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Protect plants from deer? Ha!

Deer-proofing the garden or landscape can seem like an impossible task. But things like fishing line, netting or mesh wraps around plants or chicken wire on the ground can help. (Submitted photo / Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife)

How does one deer-proof the garden?

In brief, surround your garden with an 8-foot-high fence. The end.

But if an 8-foot fence is not right for you, you’re left working with landscaping or your garden plans. Consider deer deterrents or plants that are “less often browsed” by deer.

Deer hesitate to jump over a fence into a confined area, so a 5- to 6-foot-high fence around a narrow (small landing area) vegetable / cut flower garden may work for you. That is what I use and it has worked for two years now.

Just know, anything near the edge of the fence is prone to nibbling. Deer can reach browsing heights of 6 to 8 feet.

Electric fences are aesthetically less noticeable and cheaper than more substantial fences as they don’t require heavy-duty fence posts. You can use an electric “peanut butter” fence, but it takes lots of work, may not be allowed where you live, and can be dangerous if others are around your property.

If a fence is out of the question, protect edibles with other barriers such as netting, a mesh wrap or light gauge wire cage around plants or plant clusters. That is an effective deterrent I recently applied to some ornamental plants after incurring some nibbling damage. Deer are frustrated if they have to stick their nose or hooves through something they cannot see.

Here are a couple of other tricks from credible sources.

Run fishing line / thin wire horizontally or garden stakes vertically throughout a garden perimeter, creating a web of confusion.

Also, deer are unlikely to step on uneven surfaces such as crimped and undulating chicken wire fence lying on the ground surrounding a garden bed.

Other physical means? Try motion-controlled water sprinklers or noise makers that activate as deer approach the garden.

How about repellents? There are commercially produced repellents to try, but not recommended for your edibles. Repellents work because they smell / taste bad or instill fear.

Just remember that in time the product will wash away due to rain, irrigation or exposure to days of bright sunlight. And it will not be present on new plant growth.

Be sure to follow label directions. Reapply as necessary and change it up regularly.

Make informed plant choices. For example, landscaping can include plants deer dislike. For trees and shrubs, deer often avoid pines, spruces, larches, cypress and boxwood. For perennials, deer tend to be put off by fuzzy, coarse or “fern-like” foliage, and leaves or stems with strong odors or spines.

Plants less attractive to deer include lamb’s ears, hellebores, ornamental grasses, ferns, catmint, Russian sage, lavender and snakeroot.

A perimeter planting of strong-smelling herbs could help. The same odors that enhance a stew may discourage deer — for example, sage, rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme and dill.

Other attractive and aromatic herbs which may repel deer are lavender of all kinds, catnip and germander.

However, “No plant is safe from deer under all conditions,” said Marne A. Titchenell, a wildlife program specialist with The Ohio State University Extension.

Deer adapt their diet seasonally. As green foliage wanes in fall, they move on to the fruits of shrubs and trees, including acorns and beechnuts, and then to twigs, buds and bark.

Speaking of bark, in late summer, male deer use the trunks of woody plants that are 2 inches wide or less to rub off their antler velvet. These “buck rubs” can create lasting scars and structural weakness. Protect trunks of these plants with a physical barrier such as a mesh trunk wrap.

For more information about deer resistant plants, search go.osu.edu/deerresistantplants .

For details on fencing and other deterrents, https://go.osu.edu/deerideas.

Merva is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.

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