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Want to keep the deer out of your garden? Here’s what works.

Walter, a certified hunt hound, chases deer off his owner’s property day and night. Dogs do a good job keeping deer out of gardens but they need to spend a lot of time outside to be effective, and many of us keep our dogs indoors much of the time. (John Tirado)

Walter patrols his yard during the day and sleeps on the porch at night. If deer enter the yard, regardless of the time, he gives chase with a basset-hound howl.

Walter is a certified hunt hound, and the perfect deer repellent. He never fails to chase away deer, but we wonder what his neighbors think about late-night howling.

You probably don’t have a Walter, though. The rest of us must find other methods to keep Bambi from nibbling on our juicy rose buds.

I interviewed garden specialists at Lake Ridge Nursery, Merrifield Garden Center and Home Depot to inquire works best to repel deer in our area. I also asked some of my gardening friends how they keep deer out of their gardens. Below are some of the most successful, smelly and even noisy methods for deterring deer.

Andrea Garbor, plant specialist at Merrifield Garden Center, said the most popular and effective deer repellents sold in her Fairfax store include Bobbex spray, Liquid Fence and Deer Off repellent stations. Andrea said to shake spray bottles very well before use because the active ingredients settle to the bottom, and then reapply every few weeks.

Deer Off repellent stations by Havahart, unlike sprays, will work the entire season but are more expensive,” Andrea said.

A complaint with many deer spray repellents is they smell really bad, like a combination of rotten eggs and garlic, which are often active ingredients. Andrea showed me repellents from I Must Garden that smell like mint and spice. We did smell tests in the store, and they do smell very nice. And she said, “They work, despite smelling good.”

At the end of our conversation, Andrea smiled and said, “I don’t tell this to customers but if you have little boys, have them pee on your garden. That will also work to keep deer away.”

The garden specialist at Home Depot was very matter-of-fact when he told me only the best selling deer repellents make it into their stores. Home Depot shelf space, he explained, is measured by revenue per square foot. Thus, their best selling deer repellents must correlate to the most effective, I was left to assume.

He then pointed out their deer repellents include Liquid Fence (spray, granular, and concentrate), Repels-all and Tomcat.

He followed up by stating Home Depot’s website carries many other types of deer repellents, including motion sensor deterrents, which can be ordered online but don’t appear on store shelves. “Make sure to check out the website,” he said.

The Home Depot garden specialist also stressed consumers should change-up strategies for repelling deer. “Deer learn quickly and will adapt. Changing products and strategies will keep deer off-balance,” he said. Note, I was told by the Home Depot manager I could use the information from the interview in the article but I could not use employee names.

Susan Gray, owner of Lake Ridge Nursery, said Bobbex and Deer Scram work best for her customers. Both products have frightening smells and are very effective to repel deer.

You don’t have to purchase commercial deer repellents, you can make them at home. Here’s a recipe for making a garlic and cayenne pepper repellent. A drawback for homemade repellents is they wash off more quickly in rain compared to commercial repellents.

My gardening friends also provided interesting and quite varied information about how they deter deer from eating home gardens:

  • One friend told me nothing worked until he put up a three line electric fence purchased from Co-op. Since the fence went up, he has had no problems with deer.
  • Two friends told me the spray-on repellents such as Bobbex work well, but you can’t forget to reapply every few weeks on the garden. If you forget, deer feast quickly.  They’ve both experienced their flower gardens disappear overnight due to hungry deer.
  • Another friend ran water sprinklers on motion sensors for years but told me deer learned to eat around the sprinklers. He now uses a noise-making device called the Yard Sentinel with good success.
  • One of my more creative friends built a scaredeer — a scary version of a scarecrow with a real deer skull. She said it didn’t work, however. Scarecrows rarely work for deer.
  • My CWG editor, Angela Fritz, said her dad uses a solution of egg, water and cayenne pepper that he sprays on his rose buds. The spicy solution protects his roses.
  • A friend from high school strings up ribbons, pinwheels and colorful, reflective devices around his garden. It has worked so far this summer to scare away deer.
  • A neighbor told me she allows bow hunting in her backyard to deter deer. But the hunting season and the growing season don’t align so deer return in the summer to eat her flowers.
  • The owner of the basset hound mentioned earlier in this article said he never has problems with deer. Walter guards his yard. I need a basset hound for my yard.
  • My neighbor who put up an eight-foot fence around her yard still has deer dining on her landscaping. The deer found a passage under the fence using a deep ravine.
  • Lastly, one friend told me to plant deer-resistant flowers and just forget about deer repellent altogether. Unfortunately, I like hostas, and so do deer.

So what works best to deter deer?

  1. A well-constructed fence or cage around the garden can be made 100 percent deer-proof. Fences top the list.
  2. Outdoor dogs, such as Walter the basset hound mentioned above, are extremely effective keeping deer out of the yard but they may have a bad day, need a trip to the vet, or need to travel to win another hunting citation ribbon. They’re not 100 percent effective, but close.
  3. Repellent sprays and granules, scent stations, sprinklers, and noisemakers are very effective, but a starving deer may bypass those deterrents to eat your garden. I’m grouping these deterrents together because they all have equally good reviews.
  4. Homemade sprays with garlic powder and cayenne are almost as effective as commercial sprays, but they need to be reapplied more often since they wash off with rain more easily.
  5. Ribbons, reflectors and owl decoys are effective until a deer works up the courage to approach and feed. Once they learn there is no real threat, your garden becomes their salad bar.
  6. I’m putting soap, human hair and pee near the bottom of the list only because I don’t have a lot of data on those repellents. In other words, I don’t have friends or sources who admit they pee on their garden, or spread soap and human hair to keep away the deer and that it actually works. I’m sure those repellents work to some degree, I just don’t know how well they work, particularly compared to the commercial repellents.
  7. Hunting is at the bottom of the list because deer return after hunting season ends.

Do you try to keep deer out of your garden? If so, what products or techniques do you use, and how well do they work? Let us know.

Peeing near gardens will deter deer but your neighbors may not appreciate the view.

When all else fails, you can photograph and take videos of deer. They’re kind of cute, even when they eat your garden. (Kevin Ambrose)

Oh deer, what should we do?  Addressing the suburban deer dilemma