Spring has finally sprung here in Northeast Georgia.
We are finally getting plenty of rain and it is a beautiful time of year with one exception. Everything we try to grow in our gardens and landscaping that tastes or looks good seems to get molested or gobbled up by those four-legged munching machines called white-tailed deer.
After a long hard winter of chasing squirrels away from our bird feeders, the battle front lines change to all out warfare on how to get a garden variety bean all the way to the freezer without it being devastated by marauding deer.
We all love to see these graceful critters around in the fall and winter, but they can quickly become pests this time of year when vegetable gardens and new landscape plants spring up everywhere.
One of the most common and frustrating problems is deer eating our expensive landscape shrubbery or our favorite garden vegetables.
These rascals dearly love tender stuff like peas, beans, okra, peppers, squash, corn, watermelons, pumpkins, fruit trees, redtips, azaleas, various nursery stock and almost every other valuable food or ornamental plant which has been fertilized. Even fertilized pine trees have been known to sustain a lot of deer damage in some years!
Remedies, of course, vary with the type of crop, location, severity of damage, and value of crop. For valuable crops, and long term protection, there is nothing better than electric fencing to keep out deer and even rabbits and groundhogs.
These fences, made up of 1-5 strands of polytape (electroplastic wire), are an expensive initial investment, but can protect a valuable orchard or vegetable garden for up to 10 to 20 years. Using good quality materials, a small one to three strand electric fence can be installed for $0.20 to $0.30 per foot. If one strand is used, it needs to be 30 inches above the ground.
Before initial operation, it is important to mix a slurry of peanut butter and small amount of cooking oil and dab it on the fence at 3- to 6-foot intervals.
When curious offending animals show up to sniff and taste the peanut butter, the wire will impart a memorable shock to the nose or tongue. Usually one touch is enough to keep deer out for a long time, even years.
There is a commercial product available at www.cabelas.com and other web sites to exclude deer called Plot Saver Deer Barrier System which is a one-acre kit composed of absorbent ribbon and deer repellent.
Buy 39 inch fiberglass stakes and you are in business. Another variation for a fence is a simple cotton rope soaked in commercial deer repellents (such as Hinder, Deer Away, Deer Stopper, Deer Off, Liquid Fence and others) and attached at 30-inch height enclosing the garden. Re-apply repellent spray to the rope at two week intervals (or more frequently in rainy weather) to reinforce the odor.
Other methods to keep deer out of gardens and shrubbery include scare devices and direct repellents. Most of the time, these are effective if used frequently, interchangeably, and persistently. Some common techniques which work well for a few days include scarecrows (moved every other day), mylar balloons, pie tins, transistor radios, flashing lights, dogs, dirty socks, ballcaps or T-shirts with fresh human odor, strips of flagging tape or cloth, or a simple line of string. These methods work temporarily, especially if used interchangeably or in combination with fencing or repellents.
Repellents can be effective over the short term and include both commercial varieties and home remedies. One of the best home remedies to repel deer is four raw eggs plus liquid (or carefully strained) garlic plus a few drops of dishwashing liquid mixed with a gallon of lukewarm water and sprayed directly on the vulnerable vegetation, flowers, shrubs, etc.
This imparts a sulfurous odor that is effective in low rainfall periods.
I have personally used this solution on flowers and it works, for awhile! Bars of motel-sized soap still in the wrapper with a hole punched and hung on string or fishing line at the 4-foot level from limbs of apple trees, shrubbery, around the edges of gardens and other spots has proven effective in some places especially on individual trees.
There are also a wide variety of commercial repellents which can be purchased from garden supply or hardware stores, catalogs, and orchardists.
One of the best of these in recent tests has proven to be Hinder (or Fertilome Deer & Rabbit Repellent), an ammonia-based liquid which is relatively inexpensive.
These are the only commercial repellents approved for spraying directly on food and feed crops during the active growing season. Read the label.
They can be applied directly to the foliage of vegetable and field crops, gardens, ornamentals, fruit trees, and nursery stock. Another effective tool is several variations of motion-activated sprinklers which quickly spray water on the deer and a host of other critters. They do not like this and will quickly move away.
The Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Game Management section (770-535-5700) has a booklet available for free to the public entitled "Controlling Deer Damage in Georgia." I wrote most of it.
State wildlife biologists or your UGA county agricultural extension agent also have helpful remedies and suggestions for almost any wildlife problem around the home or garden. Meanwhile, good luck with the war on munching machines and remember that these are the same animals you love to have around in the fall and winter and life would surely be dull without them!
Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife bioligist. His column appears monthly.