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How to keep deer away from your yard

Deer seem to always find their way into gardens, and it’s especially a problem in the South. Nathan Wilson, manager and lead horticulturist at Lanier Nursery and Gardens in Flowery Branch, has answered question after question on how to get rid of what he calls “200-pound pests.” He recently hosted a lecture at Lanier Nursery to teach different ways to do just that.

“We’re building roads, we’re building buildings, our homes, and we are going into the woodlands where deer are naturally living,” Wilson said. “Since that space is decreasing and going away, now they’re living in our backyards essentially.”

He said he tries to always offer safe, economic alternatives to deterring deer, but knows most people just want a quick fix. He said that won’t happen. For pests like deer with such a long life cycle, homeowners have to use more than one method.

“A lot of times, people are just looking for this magic spray, ‘Just give me this one spray that will solve all my problems,’” Wilson said. “Well, the reality is there’s not just one magic spray for a pest, and essentially, the deer have become a pest in the garden.”

He said there are many helpful tips when it comes to getting rid of deer. Obviously, there’s what Wilson calls “lead poisoning,” or shooting the deer. But that’s not always an option during the off-season or in neighborhoods.

One of the main ways people can make sure deer stay out of their garden is to use physical barriers. These barriers can come from any number of things like typical fencing or even electric fencing. There’s also something Wilson calls a “web of confusion,” which is a cheaper alternative.

“You could use fishing line and wrap it around the plants, almost like netting,” Wilson said. “And once they touch their nose on that, they can’t get a good idea of what it is, so they just leave it alone.”

Another way to get rid of deer is simply by frightening them, and that’s where Wilson said homeowners can get creative.

“At the end of Halloween season, these little motion-sensor noise makers, they go on sale,” Wilson said. “If you were to hide them in your garden as a deer walks by and the motion scares them, they’ll flee.”

There are also different motion-sensor irrigation systems for sale online and in hardware stores Wilson said would get the job done, too.

Careful selection and combinations of plants in the yard and garden help keep deer away. Wilson said it’s all about smell and taste, so choosing plants that don’t appeal to those senses is the place to start.

Herbs with strong smells like rosemary and thyme are helpful as well as anise shrubs which have a licorice-like smell. Plants with thick, leathery leaves like magnolia and holly or plants with fuzzy or spiny textures are a good option, too.

He said the plants to avoid are hostas and hydrangeas, which “are like candy bars” to deer.

But if homeowners are going to use those plants, it’s best to bring them closer to the home. Deer are less likely to go that far.

“What I tell people is take these plants we know deer don’t like or are less likely to enjoy and essentially create a border away from the house,” Wilson said. “As the deer walks down your property line, they’re going to be looking at the plants you have there and they’re not going to want to be around.”

Smelly repellants can be used, too. Typically, they’re made with things like garlic oil, clove oil or spicy flavors.

Wilson also said to be careful with expansive lawns. Deer like to see everything around them, so in large, open yards, they feel safe. 

“You want to complicate the design,” Wilson said. “Create islands or borders in the lawn so deer are able to get distracted or scared so they don’t want to go in there.”

Wilson said there are a lot of good options out there, but the main point is knowing that choosing just one of them won’t work. Homeowners have to use more than one deterrent in order to have success of keeping their garden safe.

“We’re going to try to attack it on many different levels,” Wilson said. ”You can use any one of these, but one of them is probably not sufficient.”