March 31, 2013

Much ado about noshing

Mainers mad about deer dining on their property try a variety of ways -- fencing, repellents and more -- to send the message that the kitchen is closed.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Deer damage can happen any time of year, and takes a toll on vegetable gardens and landscape plants.

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Biologist Scott Lindsay says moving a coyote decoy like this one around your yard might help keep deer at bay.

Courtesy Scott Lindsay

Additional Photos Below

She added that after Long Island experienced a boom in its deer population a few years ago, every serious gardener on the island installed some kind of fence. "That's the thing people really do," she said.

Lindsay said if you use fencing, pick an open, woven type that you can see through, like an orchard fence. But electric fencing is most effective.

"I am a strong advocate for any type of electric fencing you can put up on your property," Lindsay said. "There is nothing in our experience that works better, except for an 8-foot fence, which many people don't want to have. They don't want to have a big fence in their front yard. They don't want to be in a fortress."

If you use an electric fence, angle the top of it away from your garden, Coffin advises.

"The deer have a tendency to go under fences," she said, "so when you do that orientation, they get zapped on the back, and they don't like that."

But like Lindsay, Coffin notes that a lot of people don't want to put up a fence if it's going to interfere with nice landscaping.

"An electric fence is kind of like you're putting up a battlefield or something," she said, laughing.

Another alternative is trying some of the repellents on the market that use ingredients that smell like rotten eggs and contain capsaicin, the substance that gives the heat to chile peppers.

According to Coffin, a Connecticut study found that "Deer Away," made from putrescent whole egg solids, was 46 percent effective.

"You don't want to be downwind of that when you spray (a repellent)," Paolini said. "It is awful. Usually once it dries, it's fine, but then every time it rains, you've got to go spray it again."

Forms of "aversive conditioning" can teach deer over time to stay away from your garden by making them uncomfortable. These techniques include screaming, throwing things at them or using cracker shells, airhorns or other noisemakers.

A coyote decoy can work too, Lindsay says.

"If you move that around on occasion, they probably will be less likely to come on your lands," Lindsay said. "I wouldn't just leave it out there like a lawn ornament. I'd move it around. Anything you can do to make it less attractive for them to come on your property, that's what you want to do."

Many people prefer the options of choosing deer-resistant plants to plant in spring. Deer will eat annuals, perennials, shrubs, bulbs, hedgerows -- just about anything -- so the trick is finding out which plants taste like a Snickers bar to them and avoid those if at all possible.

"People like (hosta) because it's very shade tolerant, but if deer find it, they will heavily browse upon that," Lindsay said. "The same with tulips, another plant that is generally pretty severely damaged by deer. Things like marigolds they're much less likely to touch."

If you want to put ground cover around a shade tree, Lindsay suggests using Pachysandra instead of hosta.

"They're not going to touch that, and it does well in low-light conditions as well," he said.

Diana Hibbard, home horticulture coordinator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension-Cumberland County, says deer tend not to like plants with fuzzy leaves or prickly foliage. They also turn up their noses at strong smells, such as the smell of herbs.

The experts at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, have published an extensive list of plants that deer do and do not like, and Maine experts recommend using it as a guide. You can find it at

Paolini and her husband eventually built a new house on their property and had to take their deer fence down.

She started her ornamental gardens over from scratch, and now fights the deer problem by planting things the animals don't like.

"I just decided I'm not going to plant stuff they eat," she said. "It's not worth it."

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Deer made a meal of this arbor vitae.

Scott Lindsay photo

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Deer munched this rhododendron on Long Island. The photo was taken last month.

Courtesy Judy Paolini


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