Deer and Wildlife Deterrents

Trouble with deer eating your garden? Try these helpful tips to keep them away.

  • wildlife and deer deterrents
    Hunting is a great way to practice garden conservation and provide food for a family simultaneously.
    Photo © Nedra Secrist and Cedar Fort, Inc. Used by permission.
  • perennials for difficult areas
    “Powerful Perennials” by Nedra Secrist, is for gardeners looking for drought and wildlife-resistant or perennials for difficult soil.
    Courtesy of Hobble Creek Press

  • wildlife and deer deterrents
  • perennials for difficult areas

Powerful Perennials: Enduring Flower Gardens That Thrive in Any Climate (Hobble Creek, 2015) by Nedra Secrist, is filled with ideas for gardeners looking to grow perennials in difficult areas. Secrist provides some firsthand experience and a lot of ideas for gardeners to try. Look at all of the beautiful pictures and decide what perennials your will be adding to your yard. Find this excerpt in Chapter 3, “Wildlife-Resistant Perennials.”

Where I live, I have to be aware of local garden pests and how to keep them out of my garden. The Rocky Mountains are the backbone of the West. They stretch more than 3,000 miles from Canada to New Mexico, and every mile is deer habitat. Rocky Mountain deer are called mule deer because of their big, mule-like ears. Mule deer are large. Mature bucks weigh from one hundred to over four hundred pounds and need a lot of food. In the bitter cold of winter, the deer require over five pounds of food per day. During spring birthing, females need more than ten pounds of new green sprouts per day. In early spring, they browse our lawns, pawing out huge circles of snow in order to find food. The lawn will always recover, but flower beds may take longer. The best way to protect your garden is to plant deciduous perennials, or plants that go underground in winter. Evergreen perennials such as ajuga, bergenia, lavender, or creeping phlox all have a reputation for being deer resistant, but when it’s a matter of life or death, deer will consume these and anything else that is evergreen.

When we first started gardening at Bear Lake in Idaho, the deer dilemma was an eye-opening experience. The previous spring, we had planted our total income tax return in trees and shrubs. By the end of that next winter, our entire investment was decimated by deer, and we were devastated. We tried a multitude of deer repellent techniques that never worked. One of the funniest was playing an all-night talk show on the radio. The talk shows were effective until the guardian buck, who watches the herd from the hill, decided that the radio was not a threat. Then with only a simple nod or lifting of his head, the herd moved down into the garden to graze. Without a sound, the buck would again lift his head and the entire herd would evacuate in an instant. 

Deer adapt quickly, so a change of tactics was needed. Electromagnetic or ultrasound devices were useless. We’d heard of some chemical and natural repellents being advertised, so we tried Irish Spring soaps, human hair collected from a beauty parlor, rotten eggs, hot sauce, and even bobcat urine sprays. The philosophy is that the more pungent the odor, the more the deer will avoid the plant. This concept is true up to a point. Artificial smells dissipate, so an egg and hot sauce spray that will only last until the next watering is ridiculous.

About this time, we started to relax with the wildlife and let the old adage “If you can’t beat them, join them” kick in. So many of our special memories—like the time we watched and guarded a herd of elk swimming across the lake on the first day of deer hunting season or the time our beach became the home for twin moose calves—come from that time and are still talked about. A sighting of a pure-white albino doe and two fawns started our grandsons on their photography craze. By rethinking the wildlife situation, we have made some planting adjustments, and the gardens remain full, lush, and worry-free.

You may also find that your garden is overrun by hungry wildlife, whether that wildlife takes the form of deer or something else. If so, then let me recommend a few adjustments you can make to your garden.

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