This blog was written by Megan Handshu, of the Howard County Natural Resources Division. Thanks Megan!
Everyone in Howard County who has tried to grow something in their yard knows that deer are enemy number one. Not the drought. Not the stinkbugs. Deer. They will practically stand on your front porch and eat from planted urns beside your door, unafraid of your barking dog, uncaring of the fact that you did not intend for your landscape to become their smörgåsbord.
Here are a few tips on how to fight back by protecting your plants from deer. As much as we wish they might just go away, deer overpopulation can be an unfortunate side effect of a growing community. So set aside the wishful thinking and take action. One or more of these tactics may help you save your yard!
Bark protectors and tree shelters are a wonderful way to protect your young trees from deer. Not only can they help protect your trees from becoming a deer snack, but from becoming a scratching post as well. In the late summer and fall male deer will rub against young saplings to remove the velvet from their antlers. This may snap young trees before they get a chance to acquire the girth to withstand such abuse. There are many types of shelters out there, from the blue tubes you may often see on the side of the road to sturdy plastic mesh.
Whether you choose perforated or solid tubes you will have to keep an eye on them. Solid tubes can trap moisture causing mold and mildew problems. They may also invite small rodents or wasps. Perforated tubes may need extra maintenance as limbs can grow through the holes in the shelter. You want the branches to grow up through the top and not sideways through a hole. In winter, the shelters can be weighed down by heavy snows and ice, bending the tree with them, and may need to be uprighted. Also, make sure that when your tree begins to outgrow its shelters, you take it off, or else the shelter can restrict further growth.
Deer repellent tablets are a new product just registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year. You bury them at the base of your plants where water dissolves the tablet and the chemicals are absorbed through the roots. The active ingredients are capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, the chemicals that make peppers so hot and spicy. As unpalatable as a hot pepper can be for (many) humans, so is it for deer and other browsing animals. Not only will these tablets help protect your plants form deer, but also from rodents such as voles and rabbits. Don’t worry, no harm will come to these animals if they do ingest part of the plant, except maybe a case of heartburn.
This product is not for use in vegetable gardens or fruit orchards as it will affect the taste of the food, but it has a lot of potential for protecting other types of plants. Depending on the size of your plant, it can take one week to a month for the bad taste to absorb throughout the plant. During this time it may be wise to use a spray-on repellent to protect your plants. However, once absorbed, it will last the entire growing season.
There are lots of repellent sprays available and each seems to claim that their active ingredient is the only one that works. Ingredients vary and some smell really bad. There are also dozens of homemade deer repellent recipes available on the internet. Look for repellents that will not wash off your plant every time it rains. You will need to re-apply periodically, but some last longer than others. Also be careful about using repellents on edibles. They may affect the taste and some may not be safe for consumption at all.
Howard County’s Stream ReLeaf program is looking into all three of the methods mentioned above for controlling deer damage to the trees and shrubs it provides. The Stream ReLeaf program provides native plant material to homeowners whose property is within 75 feet of a stream. With each tree given away by the program, a tree shelter will be provided as well. For those plants that cannot be sheltered, a combination of tablets and a spray will be used. These methods will help the plants to survive and thrive, reducing erosion and keeping pollutants out of the Chesapeake Bay. Once the plants are larger and established, they won’t need as much attention.
Howard County has a comprehensive deer management program. For more information about deer management in Howard County, visit the website.