Landowners face many problems when growing a garden, but none can be more frustrating than dealing with nuisance deer. In a single night, a few deer can devour a small garden that took a lot of hard work to prepare, plant and maintain.
Deer are most active after dark. This makes it very difficult for landowners to catch them in the act of damaging a garden. However, methods are available to discourage deer from visiting and damaging gardens.
Deer try to avoid humans whenever possible. Hunters know that a deer's nose is its number one way of avoiding predators. The use of cologne or heavily scented soaps can fool a deer into thinking a human is nearby. Colognes can be sprayed onto old clothes and placed on wooden stakes throughout a garden. Bars of soap can be placed in hosiery and hung along the edge of the garden. These scents will have to be freshened up on occasion and over time, the fragrance also may have to be changed. This tactic has limited effectiveness at reducing deer damage, especially in areas where deer are accustomed to the sights, sounds and scents associated with living near humans.
In recent years, many chemical deterrents have entered the market that claim to deter deer from feeding in gardens. Some of the products are virtually useless, while others show limited effectiveness if properly applied. Application of the deterrent should begin soon after the garden is planted. Waiting until evidence of deer damage is apparent is too late. Most of these products should be applied to cloth ribbon attached to stakes. The cloth ribbon should completely surround the portion of the garden to be protected. Frequent applications often are necessary, especially during rainy periods.
Dogs can be used to deter deer from visiting garden. Placing a dog, particularly one that barks and likes to chase, on a run chain system along the garden's edge can be effective. This type of system allows the dog to run up and down the edge of the garden while its chain is attached to a cable that runs from one pole to another. This allows the dog to chase and bark at deer when they approach the garden, keeping the deer away from the garden's plants.
A deer's hearing is very acute and can pick up a whisper at a long distance. Placing a radio tuned to a talk radio station on an electronic timer near the garden can be somewhat effective at keeping deer out of a garden. The timer can be set to turn the radio on and off at different intervals throughout the night. A scarecrow can be added to the mix to compliment the effects of the radio.
A more elaborate system uses propane cannons to scare deer away from gardens. Propane cannons use a regulated amount of propane gas that is ignited by a spark at regular or random intervals. The propane explodes and makes a loud crack similar to that of a shotgun blast. The loud explosion is intended to frighten deer away from the garden. Propane cannons have several drawbacks. They are expensive, extremely loud, and can be very unpopular with neighbors. Over time, after repeated use, deer can become accustomed to the noise.
A much more effective method of keeping deer out of a garden is to use electric fencing. The shock from touching an electric fence is a much stronger deterrent than an unusual or unpleasant smell. To make the fence even more effective, small strips of aluminum foil can be placed on the electric fence at 18- to 24-inch intervals. Apply a mixture of peanut oil and peanut butter to the strips of aluminum foil. As deer approach and lick the peanut paste, they will receive a mild electric shock and will be less likely to enter the area in the future.
A high fence is the only 100 percent effective way of preventing deer damage. High fences should be constructed using net wire or other suitable wire that will not allow the deer to pass through or under the fence. The height of the fence should be at least 10 feet to prevent the deer from jumping over. A high fence can be expensive, but it is a one-time construction and it will eliminate the problem.
When using any type of deterrent, keep in mind that one method will not work at all times. Try mixing them up or using a combination of deterrents to be most effective.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama's natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com