Oh Deer

By Bonnie Grant | May 22, 2022
Image by John Callery
by Bonnie Grant
May 22, 2022

Deer resistance is a common plant label. I find it funny because deer in different regions have different plant tastes. I have had coastal deer that won’t eat a plant, while my current field deer will find it delicious. Anyone who has deer knows the animals are fairly equal opportunity munchers. Never rely upon a deer resistant label, or you may be wasting your money. 

What Does “Deer Resistant” Mean?

I like deer. I like looking at them and watching the babies in spring. The males are majestic, while the does are delicate and graceful. All of that being said, I hate deer when it comes to my landscape. Even plants that say “deer resistant“ are not fool proof specimens. Outside of erecting a huge fence, I have learned not to pay attention to such designations. Instead, I engage in a stinky war that grosses me out and is not always successful. 

Keeping a bucket full of rotting eggs is not a pleasant experience. Neither is saving old hair from a brush. But these and other items go into my deer repellent campaign. Because we are organic, homemade deer control is our main weapon. These involve some fairly icky substances and are sometimes successful, but occasionally not useful. They must be applied frequently, especially after rain. They need to ferment and get really disgusting, resulting in a nausea inducing application process. 

Olfactory Torment

Oddly, the cats don’t mind our deer repellent. Cats are said to have better noses than even dogs, so I guess they just like rank odors. One of our ingredients relies upon milk. We don’t drink milk but do purchase it, only to purposely let it go bad. We buy the first gallon in December and leave it out in a warm place to bloat and thicken. Opening the jug is incredibly disgusting, but it is a key ingredient to a homemade deer control. We have to start spraying in late winter. Any plant that has begun to swell, bud, or produce new shoots is a favorite target of the deer. So this simple chore, opening a jug, is incredibly stressful on the old olfactory senses. 

Here’s the recipe. Use it in good health. Mix rotten eggs with old milk. Liberally season with crushed garlic cloves and cayenne (or other spicy pepper). Let this all marinate for a few days. Now comes the fun part. Strain out the solids and transfer to a spray bottle, mixed by half with water. Your eyeballs will melt, your nose will bleed, and your head will ache. Small discomfort for saving the plants. Spray any prey plants frequently. Repeat. 

A Little Easier on the Senses

In addition to spray on deterrents, I save my hair. Experts recommend cleaning your hairbrush frequently, so I use the wisps harvested as more deer repellent. Tied in little cheesecloth bags to the fruit trees, this is supposed to keep deer away. I’m not sure if it does, but the trees look interesting decorated with little white bags about them. 

The point here is that deer resistance is just a guess. Hungry deer will eat almost anything growing. Their tolerance for the smelly deterrents and my little fences is almost laughable. If a winter ruminant wants a snack in a landscape devoid of native plants, you have little chance. But I keep soldiering on with my odoriferous concoctions, in the vain hope they will slow down the destruction and spring will meet me with flowers, new shoots, and unsullied beauty.  

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