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Deer Repellents

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!

Tree Shel­ters:

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.

Repel­lent Sprays:

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.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Stream ReLeaf pro­gram please visit our web­site. If you believe your prop­erty qual­i­fies, con­tact Megan Hand­shu at mhandshu@howardcountymd.gov or (410) 313‑6205.

Addi­tional Resources:

Howard County has a com­pre­hen­sive deer man­age­ment pro­gram. For more infor­ma­tion about deer man­age­ment in Howard County, visit the web­site.

August 2011

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