Questions on: Deer

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: Someone at a nursery told me there is a deer repellent formula on the NDSU Extension Service Web site. It is made with habanera peppers and mixed in a blender. Can you please direct me to where I may find this concoction? We live in the country and have been using Plantskyd. It works, but it's expensive. (e-mail reference)

A: Here is the concoction lifted right from the Web site. Red cayenne, jalapeno or habanera fresh peppers can be used in the preparation, but be careful if you use habanera because the capsaicin concentration is high enough to cause serious damage to the preparer! Jalapenos should be hot enough to keep the bunnies away. The quickest way to come up with a concoction is to take three fresh peppers and run them through a food processor with enough water added to create a liquid. Pour the liquid through a cheesecloth mesh into a glass quart jar. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive or other vegetable oil, a squirt of Elmer's glue and a drop or two of liquid dishwashing detergent. Use one part of the concentration to 10 parts water. Shake well just before application. This should discourage the bunnies without hurting them. If not, then make the concentration stronger (30 percent) or use the cayenne peppers for extra heat. Be sure to reapply after new growth appears or after a good rain. Deer will be controlled with this as well.

Q: Finally caught the culprits (deer) eating off the bird feeders. I now take the feeders inside at night. Someone suggested adding cayenne pepper to the bird seed. (e-mail reference)

A: Have you considered a physical barrier, such as fencing? Pepper also would have a negative impact on the birds. Repellents, such as Liquid Fence, have some limited impact. Once deer have discovered a food source, it is very difficult to get them to change their ways.

Q: Even though I'm not from North Dakota, your Web site came up when I searched for answers on fertilizing strawberries. I read through the page and appreciate the information. One of the questions I often saw dealt with squirrels, deer and other furry invaders. I offer this solution, which seems to work well for me. I purchased a couple of pounds of ground cayenne peppers. I took an empty jar, put the cayenne in and then drilled 1/8-inch holes in the lid. I then sprinkled this liberally around the perimeter of my strawberry beds, fruit trees and sunflower plantings. This ended the furry pilfering. I reapply after a heavy rain. I also mixed 1/2 cup of cayenne powder and an equal amount of Vaseline. I spread a thin layer of the mixture on the top rail of my chain link fence. It works like a charm. The squirrels are still around, but leave my garden alone.
Hope this helps some of your readers. (Vancouver, Wash.)

A: Thanks for the tip! We have plenty of furry friends who think they should help themselves to whatever we grow in our gardens.

Q: I have some hosta plants in a backyard garden that the deer think are delicious! I would like to try blood meal to treat them, but I’m not sure how strong a treatment I should use. The bag suggests not overtreating the plants. What strength would you recommend? How about adding dryer sheets and Dial soap? Would that be overkill? (e-mail reference)

A: Forget the blood meal because the deer will only laugh at your attempt! Up to a point, three products have been shown to be effective in deterring deer activity, which is about all one can ask for. The products are Plantskydd, Hinder and Liquid Fence.

Q: My wife was having problems with deer eating various plants in her gardens. By chance, she tried cutting scented dryer sheets into strips about an inch wide and tying the strips on her plants. She has not had a problem with the deer since. It seems the deer don't like the smell and so they stay away. I thought you might want to pass this along to your readers to see if they have the same results. (e-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the good information. I'm sure plenty of people will be employing your wife's methods this winter when these hungry critters come around.

Q: I read in your column where someone is asking how to keep deer out of your garden. I have tried a remedy and it seems to work. You buy a couple of bars of original Dial soap (or you can break them in half) and put a piece in an old nylon stocking. Tie them in trees close to the garden. The deer were tearing off the bark of some young trees with their horns. My remedy seemed to help a lot. I seldom see any deer in the yard anymore. (Enderlin, N.D.)

A: Thanks for the tip on deer control. I have heard that it works for some people, but not for others. Glad it worked for you!

Q: I saw an article in Trader’s Dispatch regarding Plantskydd Deer Repellant and have contacted our Extension Service office, but they never have heard of this product. Can you tell me where it can be purchased and the specifics of it? (e-mail reference)

A: Go to for more information, or e-mail Lacking satisfaction from either source, try calling (800) 252-6051. Good luck in your attempt to control our very destructive, but beautiful, wildlife friends - deer and rabbits!

Q: We planted our first bulbs last fall. We were just admiring them yesterday, but last night a deer ate them. Will they bloom next year or do I have to replace them? (e-mail reference)

A: Good question! If the deer ate the flowers and leaves with no green left behind, then they are finished and need to be replaced. If the deer ate the flowers, but not the leaves, they will come back next year, provided the leaves can die off naturally. If you do replant, spray the flowers and foliage next spring with a hot pepper spray, such as Hinder or Plantskydd.

Q: What do you know about Plantskydd Deer Repellant? The local Soil Conservation District is planning to sell the product this year. Does it work? (e-mail reference)

A: It is highly rated. It is considered an organic way of controlling the grazing animals and acts as a mild fertilizer on the plants that receive the treatment. It is blood hemoglobin mixed with vegetable oil. It is said to have a lasting effect up to six months in winter and three months during the summer. It is most effective when applied before the deer start eating the plants. Apparently, when deer begin to graze in a certain area and on specific plants, it is difficult to dissuade them! The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been using Plantskydd in about two dozen districts. It originated in Sweden and now is produced in the United States.

Q: I have a client looking for a shrub that is deer resistant. The shrubs will be used as a snow fence located next to conservation reserve program land and a river. I’ve seen deer devour evergreen trees in my client’s front yard. The wildlife service has spread blood meal, but it hasn’t stopped the deer. (e-mail reference)

A: Deer are tough to control when they get a “herd mentality” and there are no other sources of food, but I never have seen them eat spruce or juniper trees. Your client could plant hedge maples, which are deer resistant. These suggestions may or may not work entirely, so your client also may want to consider using Thiram on woody plants because of its good efficacy. Liquid Fence, Deer-Away, Deer-Off, Chew Not and Deer-Busters are a few other products available. There are concoctions of human hair, rotten eggs, smelly soap, etc. Some people swear by them, while others swear at them for not working. At a seminar, they discussed how a low-voltage, electrified fence set at a 45-degree angle to the surrounding planting works best. They used multiple wires at staggered distances. The combination of the slight shock, the angle and the varied wire spacing are too much for the deer to get through. Hopefully, some of these ideas or a combination will do the trick.

Q: What can be done to keep deer from eating zucchini and cucumbers out of the garden? I’ve heard of a mixture of milk and eggs that is poured over the plants to keep the deer out. Have you heard of such a thing or do you have another option for her? (e-mail reference)

A: I have heard it and about a half dozen other concoctions as well. Advocates all swear that each one works. In reality, they all work up to a point. Deer are creatures of habit and are not easily spooked or deterred when they are hungry. Human hair, Irish Spring soap, predator urine and hinder are also highly touted. In reality, the only reliable way to keep the deer out of the garden is with an exclusion fence that is electrified. If an electric fence is out of the question, then the grab -bag mix of practices mentioned should be alternated to keep the poachers off balance!

Q: I have a problem with deer getting into my vegetable gardens. Can you suggest a spray or powder I could use to keep them away? (Napoleon, N.D.)

A: There are some home remedy suggestions that may work. Hang bars of dial soap or swatches or bags of human hair throughout the garden. Place predator urine around the garden perimeter. The best method is physical exclusion. If you can, surround your garden with chicken or rabbit wire about two feet high. The deer seem to be put off by that for fear of getting caught in it.

Q: Deer ate my arborvitae but the stems and branches are still there. Will they survive the winter and come back in the spring? Should I do something now so the deer won’t do more damage? (E-mail reference)

A: Spray some hot pepper or some other deer repellent on what’s left of the plants. Don't waste your time if there is no foliage left because the plants will not come back to compliment your landscape.

Q: I've noticed you haven't mentioned the organic blood solution to deter deer. I've used it for three years in my area and on the tree farm where I work. We're very satisfied with its results and only apply it once a year. When the snow flies you can see the tracks actually avoid the sprayed areas. Applied correctly, homeowners may only need to apply it three times per year. Eventually deer get into another routine and will avoid the area even if it’s not sprayed. Of course even this is not the magical wand everyone wants but we won't use anything else and our trees are proof of the results. The Web address for anyone interested is (E-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the information. I'm sure the readers will appreciate knowing of your success. I've not mentioned it before because I have been told by many others that they have tried that approach with little or no success. I contend that deer will be deterred by how hungry they are and what the alternatives are. As you mentioned, this is not the magic wand everyone wants but if it works for a spell, go for it!

Q: Deer ate about 20 of my arborvitae leaving only a tuft of green on the top. Will the trees grow back to normal? How long will it take or should I pull them out and plant a shrub or tree that is deer resistant? We use the trees as a privacy fence. Do you have any suggestion on a fast- growing shrub or plant that would be deer resistant? (E-mail reference)

A: The plants are shot in my opinion. They will survive but they won’t serve your purpose aesthetically or functionally. Deer-resistant plants are almost an oxymoron. I don't know where you live, but here in the Midwest, those that have had their landscape and crops ravaged by deer call them rats with antlers! I would encourage you to replant with whatever you wish. Spray Ro-Pell or Cayenne pepper spray on the foliage on a regular basis. You can also ring the planting with low-voltage wire that will give them a gentle zing and send them off elsewhere to feed.

I can send you information to help you control deer activity on your property but results are not guaranteed!

Q: Is it true that human hair can stop deer from feeding on my plants? If so, how much? (E-mail reference)

A: Human hair is just one of the methods used to discourage deer feeding. Hot pepper spray, Irish Spring soap, predator urine, etc., are also used. They should be cycled when the deer have become indifferent to the one in current use. There is no data that I know of that prescribes the intensity of distribution. Just make it more than you think necessary and it may work.

Q: Can you give me any information on keeping deer out of my garden and flower beds? I have a five foot fence around them. I also use it to keep rabbits out. I have tied mesh bags on the fence filled with moth balls, perfumed cotton balls, hairspray and fabric softener sheets. I put computer discs on fishing line but nothing has helped. I even planted trees and shrubs that are to be used as a deterrent and purchased deer repellent. Any help from you would be greatly appreciated! (Garrison, N.D.)

A: You are one scrappy woman. I haven't seen any deer or rabbits that take too well to pepper spray. That has worked well for us. Don't give up!

Q: We live in southeastern Massachusetts and the deer population is taking over. It was a fairly rough winter this past year and the deer feasted on our plants. A large rhododendron was almost denuded, with only a few leaves and blossoms left on a couple of branches. If I cut it back almost to the ground, will it grow back? If so, what should I do to help it along? What is the best technique for keeping the deer away from the plants? Fencing the yard is not an option. They cleaned off a stand of 14 arborvitae trees up to about 5 feet, leaving a tuft of healthy branches at the top. What can we do besides cutting them down or digging them out? Will they grow back, and if so, how long would it take for them to fill in again? (E-mail reference, Massachusetts)

A: You definitely have a problem! Go ahead and cut the rhodys back, water and fertilize with aluminum sulfate. If they are going to make it, something should be evident soon. I'm afraid I can't say the same thing about the arborvitae. They are simply too far gone. There are many deer repellant products on the market, and all of them work, up to a point. Out here we try human hair tied to branches, scented soap, dried blood, predator urine and repellent sprays, and like I said, they all work, up to a point.

Q: Our problem is deer. There are herds of them roaming the area. Zoning laws regulate maximum fence height to 4 feet. Almost any plant or shrub we landscape with quickly becomes deer fodder. What would you suggest, either plant and shrubwise or repellantwise? (E-mail reference, South Salem, N.Y.)

A: Here is a list of "deer resistant" plants for you to consider; note, I said "resistant," not proof. Select from this list of plants to minimize deer browsing: spruces, pines, forsythia, spirea, lilac, lantana, yarrow, hollyhock, astilbe, coreopsis, foxglove, iris, bee balm (Monarda spp), ornamental onions, marigolds, daffodils, Russian sage, and verbena. Some herbs also show some resistance to deer - sage, thyme, chives, mint, and oregano. Sometimes the use of predatory urine (dog, wolf, mountain lion, etc) will dissuade deer from visiting your property, but the disgusting stuff must be applied frequently to be effective. A general repellent spray of chile pepper, garlic, and eggs is available on the market as well, and if applied to the new growth will keep them off your plants. All of these things work up to a point, depending on the starvation level and herd mentality. I have seen them clean out an area like a swarm of locusts, and in other cases, pick and choose.

Q: Help! I'm tired of putting plastic bags and empty pop bottles on my apple trees. The deer ate the bark and part of the branches off last winter. The trees are going on 9 years old and were producing well until last winter. What solutions can you give me for preventing the deer from eating my trees? (Portland, N.D.)

A: Deer control is very difficult! First, I believe they are more intelligent than we humans have given them credit for in the past. Second, anything that works initially has not worked very well in the long run. Finally, it all depends on how hungry they are. If they are truly starving, nothing short of a bullet will stop them, which, of course, is not an option unless you're a licensed hunter and the season is on.

Human hair, deodorant soap, and urine from predatory animals will work, with the last being most effective. Visit your local garden center and request they purchase one or more of the following: wolf, coyote and mountain lion urine. One source for these products is Hummert Seed Co. in Missouri.

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