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FALL FEAR OF DEER

With summer coming to an end and fall quickly approaching, gardeners are preparing their gardens for the dormant winter season and planning to put their plants to bed. But fear often stirs in the hearts of gardeners at the prospect of loosing their plants due to long winter frosts, fungus or insect infestation. But for many gardeners, deer are dreaded the most!

According to the United States National Parks Service, in 1999 the deer population in the US had reached over 24 million. These populations are reported to cause 1 billion dollars in annual damage to desirable plants throughout North America - significant costs incurred by home gardeners, foresters, professional growers, landscapers and farmers alike. For many home gardeners there is nothing more aggravating than having the fruits of their labor become food for foraging animals.

Deer commonly live on the edge of forests rather than deep in full-forested range. Incredibly adaptive animals, deer will venture from their common habitat in search of food. Shrinking natural habitat and growing suburban developments, along agricultural and/or forested lands, create cross-boundary grounds for deer to enter into human-populated areas.

The US Census Bureau claims in 2000, over fifty-nine million people, or 21% of the population, were living in rural communities. With development pushing into forested lands and creating more suburban neighborhoods that offer an abundant food source from lawns, shrubs, trees and lush freshly planted flowers and greenery, deer are becoming a greater nuisance to the home gardener.

Animal repellents can be effective solutions to mitigating browse damage. The trick is in understanding deer behavior to know how to best use a repelling product and to employ some savvy consumer skills to weed through the less effective mom and pop home brews.

Deer are creatures of habit and once behavior patterns are established it is very difficult to alter it. Animal repellents deter deer away from the area where applied, either by taste or odor, driving the deer to another location to forage. It is therefore best to apply the repellent before the deer have begun feeding on your plants so they will not grow accustomed to snacking on your shrubs, perennials and/or annuals.

Repellents should be applied to plants when they are dry, allowing a minimum of 24 hours for the product to set before exposed to rain or watering. Re-apply the repellent after any new growth has emerged.

Most importantly, consumers should seek out safe, non-toxic repellents that do not cause harm either to the animal or the environment. A recent study conducted by the National Wildlife Research Center investigating the efficacy of deer repellents concluded that:
"...Studies investigating trends in efficacy of deer repellents indicate that, of the 20 products tested, repellents with active ingredients that emitted sulfurous odors i.e.: bloodmeal or egg solids, generally provided the best results…
"…Products that contained active ingredients which cause pain/irritation (capsaicin, allyl isothiocyanate), or illness (thiram) were less effective…"

(USDA/APHIS, Olympia, WA)

This research confirms that animals need not be harmed in the effort to protect your garden. There are even a few organically listed animal repellents available on the market, providing environmentally sound choices to consumers.

While there are no repellents that can guarantee 100 % efficacy, the key is to find a natural, effective solution that allows you to settle calmly into the winter months, dreaming of your perfect spring garden, instead of worrying about whether your plants will survive the night!


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