Driving deer away Keep animals from dining on your garden, plants

Deer are a common problem for Lowcountry gardeners. Experts offer their tips for reducing deer damage from planting deer-resistant ornamentals to making your own repellent spray.

When Barbara Orrell-Jones and her family moved from Northern Virginia to Dunes West, several of her favorite plants came along. They included potted plants such as a black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower.

She placed the plants out near the garage, and one day later, the 4-foot-tall plants had been chopped down to 2 inches, Orrell-Jones says. The culprit? Deer.

The garden grazers also ate the flowers off a healthy clematis and parts of its vine.

“We did not know how bold the deer are,” says Orrell-Jones, who says a herd of deer that lives on her street are smart enough to munch on healthy vines and leave unhealthy ones alone.

Some Lowcountry homeowners battle constantly to keep deer from dining in their yards. As more people move into areas that deer call home, the animals often eat whatever residents of the subdivisions are growing.

Orrell-Jones’ vine has been trying to make a comeback for the seven years her family has lived in their house, she says. It has failed because visiting deer, which number from four to a dozen, continue to eat it.

“I also had a hydrangea,” she says. She’d sprinkle Irish Spring soap around it on the advice of a neighbor. It was a safe, attractive solution because her children were young and played in the area. But having to continually sprinkle more soap became time consuming.

“The neighbor has a fenced-in yard, and I really believe that’s the ultimate solution,” she says. “Our yard is big and it feels open and spacious. And if we put a fence in, we would lose that. To have this beautiful place to live in, the deer are part of the deal.

“It is beautiful to watch these creatures. I will keep an eye open for a solution. But to plant flowers that I love or have a vegetable garden, we would have to fence in the yard.”

Kathy Woolsey, horticulturist at Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, says she has tried a number of methods to discourage deer from eating the plants there.

One thing that works is Milorganite, a fertilizer made from Milwaukee sewage sludge that is spread around the plants, Woolsey says. Another is blood meal or dried blood made with blood from slaughter houses that is sprinkled on leaves.

Some people rely on fences, but unless you can build one higher than 8 feet, deer can jump it, Woolsey says. A knee-high electric fence will keep young deer, out and if they don’t go past it, older deer won’t either.

Gardeners also might try planting something for the deer to eat using a forage food mix, Woolsey says. When deer have something they like to eat, they are likely to leave the azaleas and other ornamentals alone.

There are also spray repellents available that usually contain garlic and eggs, Woolsey says. She suggests putting those ingredients in a blender, adding water and then putting the mixture in a sprayer to apply to plants.

When developing a landscape plan for subdivisions, SeamonWhiteside considers nearby deer populations, says Gary Collins, a landscape architect for the firm.

Deer may be drawn to any plant with a fragrance they find attractive but generally stay away from pungent smells, Collins says. They also usually stay away from plants that have points or pricks.

Some experts give specific plant recommendations such as lantana, steeplebush and coreopsis and suggest shrubs such as juniper, lilac and butterfly bush to keep from attracting deer.

Gardeners easily can find a variety of plants that discourage deer and can be used in attractive landscape designs, Collins says.

They include plenty of native plants. Choose ones that will do well in your yard, not someone else’s yard. “I live out Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant and there are tons of deer,” Collins says. “I have deer that come up on my front porch and eat plants. They will come and take a few bites of something, and if they don’t like it, they don’t come back.”

A lot of people put a mesh screen around their gardens, says Collins, who uses one around his vegetable garden. He can reach over the top of the 3-foot-high screen, but the deer do not enter.

“They are not that aggressive,” Collins says. “If there is enough food for them to forage in the woods, they won’t come into your backyard. At the beginning of deer season, you may see more deer in residential areas because they know where they are being hunted.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.