Deer Protection for Roses

I live adjacent to a woods and am always challenged by deer accessing my garden. My terraced garden and large yard does not lend itself to fencing. I am interested in what others have found successful. Thanks so much!

That likely depends upon your Zone. Here, in the land of “endless summer”, the most effective deer and rabbit control are stinky plantings. Herbivores use their sense of smell as their “radar” to help look out for predators who eat them. When they encounter large plantings of highly scented plants, they avoid them as that smell carrying on the air masks the scents of predators. They instinctively “know” not being able to smell anything but something smelly, can result in their being eaten.

I had a client whose back yard was only accessible to the deer down the side of the house. The other sides were blocked by walls and the house and that open side had to remain accessible to the fire department in the event of the inevitable forest fire. I suggested planting a mirrored hedge of urpright Rosemary down the outer edge and against the house to create a shield of “stink”. It worked. The alley of access become a lane of rosemary stench and no deer would enter it. His back yard plantings remained safe from being eaten.

Another found planting creeping rosemary, ground cover lantana and santolina in a wide area fronting their garden prevented the deer from entering from that area due to the smell. Lavender also works well where it’s happy. You need to create large, dense areas of “stink” from plants to deter deer from entering. That’s how repellents work. They are either created from putrescent egg solids (rotten eggs); essential oils; blood solids; or urines to create the strong scents to interfere with the herbivores’ senses of smell, or, in the case of urine, to trick them into thinking the animal that will eat them may be near because they’ve marked their territory by peeing on it. When blood or blood meal are used, it tricks the herbivore into “fearing” the predator has recently killed something in the area and may still be near; that they may become the next course on the “menu”. I’ve had customers who sprinkled blood meal in their gardens to repel rabbits and deer. They stayed away, but the raccoons, bob cats, coyotes and neighborhood dogs and cats were attracted and usually dug in the garden looking for the “food”. Remember, EVERYTHING “organic” is “food” to a carnivore or omnivore, so if you DON’T want those animals attracted to your garden, you should avoid using products they EAT. I couldn’t use organic fertilizers in my old gardens because it attracted all of the wild life who either dug up my roses and other plantings looking for the food or who came down and considered ME “food”. Now, I can’t use them because my three dogs LOVE blood meal, bone meal, fish meal and emulsion and they EAT it. “Organic” is FOOD to many animals.

There are systemic herbivore repellents available. It appears at least one is now made from Capsaicin and Capsaicinoids from hot chili peppers. There used to be (may still be, I don’t know) one made from chemicals which had a highly bitter smell and taste. A vendor rep had a bottle of it break in his truck bed under the bed cover and unwisely tried to rinse it out with water. He reported he nearly had to junk the truck as the stench would not go away. With anything systemic, follow the instructions to the letter. If the plant will absorb it, so will YOU. The original bitter chemicals absorbed into people’s hands and left them tasting the bitter taste for days. I can only imagine the results of you absorbing the chili pepper “heat”! These products work by making the plants smell and taste like their components. The scents may (or may not) be apparent to you, but they will be able to be tasted in the plant tissues so it may require a bit of foraging for the deer to learn your roses taste bad and begin avoiding them. That would also mean anything you have nearby whose root can access ground water containing any of the dissolved systemic products may also absorb the nasty tastes, so if you plant strawberries as ground cover around your roses, as I’ve read some do, they are unlikely to remain edible if you use these kinds of products, or, especially any kind of systemic fungicide or insecticide.

That leaves the physical barrier types. If you don’t have the room or ability to build suitable fences, you can try draping bird netting over your rose bushes every evening and removing it every morning. I had a client at the beach resort to that, at least for a while, until she tired of it. There are also the motion detector sprinklers which work QUITE well for anything which activate them, especially YOU when you forget to turn them off and relieve the pressure before you enter their effective zone. Don’t ask how I know or how many times I required THAT “SURPRISE” before I remembered! That works QUITE well! The trick to remember about it is, IF you use one, only turn the hose on to a small trickle so when the hose springs a leak or ruptures, the leak will only be a trickle instead of a budget buster leak until you discover it.

Hopefully, something here helps with areas with harsher climates. The ideal is to create something permanent so you don’t have to physically place and remove it regularly, or purchase it and reapply it constantly. Good luck!

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I use Liquid Fence as a perimeter spray. I spray a three ft swath of grass and bushes at the edge of our yard, all the way around. Spray never touches my rose plants. I do not even want the deer to come near plants! My label says begin with application two weeks apart during dry weather. Once the spray dries they can still smell it. After that, once a month is a good refresh. I have seen deer walk down the road then get in my area and go to the far side of the road.

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Another product that work well according to some rose growing friends is Plantskydd which is a blood based repellant in granular form that you spread around the bushes.

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