Spray Them Away.
Spritzing on liquids with an offensive odor or taste is the least expensive way to repel them—with varying degrees of success. Commercial products like Deer-Off (based on eggs, hot peppers, and garlic) or Plantskydd (a blood-meal solution) are sprayed directly on plants to render them unpalatable. Other products contain predator scents like coyote urine that can be deposited strategically around the yard. Some gardeners swear by odiferous homebrews made from ingredients like rotten eggs, chili powder, and scented soaps (one This Old House staffer has great success with the recipe shown above).
Any spray—commercial or homemade—needs to be reapplied frequently as plants grow or rain washes it away. And as Roger points out, seriously overpopulated deer herds won't be dissuaded: "A deer that's starving will eat anything, no matter what you spray on it."
Scare them off.
Often deer can be kept at bay with scare tactics, usually a surprise burst of water or a loud noise. One popular product is the Scarecrow ($89; contech-inc.com), which combines a motion detector and a sprinkler that sprays water when deer (or other critters) cross its path. Placement is everything with such products, and hungry deer may eventually learn to ignore them. Some homeowners find that a vigilant dog is the best scare tactic, since canine predators like coyotes and wolves are deer's natural enemies.
Plant their least-favorite foods.
Experts agree that overall, the best defense is a good offense—landscaping around your home with plants that are not to deer's liking. "Many plants have their own repellent built in," says Jensen. Deer will usually turn away from highly aromatic or poisonous plants (such as foxglove), and those with fuzzy leaves; for specific suggestions, see the next page.
"If you have a deer problem, always try to plant from deerresistant lists," says TOH's Roger Cook. "At least it gives you a fighting chance."
When TOH design director Amy Rosenfeld built a house in Ulster County, New York, she heard lots of horror stories about deer ravaging local gardens. Then her neighbor Barbara Fornal, an herbalist, shared this recipe for "deer juice," which Rosenfeld applies vigilantly. "It totally works," she says. "When people come over, they're always like, 'How do you have hostas?'"
Here's how to mix up a batch for yourself:
1 bar of Fels Naptha soap
2 bunches of scallions, roughly chopped
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated
Chili powder, lots
1. Fill 1/2 of a 5-gallon bucket with hot water.
2. Shave soap into bucket to dissolve.
3. Place scallions, garlic, eggs, and chili powder in a large piece of doubled cheesecloth. Tie up ends of cloth tightly; use a wooden spoon to crack the eggs. Place pouch in bucket.
4. Fill the bucket with more water; cover tightly with lid. Place in shaded area. Let sit for 1 week.
5. Transfer in batches to a pump sprayer. Apply after each rainfall or every 2 weeks.