They may seem cute, but the deer are relentless when it comes to eating all the crops they can reach in the Southside Permaculture park.
Since we abide by the principles of permaculture, we wanted to find a natural and less invasive way to mitigate the deer. This meant avoiding harmful pesticides and fences that do not support the natural environment in any way. Our experimentation techniques include deer-off spray, remay, cayenne and Thai peppers, and native plant hedges. In this article, we go through the successes and limitations for each and our experiences so far. Follow us in this process of experimentation, and feel free to reach out about your experiences or with any questions!
A short-term technique we currently use to mitigate deer is deer-off spray made by Havahart. It is an organic spray made of rotting eggs, garlic, and capsaicin (the chemical compound that makes hot peppers spicy). This spray has successfully protected our plants, but is not something we will rely on in the long-term, as we would like to promote self-sustainability of the garden by using plants to repel deer or something that doesn’t require continual application. Deer-off should not be sprayed on crops that will be directly eaten, and it must be reapplied after every rain.
We currently use remay (white garden cloth) to cover our plants in the petal gardens, and it has held up pretty well so far! We have been using remay to cover our crops for over a month and all of our previously exposed crops are growing well underneath! Water can easily penetrate the cloth, so watering is not an issue.
However, for plants such as squash, remay limits the ability of insects to reach the plants for necessary pollination and limits overall growth. A solution for these issues would be hands-on pollination by transferring pollen with a small paintbrush, and using stakes or bent metal to hold remay above plants. Remay is also a bit delicate and can rip. This leads to problems such as entry holes for deer.
Remay is a cheaper and effective solution, but is not as beautiful as letting a garden grow uncovered.
Another potential solution- hot peppers. The chemical compound called capsaicin, which determines the level of spice in the pepper. Studies have found that deer do not like capsaicin and will stay away from plants that contain it. Naturally, we decided to plant either Thai or Cayenne peppers in each of our petal beds in our garden.
The benefits of using hot peppers as a deer mitigation technique is that these plants also deter other mammals such as small squirrels and rabbits, and they provide us with hot peppers! However, we do not yet know how close these peppers must be to plants to keep animals away. We recently found a squash plant chewed on that was not right next to, but was in the same bed as, a hot pepper. We also have some plant beds uncovered, and they were not destroyed by deer. It is also best to research what plants your hot pepper grows well with, and what plants it should not be planted with. All in all, this is a bit risky as a deer repellent technique, but may provide additional protection along with other techniques. It is also another cheaper option, as you can grow the hot peppers from seed yourself! This technique definitely requires further investigation of our own beds- so stay tuned.
Native Plant Hedges
The native plant hedges are the most pricey, but most promising technique to mitigate deer. Native hedges are usually cheaper the younger they are when you purchase them, but sometimes there isn’t time to wait for your natural fence to grow. An option is buying a smaller, so cheaper, but faster growing shrub to protect your garden, which you can figure out with the help of a local plant nursery. We worked with Edge of The Woods, a business that specializes in only providing plants native to Pennsylvania. The shrubs we chose to border the perimeter of our park are deer-repellent to not only block deer from entry, but also minimize their attraction to the park at all. Since the shrubs are also native plants, they can support the natural ecosystem and attract pollinators looking for native plants, as a more holistic approach to a deer fence. The hedges we have settled on so far include: Inkberry (Ilex glabra), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). Hedge implementation is currently in the works, so pictures and updates are to come. Reach out to us if you would like to help us plant these incoming 45 hedges!