The Garden Path



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 It took a coating of snow,
pockmarked with telltale hoof prints, to remind me that whether I see them or
not, deer are a nearly constant presence in my neighborhood.  I tend to get complacent this time of
year, when I’m not locked in a daily battle to protect vibrant swaths of
coneflowers, frothy clumps of phlox, and perky beds of daylilies from these
insatiable plant plunderers.  But I
know that time is coming, which is why a large box just arrived that contains a
paycheck’s worth of deer repellent.

Early spring is when deer
can be particularly troublesome. 
Hungry from the long winter, they eagerly vacuum up emerging shoots,
neatly nip off buds, and happily prune shrubs into shapes not pictured in any
topiary manual.

Deer browsing and antler
rubbing can cause tremendous damage to gardens, wooded areas, and
fruit/vegetable growing areas. 
Absent a community-wide deer management program (don’t get me started),
it’s up to individual homeowners to fight the battle if we are to grow anything
other than Astroturf. 

Here are some strategies
Penn State Cooperative Extension recommends for reducing deer damage:

  1. Fencing

If money is not a concern,
surround your property with 8-foot deer fencing and it’s mission
accomplished.  A cheaper option is
to fence specific areas, such as a vegetable garden.  There are those who resort to electric fences, but a more
child-friendly choice is 6-foot solid fencing (deer usually won’t jump into an
area they can’t see).

  1. Deer-resistant plants

A plant considered
deer-resistant in one part of the country can be deer candy in another, so use
recommendations from local sources. 
What deer eat is affected by their nutritional needs, what they’ve eaten
in the past, what is currently available, weather conditions, geography, and
other factors.  Often, it comes
down to how desperate they are. 
Someone once explained this in clear terms to my husband by asking him
what food he hates.  When he
answered “liver,” the person responded: “If you were hungry enough, would you
eat liver?” Well, deer are often
hungry enough to eat their version of liver.

That said, deer generally
dislike plants that are hairy, spiny, or aromatic. A list of plants considered
deer resistant in Pennsylvania can be found here:

  1. Deer repellents

The key to success in
using repellents is to consistently make your garden unpleasant for deer, thus
sending them on to greener pastures. 
Deer repellents generally use scents such as rotten eggs, garlic, or
predator urine; tastes such as hot pepper; or physical threats such as motion,
sound, or water sprays.  The deer
in our area are accustomed to living in neighborhoods, so human scent
(deodorant soap is often suggested), motion, sound, and water repellents are
effective temporarily, if at all. 
A dog can be a good deterrent, but only when the dog is actually

In my experience, varying
scent and taste repellents (particularly along the property’s perimeter and on
key plants), combined with using deer resistant plants, can be quite effective.

If all else fails, you can
always take comfort by making a nice venison casserole, a dish known as
“Gardener’s Revenge.”

Have a gardening question? Ask a Master Gardener! Call the
Master Gardener Hotline: 610-696-3500 or email

Visit Chester County Master Gardeners on Facebook.

• Nancy Sakaduski is the Chester County Master Gardener
Coordinator.  Master Gardeners are
trained volunteers who educate the public on gardening and horticultural
issues.  In Chester County, they
operate through the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in West Chester.  Nancy lives in Pennsbury Township.  She can be reached at


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About Nancy Sakaduski

Nancy Sakaduski is a Master Gardiner with Penn State Extension of Chester County.



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