, they mean that they want something that they can apply once a year and which will take no further effort in saving their plants. Unfortunately, such a product does not yet exist.

However, the concept of repellants is a very valid one. If you make a deer's food plant either taste or smell bad, it will not eat. So, the problem is generally not with the repellant but with the gardener!

Several commercial and some of the home recipe mixtures work just fine. Over the past 40 years, I have heard people swear by and swear at every conceivable deer repellant. Some will praise a particular one to the heights while another will say that same product is worthless.

The problem is not the product but the challenge of keeping it on the surface of the plant so that the deer is repulsed when it comes around to graze. All repellants currently available (commercial or home remedy) eventually wear off. Rain, irrigation and just time will make them ineffective so that they need to be replenished.

Consider if someone put a juicy, filet steak in front of a famished human. Before he could take a bite, you step in and pour pungent skunk juice on it. The person would turn away in disgust and leave the room.

Now, if the steak was kept in a state to prevent it from rotting, eventually, the skunk juice would wear off. If the person was really, really hungry, he might be willing to take a bite, especially if he had a strong stomach. But, if you stepped up just as he sat down again and replenished the skunk juice, he would be physically unable to eat it.

The same principle applies to deer repellants in our landscapes. If we watch the weather and reapply the product religiously after a hard rain or series of light rains or heavy dews, the deer will be repulsed every time it sticks its nose into your yard.

There is a myth that deer become "resistant" to a particular repellant. I think they are confusing repellants with insecticides. Insects which have a short life span and turn over generations quickly may become resistant to a certain insecticide which is used against them over a period of years. This is a genetic adaptation where those insects that are not affected by the poison, survive and reproduce. After time, most of the insects will have this genetic makeup and the insecticide will lose its impact.

How does a deer become resistant to something that merely tastes or smells bad? It does not ingest it and it would have no bearing on the deer's genetic heritage. No, the stuff isn't working because you are not applying it frequently enough for your particular situation.

If you think, "I should go out and apply the repellant" but you do not do it, that may be the night the deer come to feed. It's like saying you watered the tender seedlings every day except that one 90 degree day and they all died. It only takes one time of letting down the guard.

 

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

 

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