Garden Plot: A shocking cure for dastardly deer

Meet Mike in Fredericksburg this weekend!

Mike will appear at the Fredericksburg Home & Flower Show at the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center on Saturday, March 17 and Sunday, March 18.

Saturday topics: Growing Titanic Tomatoes at noon; chemical-free lawn care at 3 p.m.

Sunday: “Birds, bees and butterflies” at noon; “steel cage Q&A” at 2 p.m.: “You bring the questions, Mike will apply the submission holds!”

A shocking cure for dastardly deer

Betty in Great Falls writes: “Please help. Deer have eaten nine of my wonderful hydrangeas. You mentioned some sort of stake that ‘zaps’ them a few months ago. Where do I get it?”

That’s the remarkable “Wireless Deer Fence” Betty, and you buy the stakes in sets of three directly from the inventor through his website.

The stakes come with scent pellets that attract deer. Attach one of these pellets onto its specialized holder on the inside top of the stake, insert two AA batteries into the base and set the unit in front of the plants you wish to protect. The deer lick the electrodes that encircle the scent pellet, get a mild shock and run off to devour the neighbor’s hydrangeas!

Hot sauce = Cold deer

A different Betty, who’s been “gardening in suburban Rockville since 1999” writes: “We specialize in growing Deer Candy here in Flower Valley, but I have had super success with a spray of one tablespoon Tabasco sauce in one quart of water. It needs to be reapplied after a hard rain, but the deer are ‘discouraged’ by my ‘bad-tasting garden’ and don’t come back again for a while.”

This is the time to discourage those deer, Betty, as a bad experience early in the season has been shown to often deter them from your specific landscape for the rest of the season.

And I have to include the Martin Luther King Jr. quote that adorns the end of your email, as it is perfect advice for gardeners: “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Soap and oil make a better spray

Betty in Rockville notes that her homemade hot pepper deer repellent spray “needs to be reapplied after a hard rain.” Hot pepper sprays are a traditional deer repellent that has been shown to work, and I think we can help yours last a little longer.

Your formula — and pretty much any other homemade spray — can be improved in longevity by the addition of a tablespoon of dishwashing or insecticidal soap and a tablespoon of cooking or horticultural oil. These “sticker/sprayer” additions will help any homemade mixture adhere better to the plants being sprayed and maintain their potency longer — despite rains.

Oh, and you can double or even triple the amount of Tabasco in the mix. It won’t hurt the plants but will also help the repellent last longer.

Just say “No” to predator pee (but “yes” to rotten eggs!)

A local deer fence installer contacted me after we touched on deer control a few months ago and among their alternative-to-fencing recommendations was the use of so-called “predator urines” from animals like fox, wolf and coyote.

No, no, no! Although rated high in the folklore category, predator urine has (to the best of my knowledge) never been shown to be effective in a controlled study. But the “collection” (much too nice a word) of that urine has been shown to be cruel in the extreme.

If you’re going to purchase a deer repellent, look for a product with the highest concentration of “putrescent egg solids” as the active ingredient on the label, as the smell of rotten eggs has been shown to be a highly effective taste deterrent.

But don’t try and make your own. You’ll have to move if you do.

Strike out hungry deer!

Our email overfloweth with pleas for deer control. And the timing could not be better: Give deer a bad experience at your place early in the season and they may well find another landscape to ravage and not return to yours the rest of this year.

Now, if you’re going to rely on deer repellent to protect isolated plants, use it wisely. Low growing plants like hosta, of course, need to be simply soaked.  But taller pieces of deer candy like arborvitae and rhododendron are better protected by heavy spraying of the “browsing zone,” the 32 inches off the ground where deer typically take their very first bite of big plants.

Double or triple soak this “strike zone” and you’ll be sure to give hungry deer a super-bad tasting mouthful, whereby a thin coating may not even deter them.

For more deer-defying tips, be sure and revisit our previous take on this topic from back in January.

Mike McGrath was Editor-in-Chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated Public Radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and Garden Editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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