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Gardening and More: Five tips to keep deer and rabbits away from your garden, this winter

SNACK TIME — In a snowy winter, deer and rabbits may munch on plants that they normally don’t bother with, simply because their normal food sources are scarce. Use these tips to protect your plants and shrubs. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.

SPRINGVILLE — It’s been a long, cold winter. Deer and rabbits may be getting hungry and they may be coming to your garden for a snack.

There are many things you can try, to keep these animals from eating your plants. If you try enough of these tricks, you should be able to find something that works, but don’t expect it to work for long. The animals seem to get used to one thing, so you have to keep trying something new.

Previously, we talked about barriers. You can build a fence around your yard or your garden. You can protect an individual shrub with netting or landscape fabric, or you can protect a smaller plant with a tomato cage.

Here are a few other tricks that can be effective, for both rabbits and deer:

– Use a soap with a strong scent, such as Irish Spring. Cut the bar up into small chunks and set the chunks on the ground around the plants you want to protect. If you want to take the time, you can even rub a little of the soap on the branches of a plant or shrub; the animals don’t like the smell of the soap and they won’t like the taste, either. To protect taller bushes, place the bar of soap in a mesh bag and hang it in the top branches.

– You can make a spray with cayenne or red pepper. There are many recipes. Anything that gets pepper on the plant will work. The spray will wash off though, so you have to keep reapplying it, after it rains.

One year, I had some sliced hot peppers that had been in the freezer for a year, so I decided to use them as pest protection. It was spring and the rabbits had been chomping on my gladiolus, so I rubbed the peppers on the leaves, left seeds on the ground and actually hung the rings on the leaves. It looked silly, but I think the rings lasted longer than a spray. A drawback is that it was time-consuming to loop pepper rings on an individual plant. However, if you’ve got a special plant that the deer and rabbits are bothering, you may want to take the time. And hey, those rings of red pepper will add color to your winter garden!

– You can buy dried blood in a nursery or garden center. Rabbits and deer don’t like the smell. Another benefit is that it acts as a mild fertilizer. Just sprinkle it around your plants.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks. One is that dried blood might lose its effectiveness, after a rain. The second is that some dogs are attracted by the smell and may want to dig where you sprinkle it.

– You can buy commercial products that contain coyote urine. Apparently, deer and rabbits recognize the smell and want to steer clear of an area that they think is coyote territory.

I’ve talked to gardeners who say human urine works, too. One lady told me how her son-in-law would take two bottles of beer outside and relax, in the evening. Before he came back inside, he would do his part to deter the deer. She said it worked well.

I wouldn’t suggest using urine on a regular basis, near a vegetable garden. And please, if you’d like to try this, be careful in cold weather and find a spot in your yard that affords some privacy from the neighbors!

– For deer, use twist ties to attach the corner of a Bounce dryer sheet to a bamboo stick that is about 3-and-1/2-feet tall. Place the sticks all around your garden.

The gardener who tried this said deer had been eating his vegetable garden for weeks. The day after he set out the dryer sheets, the deer were gone. He said it was like an electric fence.

For rabbits, he used sticks about 1-foot high so that the sheets were just a few inches above the tops of his cabbage. It worked for the rabbits away, too.

In the beginning, he added new dryer sheets to the bamboo sticks every week, then added sheets less frequently. By the end of summer, the deer knew not to come.

Try some of these tricks to keep deer and rabbits from eating your plants and shrubs.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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2014-02-22 | 00:22:46
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