Sunday, April 3, 2011

Deer Country: My Repellent Experiment

Will this work?

This year I’m going to try out a new deer-repellent spray: Deer Out.

I’ve used such sprays—and a grease-like gunk too—over the years and haven’t been impressed. I used them, and the deer kept eating the plants I was trying to protect. Maybe I just wasn’t faithful enough in applying the repellents.

More recently several Howard County Master Gardeners have told me that they’ve had good results with Deer Out, a mint-based spray that doesn’t leave your garden and hands smelling like rotten eggs when you use it. And then my brother, Jay, who lives in an area of Montgomery County that swarms with deer, advised that he had found a “spray that works”—Deer Out.

Always eager to try to discourage browsing deer, I thought about the mint-based spray and looked for it at several retailers, including an excellent local nursery and several big-box stores. The nursery stocked a half dozen repellents, including bottles of coyote and fox urine, but none stocked Deer Out.

“I get it online,” Jay said.

“Oh, yes,” I thought, “and pay a mint for shipping the mint.” And I looked in local stores again and again.

Now another spring is here, and our deer are lean and hungry.  So I went online and ordered a 40-ounce ready-to-use bottle of Deer Out. It arrived Thursday by UPS. Price: $15.99 plus $5.95 shipping for a total of $21.94.

Even before I opened the bottle, my sniff test declared, “Yes, definitely minty.”

Browsed viburnum
As I took the spray bottle from its shipping box, I read the front label: “Super Long Lasting! Minty Fresh Scent! Works Great Summer, Spring, Winter, and Fall. 100% Natural. Won’t Wash Off!”

Wow, I began thinking that maybe this stuff is too good for deer. Maybe I should just remove the sprayer and take a quick nip. No, Bob, don’t be silly. Read the back label first.

“Covers 1250 sq ft,” said the first blurb on the back. That’d be great—if I had square feet. My plants don’t have feet either, so I’ll just spray away until the bottle empties.

And then a general promise: “Deer Out will effectively repel deer from all garden areas, shrubs, forest & fruit trees, flowers, vegetable gardens and row crops,” followed by a second “DEER OUT will not wash off in the rain.” Then comes an explanation of “natural,” apparently: “DEER OUT contains no animal waste and its organic composition stimulates regrowth on plants previously damaged. All ingredients found in environmentally friendly DEER OUT are exempt from EPA regulation under EPA guidelines category 25b ‘food products.’”

And directions: “1. Shake well prior to using. 2. Apply mist completely covering entire plant. Be sure to cover both the top & bottom of all exposed areas. 3. Allow 1 hour for Deer Out’s custom blend of oils to be absorbed into the plant & dry prior to watering or rain fall. 4. Apply every 90-120 days or as needed. 5. During period of rapid regrowth, reapply Deer Out more frequently. 6. Store in a cool dark place out of the sun.”

And then in lighter type: “Note: During period of intense heavy rain, more frequent applications may be necessary.” I remembered the front label: “Won’t Wash Off!” I remembered the words just an inch above: “DEER OUT will not wash off in the rain.” Deer Out gives, and Deer Out taketh away.

And then a warning for this “100% natural” “organic composition” that is exempt from EPA regulation: “Caution: Keep out of reach of children. If swallowed, call a doctor immediately for treatment advice. In the event of eye contact or prolonged exposure to skin, gently rinse with water for 15-20 minutes and contact a doctor immediately….”

Then a list of active ingredients: “Mentha piperita oil, 1.77%, Garlic oil 0.95%, White pepper .050%, Putrescent whole egg solids 1.25%.” Inert ingredients: “95.53% Water, Gum Arabic, Acetic acid, Vegetable oil.”  Mentha piperita, of course, is peppermint. The active ingredients, as the Deer Out website explains, work “both by smell and taste…. A deer’s sense of smell is 1000 times greater than that of humans. Deer Out’s strong peppermint scent creates a cool menthol burning sensation that deer are repulsed by…. [T]hey may take a bite, but they’re not going to wipe out your flowerbeds anymore.”

And, of course, the standard “Limited Guarantee”: “If you are not 100% satisfied, return the unused portion of this bottle within 30 days of purchase … for a full refund or replacement. Deer Out LLC shall not be liable for any direct, consequential or incidental damage....”

Browsed hostas
Ok, I’m not going to drink any. But if I did and the “putrescent whole egg solids” killed me, the company would be delighted to give Ellen a refund or a new bottle of Deer Out.

A frequent question of participants of my “Successful Gardening in Deer Country” classes is, “Is there a repellent that I can spray on my vegetables?”

Before I bought Deer Out, I queried Deer Out LLC about that: “Is Deer Out safe for spraying directly on veggies (lettuce, chard, beets, green beans) and fruit (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)? Thank you.”

The company’s reply: “Thank you for your interest in DEER OUT deer repellent. There are no chemicals, latex, poisons or synthetics found in any of our products, only all natural food based ingredients. Since 2002 our products have been successfully used by thousands of gardeners and commercial row crop farmers across the country. Be sure to thoroughly wash, and be sure to stay on top of misting the new growth by reapplying after every 3” to 4” inches of new growth and no deer will ever take a bite.”

Overall I like what I’ve heard and read about this product. The bambits of Meadow Glenn are about to be introduced to Deer Out. To browse, or not to browse, will be their decision!

What will I “mist”?

I’m going to an arrowwood viburnum shrub that deer regularly defoliate and several hostas and a bronze-leaf heuchera (also known as coral bells and alumroot) they browse frequently. And I’m going to set out a few lettuce plants and a tomato plant in the front yard, where we’ve been watching a herd of 13 browse all winter.

I’m going to mist as directed. I promise. And from time to time I’ll give you a progress report.

If you’re a citizen scientist and want to conduct your own experiment, buy some Deer Out or another brand.  Keep notes of what you spray and when. Take a photo or two. Let me know how your experiment works.  Veggie growers will be interested if you spray your edibles and eat them.

If you’re a new reader of my Deer Country series and are interested in using a spray, I suggest you read “Deer Country 4: Do Repellents Work?” and from that posting link to the free University of Maryland Extension Fact Sheet 810, “Using Commercial Deer Repellents to Manage Deer Browsing in the Landscape.” To go to “Deer Country 4,” CLICK HERE.

To read more at the Deer Out LLC website, CLICK HERE.


  1. Hi Bob,
    I've used Deer Out in the past, but found the price to be prohibitive. So, I changed to Liquid Fence. After some time, the deer became immune. I now plan to alternate the two products, so that I can keep the deer "out"! We were away for the past two weeks (Florida), so I used Deer Out on every thing I was concerned about. The tulips, crocus, day lily leaves, and every thing else remained untouched. I understand the weather was terrible while we were away (rain and snow?) so I continue to be impressed with the product. I use the gallon concentrate ($99/free shipping through the company). I mix one quart at a time. A healthy spritz goes a long way.

  2. I wonder if that deer repellent works in all cases! anyway you did an amazing work!

  3. I make my own. This is the irst year I have all my tulips which otherwise are lost to deer and rabbits.

    I use 1 raw egg, 1/2 c. yogurt, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon cayenne or chipotle pepper powder, 1/4 c. crushed fresh mint, 1/4 c. vinegar, 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds (used is ok), a small squirt of dish soap and a tablespoon of cooking oil. I blender all of the above in about 2 cups of water. Let sit overnight in jar. Strain and store in jar. I apply using an eye dropper since I don't have the patience to strain again through a coffee filter so I can use a sprayer, but next time I will.

    I have applied this 4 times in a month and not a single nibble. I'm going to try this in my garden this year.

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