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How could something so beautiful be so destructive?
In Hunterdon County, deer are more likely to change their traffic patterns every year because of property development. One year you’re fine, then a couple of houses go up five blocks away and you’re in trouble. The overpopulation of the animals, coupled with a thinning of woodlands, has caused them to be hungrier and more desperate—especially in the winter.
The skittish nocturnal animals are up all night, but most often seen roaming during the two hours before sundown, and early in the morning. Deer have no upper incisors, so twigs and stems they have browsed show a rough, shredded surface. When eating branches, they strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. Compare the evidence to that of rabbits, who leave a sharp cut and rodents, who leave narrow teeth marks.
Deer damage goes beyond watching your hostas vaporize overnight. Deer spread Lyme disease by carrying the ticks that spread it. They cause injury to passengers in cars that hit them or swerve to avoid them--or are traveling behind them. And they destroy property in search of food.Is there a no-fail method to keeping them off your property? “Nothing is 100%,” advises Mitch Knapp of Scenic Landscape Design, “But there are definitely ways to discourage them.”
Selecting plants unattractive to deer is a practical, easy way to deter the visitors. Knapp has seen entire landscapes destroyed when the wrong plants were chosen. He suggests planning out a yard with a licensed landscape architect or horticulturist, even if the homeowner or a less experienced landscaper will do the actual buying and planting. Working with a talented planner may also mean that you can still enjoy your favorite plants, even if deer share that affection. The expert would typically surround them with plants the deer avoid. Poor or no planning can mean a devastated garden. Even with a reputable landscaper (who typically guarantees his work), you’ll have to start from scratch to replant, and the seasonal timing isn’t likely to be ideal.
Knapp has found repellents like deerBgone very effective. The natural spray is applied professionally seven to 12 times a season, and is safe for children, pets, and even the deer (it’s the taste and smell that deters the intruders).
Six foot fencing is the gold standard to repel deer, but in very active areas, Knapp has seen deer jump that height. “In extreme cases, a deer will crash through even an eight-foot fence to get to food. But if you have any kind of fence and your neighbor doesn’t, the deer is naturally going to go where access is easier.” And any fence is more effective if deer can't see what is on the other side. Laying material uncomfortable to a deer’s hooves, like corrugated metal, around the perimeter of your property is also helpful.
Flexible, degradable netting can be placed over tempting young plantings for the winter, when deer are hungriest and most destructive.
Bags of human hair, Irish Spring soap, egg sprays, wolf urine, dried blood and even getting a dog are reported to have worked for more than one garden. Worth a try!
Mitch Knapp’s Top 3 plant groups to resist deer:
For more information: Watch a quick video clip showing deer resistant plants from Scenic Landscaping
Rutgers Coop Extension has a handy chart rating plants for deer resistance.