Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
REPELLING THE RASCALS!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Have you seen any deer tracks in your garden recently? How about signs of hungry raccoons and skunks? Did the woodchucks and other furry little varmints sample some of your choice flowers or vegetables this past season? Have you noticed strange soil mounds tunneling through the garden?
If so, don't think you have a unique problem. We choose to be gardeners, and probably made a conscious decision to live in rural areas, so I guess we'll be surrounded by such annoyances for a long time! Deer, in particular, have made themselves a real nuisance in some areas as their habitat shrinks and we install ever-tastier tidbits for them in our gardens.
It is not necessary to endure excessive damage done by these and other digging, rooting, nibbling and tromping late-night visitors. There are several products or devices which will actually keep wild animals, and probably neighborhood pets, out of your garden or orchard.
An aggressive cat should take care of more than a few moles, voles, shrews and mice— at least until the cat's tummy is full. At least one of our two felines (sharing a combined weight of 32-pounds!) remains on almost constant patrol and lookout for any tempting movement. Hardly a mid-summer day goes by without the still-startling specter of a recently dispatched furry critter clenched in the jaws of our best little hunter, "Ragamuffin." ("Cookie," at the ripe old age of 13, on the other hand, is most often content with acting as one of our official nursery greeters, pathway guards and "front-seat-inspectors.")
A snappy-snarly dog is a most effective deterrent, especially for deer, coyote and woodchucks. For example, I learned the value of noisy dogs during mid-1997, when a dog groomer, kennel and animal rescue operation moved in a few hundred feet from the nursery. While the frequent din of yelping, howling, crying and barking dogs may be somewhat distressing, the near absence of browsing deer, and concurrent damage, was clearly noticeable, and appreciated. So, you see, every dark gray cloud has at least a glimmer in its lining.
Blood meal may be sprinkled around the garden and can be moderately effective for repelling deer, but watch out, the material will attract about half of the raccoons in the county! Blood meal tends to be quite pricey considering it must be re-applied every few days or after a heavy dew or a rain shower. Blood meal is also a nitrogen source and care should be taken to avoid spreading growth-stimulating nitrogen at an inappropriate time.
I've heard more than a few stories about hanging those little motel-size bars of soap throughout the garden. A neighbor of mine says he keeps deer away by hanging a dirty, sweaty shirt on a stake out in his vegetable patch. He says the deer won't come within 100 feet of the thing. Can't say as I blame them!
We have recently suffered mightily at the hands of a rather large herd of deer (before the arrival of loud and expressive neighborhood dogs) that did a great deal of damage. State Fish and Game people provided several rolls of "flash tape" which I suspected deer would enjoy marching through—almost like a runner breaking through the ribbon at race's end. It turns out that when strung from tree to tree, even the slightest breeze sets it to spinning, undulating, whirring, humming and "flashing" bright red and shiny silver "lights." Enough to frighten away even the most intrepid, quadruped miscreant . . . I hope! I'm sure passers-by think it's all Christmas decorations. Problem is, most deer traffic in the garden occurs at night when, of course, they don't even see flash-ribbon. . .and walk right through it! So, on to a new idea.
Then there are electric fences. You know, the six-foot-high wire barriers which zap humans but provide a convenient and fun diversion for fleet-footed and spring-loaded white tail deer. (Any deer worth his or her salt can pop over a four-to six-foot-high fence in the blink of an eyeno problem.) (See Fred's design of a highly successful deer fence.)
An interesting and expensive assortment of electronic gizmos are reported to repel canines, felines and a few others by emitting an ear-splitting tone which, in theory, can only be heard by animals. Another electronic rig which looks like it was dreamed up by Rube Goldberg worked fairly well for me one recent winter. It incorporated one of those now-popular motion detectors with lights and an old stereo amplifier and tape deck which played mind-shattering, heavy-metal rock 'n roll "music" or the sounds of vicious dogs at full agitation and volume whenever anything larger than a small cat came within 50 feet. I personally think this one warrants thoughtful consideration, providing your garden isn't too close to neighbors. Varying the music or sounds would help keep pesky critters from becoming too tolerant of the startling interference to their browsing routine.
An old Extension Service book I picked up over 30 years ago recommends scattering mothballs around the garden and (shudder!) hanging rags soaked in creosote all over the place. How times have changed! Neither of these alternatives are recommended now.
The most popular repellent short of 12-gauge buckshot however, has been on the shelves of hardware and farm 'n garden supply stores for years, non-chemical concentrates of pungent soaps and/or animal (notably coyote) urine. Highly effective but with a powerfully unpleasant if not offensive, odor deer, most rodents and other creatures which routinely eat leaves and twigs usually steer a wide path around treated areas. I guess I wouldn't want to eat anything that had been sprayed with the stuff, either.
Another highly effective product isn't sold in stores and will probably never benefit from national advertising, yet is more than readily available: human urine. Like some other solutions which must be sprayed on repeatedly — especially after a rain shower — it must be replenished daily for maximum effect. I'll leave application methods to your imagination.
Last of all is a concoction of herbs and spices that is literally the nastiest-tasting stuff ever. Its a highly effective deterrent, and a lot less expensive than the commercial brands. Gather up about a cupful of finely-chopped wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthum the "wormwood" of the Old Testament), 2 or 3 peeled cloves (not heads) of fresh garlic, and place both in your kitchen blender with two cups of warm water. Liquefy but stay close to the "off" switch because the swirling, churning liquid has a habit of foaming up ("suds" lots of them). Mix one cup of this concentrate with one gallon of water and sprinkle or spray onto target foliage. Itd be wise to test it on small, around-the-back part of plants just to make sure the solution wont burn the poor things to the ground. In my experience, however, at that rate of dilution there is very little likelihood of damage. Apply early in the evening thats when furry critters do most of their browsing and reapply after a moderate-to-heavy rain. It would be unwise to spray foliage in the roaring hot sun.
Lastly, remember you're surrounded by experts: Master Gardeners, your state's Cooperative Extension Service and other state agricultural/ horticultural representatives and - best of all - experienced and successful gardeners. Life's greatest bargain, after all, is a gift of the hard-won experience of others!
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