I got an email from one of my Spokesman-Review colleagues last week asking about keeping deer out of the garden. Stefanie Pettit had some pots in her front yard that the deer munched down regularly.
This is not an uncommon problem as many of you know. Pettit had tried several commercial and home brew sprays, but the deer ignored them and munched away. One poor salvia managed to grow back this fall and she wanted to know if there was a way to protect it without creating a fortress of fencing.
As we looked over the situation, Pettit told me that there was a deer freeway through her backyard that led to a small pond at the bottom of the hill. Deer regularly bedded down in the yard under the protective pine trees. Given that the deer deterrent deck was stacked against her, we concluded that she would have to carefully shop for the most deer resistant plants she could find in the spring.
This did bring up the fact that if deer are hungry enough, they will eat most anything they can reach in the winter. So now is the time to reinforce your deterrents. Despite Pettit’s experience, deer deterrent sprays are a good first step. Commercial sprays are better than homemade brews because they have fixative agents that don’t wash off easily in the rain and snow. Mix up a generous amount of spray and apply it about once a month through the winter. Spray it liberally on plants being careful to get 7 to 8 feet up on taller ones. Deer generally eat plants from the 5-foot height on down but if we get a lot of snow, they will stand on it and be a foot or two higher. When you are done spraying, be sure to keep the sprayer where it won’t freeze.
In areas with heavy deer traffic, it might be better to erect fencing to keep the marauders out of your plants. You can use metal fencing like chicken wire or lightweight field fencing both of which can be heavy and awkward to handle. For a lighter weight but just as durable alternative I like heavy duty deer fencing like Tenax Black Plastic C Flex Deer Fence. This fencing comes in 72-inch-tall by 100-foot-long rolls and is stiff enough that deer can’t push against it and tear it. To anchor the fencing, use two to three T-posts or pieces of half-inch rebar pounded a foot into the ground. Attach the fencing to the stakes with several plastic conduit ties to keep it in place. When the winter is over, the fencing is easy to remove and store for the next winter.
As Pettit and I finished our discussions on what to do for her salvia, we came across the plant label and alas, no amount of fencing or spray was going to help. It was a variety of salvia only hardy down to USDA Zone 7 so it wouldn’t survive the winter anyway.