Q: What do you recommend to stop deer and rabbits from eating everything in your yard? They are eating hostas, azaleas, roses, even some potted plants on the deck! I don’t want to trap them or kill them—just repel ‘em. Any thoughts?
A: Never an easy task! Hungry animals will even gnaw on holly leaves.
However, if you use the right product at the right times, you can deter animals from using your yard as a cafeteria. We use a product called Tree Guard, whose active ingredient is Bitrex. The chemical itself is harmless but has a long lasting bitter taste. I’ve heard that it was originally developed in the 1950s as an alternative to Novocaine but was not successful because of the bitter side effect. It sat on the shelf for years until someone said, “Hey, maybe we can use this to keep animals off plants!” (I’ve not confirmed that this is true, but it makes for a good story.)
The problem with any repellent is that it must remain on the plant to be effective. Two things happen with most repellents: 1) rain washes off the repellent, and 2) the plant grows new, unprotected, leaves.
HOWEVER, Tree Guard contains latex that dries and holds a layer of Bitrex on the leaf. But you’ll still need to apply more to new growth, and as the latex layer eventually wears down. You can get this product at any home and hardware store. I recommend you buy a container with a built-in sprayer for easier use. If you use your own sprayer, the product needs to be cleaned out after each application or it will severely gum up. Apply the product on a regular and on-going basis. You can also have us handle the whole thing for you. In this case we would set up a series of periodic visits to make repeat applications.