How to keep deer out of your yard

When deer are hungry, your landscape’s plants begin to look mighty tasty. In winter, when normal food sources are covered with snow or dined to death, deer will wander into the yard in search of food.

Before you know it, the arborvitae, yews and many other trees and shrubs start to look misshapen or gnawed to nubbins. Even deer-resistant plants become vulnerable when food options wither away.

In spring and summer, deer are more likely to go for the easiest food source available, turning your vegetables into theirs. Some plants, such as hostas and tulips, get chomped to bits. Even bird feeders are not immune — deer have been spotted standing on their hind legs, slurping up seeds.

The most common methods to help keep deer out of your yard are deterrents, such as auditory signals, strobe lights or sprays of water. These are activated when animals trip sensors. Deer repellents work in two ways — deterring animals with smell or taste. Fencing is considered the most effective, but it needs to be at least 8 to 10 feet high. Lastly, there’s lethal intervention or hunting.

Highly rated Bartlett Tree Experts in Plymouth, Minn., uses three different repellents for home landscapes, depending on the season and homeowner’s preference. For two of them, you might want to hold your nose.

The first option to help keep deer out of your yard: Use predator urine, such as coyote or wolf, which is sprayed on trees to deter bucks from rubbing their antlers on them. Another option is to apply a chemical called Buck Off! in the summer to keep deer away from ornamental plants.

“It smells like rotten eggs and you need frequent applications,” says Jonathan Heaton, certified arborist at Bartlett. A method used in winter is to apply DeerPro to plants, which is a taste-based repellent. The latex base reduces the number of applications to one or two. “It does not have a smell,” Heaton says, but it may discolor foliage.

Some of the best strategies tend to develop when home owners associations or neighborhoods develop a total deer management plan, says Eric Arnold, owner of highly rated Bats, Birds & More Inc., in Sharon Center, Ohio. “It’s really important to identify specific problems,” he says. For instance, are the deer just walking through the landscape or are they eating ornamental plants? Which plants are they eating?

To minimize the deer from eating landscaped plants, neighborhoods can create a buffer area around the community where trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials and other native species favored by deer are planted as a food source, Arnold says. Fences are considered the best defense in your yard, but many neighborhoods have covenants that ban them or limit the type of fence that can be installed.

Temporary fencing strung around the perimeter of the problem areas might be an option, but it can create aesthetic issues, says Dirk Shearer, co-owner of highly rated The Wildlife Control Company Inc., in Dublin, Ohio. “I’ve also seen deer crawl under temporary fencing.”

Shearer has used repellents, but has witnessed them be effective on one property and not on another. “At the end of the day, though, the best method to get really good deterrence is a fenced-in yard,” he says.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener, lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.

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