Preventing Deer Damage
by Robert G. Juhre
book review by Sue Smith-Heavenrich of Candor, NY
Subtitled “high-tech, low-tech and natural controls” this slim paperback offers a handy reference for the deer-plagued gardener. It’s actually a revised and lengthened version of a 54-page pamphlet Robert Juhre wrote back in 1996 and, granted, contains lots of material you could find on your own through the internet and at your local county extension office. But, as my neighbor pointed out, he’s done all that searching for you and sometimes it’s nice to have it all in one place.
“Caution: much of the information in this book is hearsay, based on folklore and reports from both amateur and professional gardeners,” Juhre writes in a disclaimer. But, he says, it also comes from his own experience and observations. With that, he delves into a no-nonsense discussion of how to come to terms with sharing your hostas, carrots and roses with your deer neighbors.
Juhre begins with an appraisal of deer, both mule deer and white tail. If you’re going to outwit them, he says, you’ve got to know them: their feeding habits, their preferences, how high they can jump, how small an opening they can squeeze under… They are, he says, creatures of habit. So if you don’t want them in your garden, you need to set those boundaries early in the game. Once they’re used to snacking on the gladioli it’s hard to change their ways.
Chapter two is a basic checklist of things you need to consider before investing lots of time and money. It’s aptly titled “Look at your problem, then figure out a solution”. Is your solution neighborhood friendly, he asks? Will it be satisfactory in the long run? And can you afford it?
The next seven chapters outline various solutions: shooting and trapping; fencing; barriers other than fences; noisemakers; visual scare tactics; and repellents – both home remedies and commercial. Fences are food defense, Juhre notes, but you have to do it early. Before you plant. Not (like me) after they have snacked on all the bee balm and rudbeckia buds.
Juhre describes diverse fencing options including “pleaching”, an old world method of creating a living fence from trees. Plant willows, beech, birch or similar trees close together and intertwine their branches as they grow, he says. Then adds, “Pleaching is not for the impatient or those who need immediate protection.” He accompanies this chapter with simple line drawings.
For those occasions when a fence won’t do, Juhre lists a handful of other options including cages and netting. He lists options for making noise, from sonic noisemakers to thunder guns, and introduces the idea of using shiny moving things to frighten deer away. Remember that thing about deer being creatures of habit? Once they get used to something – even a balloon with big scary eyes – it becomes part of the background.
What about stinky egg-hot pepper-garlic mixes? Juhre says there is some justification for using repellents, whether brewed in the kitchen or purchased from the garden store. But you do have to reapply them after rain, and those repellent odors may offend neighbors if you live in the suburbs. They also might attract rodents, which sort of defeats the whole purpose if you’re trying to keep animals from digging up the veggies.
In chapter ten Juhre devotes 15 pages to lists of plants deer will “generally leave alone,” plants deer occasionally eat, and plants deer love to snack on. But, he warns, many factors enter into the “safeness” of plants: the size of the herd and density of deer in an area, the available natural forage, time of year and weather conditions. During a drought year deer will tackle plants they otherwise avoid.
Near the end Juhre devotes a chapter to his attempts to foil plant-munching deer. He describes strategies that worked well (a sheep fence with hedge growing up it), some that worked less well, and some that were abject failures. He also compares repellents and provides a state-by-state list of online resources. And yes, he does include an index for quick reference.