Thursday, June 21, 2018
Home and Garden

How do you stop deer from eating your plants? Readers have answers

No deer visit Cafe Carnathan, but I empathize with gardeners whose flower beds become all-night diners for them.

Last spring, a crafty peahen figured out that by hurling herself to the top of my neighbor's pool screen, she could then drop over the privacy fence and straight into my big bed of delectable new Gaillardia sprouts.

Every time the blanketflower started growing back, she'd drop in and nibble them to nubs again. It wasn't till I caught her in the act that I solved the mystery of my disappearing seedlings.

A helpful clerk at Home Depot's garden center suggested I sprinkle the bed with mothball flakes. But my husband insisted that would work only if I — immediately upon spotting Ms. Peahen in the garden — ran outside screaming like a banshee, swinging something threatening and chased her out.

As it happened, I'd be just starting to get dressed for work and there she'd be, outside the bedroom window. Worse, I'd exit the shower only to spy her fluttering into the flower bed. Of course, I'd drop everything and sprint outside, hollering and swinging the rake in wild circles overhead.

I'll never know whether it was the mothball flakes, my sudden and, I'm sure, disturbing appearance, or a combination of the two, but the peahen eventually gave up. (Because I often found my husband laughing hysterically at the kitchen window after I'd chased her out, I seriously wonder about the veracity of his advice.)

Fortunately, I have no such doubts about my fellow gardeners. You offered up some great suggestions for your neighbors after I shared in a recent column what has become a nightmare for many this very rainy summer: nocturnal landscape design by deer.

I passed along some ideas for fending off these voracious vegetarians, but the experts suggest frequently switching up your means of attack. So here are some more creative and humane weapons for your arsenal of deer:

Chris Barrett, Westchase, editor of World of Westchase magazine:

Chris had considered using scent repellents, but the label warns not to apply them if rain is forecast — and when is it not in the summer? His neighbor Tom Keller recommended the ScareCrow motion-activated sprinkler.

"It explodes to life when wildlife (or the neighborhood kids) pass in front of it," Chris writes. (Within 35 feet, according to the product description.)

The Contech CRO 101 sprinkler costs less than $50 on Chris also recommends getting a rechargeable 9-volt battery and charger; he goes through a battery every week.

"My plants are coming back, the deer aren't harmed, my investment has been limited to about $80," he writes.

I'm guessing, as with my husband, there's some entertainment value, too.

Suzanne Lehing of Oldsmar:

Suzanne read about this super-cheap trick in Southern Living magazine and says it has worked well for her and her neighbors for years!

Start with old socks or pieces of cloth in colors that match those of your plants.

"Add a bar of Irish Spring soap and tie it in," she writes. "Attach to the branches of your plant where it cannot be seen. The deer hate the smell."

This scent repellent actually improves with rain, she says. As the soap slowly dissolves, the fragrance gets stronger.

For small or delicate plants, put the cloth-wrapped bar on the ground, or sprinkle soap shavings on the soil around the plants, she says.

She replenishes her soaps just once a year.

Raymond West of Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club:

"This past Christmas, we bought three or four poinsettias and after they quit blooming, I replanted them amongst my flowers and vegetables," Ray writes. "None of these plants have been eaten since April. This could be because they are poison to all living creatures.

"Poinsettas really grow hardy in our climate and add a nice touch to any garden come late fall."

What a beautiful solution, Ray!

Jean Wilkens of Port Richey:

"We lived in Colorado for years and we came home one spring to find evergreen trees eaten up as far as the deer could reach," Jean writes.

Someone suggested she visit a barbershop and ask for a bag of hair cuttings. She did, and decorated her Christmas trees with brunettes, blonds and redheads.

"No more deer trouble," she writes. "They don't like human scent."

Colleen Miller of Apollo Beach:

While living in the foothills of Saratoga, Calif., Colleen lost many a plant to her ruminant neighbors.

"Two that they never touched were society garlic, which is very happy in Florida landscapes, and any variety of lavender, which I have seen in our local nurseries but have not seen in a neighborhood landscape," Colleen writes.

Lots of commercial repellents include garlic, and society garlic is most definitely aromatic. It's also beautiful and hearty, a grassy little mound that produces tall stems topped with pale purple blooms. This is one of the easiest plants to grow if you have a sunny, sandy garden. And it's pretty!

As for lavender, that's a bit tougher because many varieties don't tolerate heat or humidity well. Two that seem to do well here are Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) and the Munstead cultivar, (Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead'). Plant in well-draining soil in a sunny spot that gets a break during the hottest part of the afternoon.

Now — just sit back and enjoy your wildlife! From afar.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] Find more local gardening stories and pictures on her blog,, or join the garden chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.