Does Deer Repellent Really Prevent Deer Damage?

Deer damage can be a huge problem for homeowners in central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania as the population of White-tailed deer continues to grow and move into more settled areas (well, technically we’re moving into their territory).

An adult deer can eat up to 7 pounds of vegetation a day, quickly decimating most of your perennials, shrubs and small trees. The constant feeding can be devastating for your yard all year long, but especially in the winter season when food sources are scarce.

To make things worse, once deer establish a territory (like your yard), they won’t leave it.

How To Prevent Deer Damage

So how do you prevent deer damage to your plants? Simple. You make your property inaccessible to deer (for example, by putting an 8-foot fence around the entire area) OR you make your yard so unappealing to them that they choose to feed elsewhere.

Only a properly-installed deer fence is 100% effective at preventing deer browsing (as long as you keep the gate(s) closed!). But it’s costly and time-consuming to install, so many homeowners prefer alternative methods to keep deer away.

Homemade deer repellent methods, like small net bags of human hair or strongly-scented deodorant soap placed around your property, rarely work these days. Deer are too used to humans to be frightened by the scent of hair, and soap quickly loses its strong odor. Besides, you’d need a lot of soap to protect every plant, shrub and small tree in your yard!

Other than fencing or wrapping individual plants in burlap, deer repellent sprays are the most efficient and effective means of keeping deer away from your plants, including during the cold winter months when deer are especially hungry.

About Deer Repellents

Deer repellent sprays come in several different varieties and with different ingredients, but they all work either by making your yard smell bad to deer (they have a better sense of smell than we do) or making plants taste bad (so after the first nibble they won’t be back for more).

Generally speaking, scent-based repellents work better (and prevent deer from doing a “taste test”). Options here include repellents made with predator urine (often coyote), blood products or putrefied eggs.

We’re found that in our area putrid egg-based deer repellent sprays work best, a finding that was supported by research at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. While you’ll notice the odor when it’s first applied, the scent quickly dissipates for humans but deer will still be repelled by it.

It’s possible to make your own putrefied egg repellent spray (whip it up in your kitchen and let it sit for a day or two before applying), but most people prefer to use commercially available products.

How to Apply Deer Repellent Spray

Before applying deer repellents, be sure to read the product label – and then follow the directions as each one is a little different.

Usually, repellents should be sprayed when temperatures are above freezing and your plants are dry. Don’t spray when it’s windy – you’re likely to get more on you than on your plants. And be sure to cover all surfaces thoroughly (you’ll want a sizable pump sprayer for this – a small hand sprayer won’t get the job done).

If you’re treating young trees, apply the repellent on the entire tree. Mature ornamental trees may only need treatment on tender new growth.

Deer can reach up to 6 feet high so make sure you spray at least that far up. And in winter, spray six feet above the maximum expected snow depth.

For most repellents, you’ll need to reapply after a lot of rain (of if plants are regularly watered by irrigation sprinklers). Depending on the repellent used, you may have to apply it every couple of weeks or just every couple of months.

For maximum effectiveness, apply the repellent before you expect deer to start feeding in your yard. Once feeding patterns are established, it’s much more difficult to discourage deer.

For many homeowners in our area, deer damage is more common in winter. As their normal food sources diminish, deer start moving into new territories (including your property) in search of anything edible.

Late fall, before temperatures dip below freezing, is a good time to start a regular deer repellent application program. You’ll need to keep it up over the winter so keep an eye on the forecast for warmer days on which to spray.

Finally, keep in mind that even if repellant has been thoroughly applied, deer can get desperate when there’s little food available and will eat your plants regardless of the foul odor and taste.

If you don’t have the time or the special equipment to properly apply an effective deer repellent for your property, give us a call.

We use a long-lasting, extremely effective repellent made with fish meal, hot pepper, putrid eggs, dried blood, wintergreen oil and more. The all-natural ingredients are harmless to humans, safe for all wildlife, pets, birds, and aquatic creatures, and beneficial for plants.

Bill Grundmann

Bill is the owner of Organic Plant Care, LLC. He takes an integrated approach to tree care, focusing not only on the trees themselves but also on the surrounding environment, managing tree health from the "ground up" - healthy soil equals healthy plants. Bill is a New Jersey Licensed Tree Expert and NJ Approved Forester with over 35 years of experience in the tree care industry.