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Master Gardener: How to deer-proof your garden

Gwen Swenson-Hale
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A flowerpot on a patio 5 feet from a sliding glass door Aug. 12, 2020. (Gwen Swenson-Hale/Courtesy)

“These plants and flowers will naturally deer-proof your garden,” proclaims a headline in a leading garden magazine. Don’t believe it. While some plants are less tasty to deer than others, when hungry enough, deer will eat any flower — except cactus.

That said, here are some ways to discourage the decimation of your favorite plants.

Plant unappealing plants

In general, deer tend to avoid plants with strong odors (lavender cotton, hyssop, Artemisia, sumac, chocolate flower, oregano, etc.), many ornamental grasses and ferns, and plants with fuzzy, prickly or sharp leaves (lamb’s ear, yucca, Colorado spruce). Though an important note is that roses are one of their favorite meals. But beware that deer may leave less desirable plants alone for years, then browse them in another year.



Fence them out

A well-constructed deer fence is the most successful tactic to discourage deer damage. Wire mesh fences are more effective than wood, although not generally 100% effective. Vertical wire garden fences should be at least 8 feet high. Fences protecting individual plants or small groups of plants should be at least 4 feet high. These enclosures are effective because deer avoid tight, penned-in sites.

Electric fences

These should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5 gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps and 3,000 to 4,500 volts. Several configurations of electric fences are effective.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



Repellents

Effective commercial contact repellents include Deer-Off and Deer-Away. One of the most effective homemade repellents can be made by whipping one part whole eggs with four parts water. Apply on a dry day with temperatures above freezing. This egg spray does not readily wash away and is not harmful to plants. Coyote urine also rates high in repelling deer and elk, but because it is an area repellent, any creature within sniffing range will be repelled. Not ideal for backyard gardens.

Netting and tubing

Garden netting may protect flowerbeds and other low-growing plants. Tubes of Vexar netting around individual seedlings are effective in reducing deer damage to small trees. These tubes can protect just the growing terminals or can completely enclose small trees. Another option is flexible, sunlight-degradable netting that expands to slip over seedlings. Both products are available from Colorado State Forest Service offices.

What doesn’t work

Efforts to frighten deer with strobe lights, pyrotechnics, dogs or water usually only provide temporary relief. Sorry.

Gwen Swenson-Hale is a CSU master gardener apprentice from the class of 2021. She lives in a rural area of Steamboat Springs with many large four-legged hungry creatures who also sometimes stomp on her flowers.


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