Oh, deer!

Services designed to control this four-legged threat are gaining traction. But what deer-repelling tactics actually work?

© DebraMillet | iStockphoto

They’re bold and hungry – and as development strips away their natural foraging areas, the landscape is a logical buffet for deer. So, they creep in. Actually, they leap over fences and parade in prancing lines looking for a snack. Those hostas? A hardy salad. The supposedly deer-resistant perennials? Maybe not the tastiest, but they’ll do.

“There is a high demand for deer control services because deer are getting braver, and as we continue to build and take away their environments, they are coming into ours,” says Edward Thomas, general manager at Horizon Landscape in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

Deer control has grown as a service at Horizon Landscape, and the service is marketed especially to clients who purchase seasonal color programs since annuals tend to be more attractive to deer, rabbits and other critters like squirrels.

Chris Markham’s company, New Jersey Deer Control, is dedicated to keeping the forest friends off of landscaping. “We used to do a lot of native landscaping for people – building hummingbird gardens at people’s houses – and the deer were eating everything,” he says, noting that the deer population exploded between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s. “Deer were affecting my projects, and I was using store-bought products that weren’t effective.”

So, Markham did some research and created his own repellent that is mixed every morning and applied by his team of about 16 employees.

“A lot of landscapers try to do deer control by going to the store and buying products off the shelf, and a lot of them give up on the service because it’s not effective for them,” he says.

Now that Markham’s company only does deer control, he partners with landscape firms to serve as a subcontracted specialist.

Horizon Landscape uses a range of commercially produced repellents, switching up their products so deer don’t get accustomed to the taste. In spring, a granular repellent along with a spray deters deer for longer, Thomas says, adding that the granular adds an extra mode of protection during the rainy months.

Deer control can be a frustrating pursuit for landscape contractors, but Markham and Thomas have strategies in place that are getting results.

Border Control.

Markham says the main focus when spraying is the property’s perimeter because a spray on the border reminds deer the area is off-limits, he says.

Deer are creatures of habit, Markham reminds. “If you’ve seen the way they cross properties, their trails are called ‘deer paths’ for a reason. They like to travel the same route, and if you can alter their patterns and discourage them from the property, that’s half the battle right there.”

There are no guarantees, Markham adds. But he does get mostly positive results when his team treats property perimeters.

Deer-Resistant Plants.

These help, but remember, “Deer-resistant does not equal deer-proof,” Markham says.

Research plants before you put them in the ground, Thomas says. Deer-resistant plants in New Jersey are different than deer-resistant plants in Ohio.

Thomas also emphasizes what deer-resistant means: “They won’t go to those plants first. A lot of deer are attracted to properties by their sense of smell,” he says. “That is their No. 1 tool when seeking plants – not by vision, by smell.”

Strong-scented perennials like lavender and some herbs naturally repel deer, as do thorny plants like barberry. But there are no guarantees. “The most effective way to stop deer is install a 9-foot fence on your property,” Thomas says.

Build a Barrier.

Fences have to be about 9 feet to be effective. “Some people in our area will install chain-link fences and do a mesh net above that to extend the height so deer won’t jump in,” Thomas says.

Another layer of protection: Install tall, dense evergreen hedges like boxwood or short-needled spruce.

Markham says sonic sensors and sprinkler devices activated by motion sensors can help. “Some can be effective, but deer get acclimated to these things very quickly,” he says. The fence is the only sure-fire way to stop deer.

Guaranteed to Work?

Managing expectations is key to helping customers understand how deer control services work, which is why Markham educates clients. What he wants people to know is: the higher the deer population, the less deer-resistant plants will be.

Thomas thinks high deer populations are good for this service.

“People spend a lot of money on their landscaping – and a lot of these properties are surrounded by woods,” he says. “There is a very high demand for this service, and the demand is increasing.”

Read Next

Save water

June 2018
Explore the June 2018 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.