‘Deer Doctor’ diagnoses “feeding problem” in Mt. Lebanon
The message to Mt. Lebanon residents from gardener and self-professed “deer doctor” Sandy Baker is this: “You’ve got a feeding problem, whether by accident, design or ignorance – you’ve got a veritable salad bar here for deer!”
Baker spent the weekend of April 25-27 touring neighborhoods and hosting workshops in which she shared the candid diagnosis of Mt. Lebanon’s ongoing anxiety about deer in and around gardens and crossing into traffic.
Baker, author of “How to Deer-Proof Your Garden in Five Easy Steps,” was called in at the suggestion of commissioner Kelly Fraasch.
“It’s clear our deer are being well-fed here,” Fraasch said as she passed out pamphlets on feed bans and aggressive driving enforcement. Baker said the feeding problem can be tackled in part by understanding deer behavior.
“They’re neophobic. They fear anything new, and that’s because they’re a prey species. Their primary concern is not to get killed,” Baker said, “and any new sight, smell or sound is bound to scare them.”
But the scare effect only lasts for seven to 10 days, she said, as deer acclimate to new stimuli within that time frame.
“Putting a motion sensor in your garden with a different radio station blaring every day, that will work sometime,” she said.
Other more practical deterrents she suggested are sprays and repellents, but not predator urine.
“It doesn’t work,” she said, as many in the Mt. Lebanon Public Library nodded in agreement.
“I see many of you may have tried this. It’s a smell that the deer will figure out isn’t a legitimate threat, and then you just end up with coyote pee smell all over your garden,” she said, “and if you use Liquid Fence, or one of these brand name sprays, make sure you don’t have a rabbit or other animal living in the garden perimeter before you spray it, or they’ll stay in there.”
For the down and dirty list of native plants that are deer deterrent, Baker leaned on Jim Jenkins Lawn and Garden Center, who presented displays at Earth Day in Mt. Lebanon Park.
“Stay away from tulips. Those are deer candy,” said co-owner Lisa Jenkins, “likewise with petunias, pansies, azaleas – they love them.”
Jenkins has lists of “deer-leerious” plants on a scale from 1-3, indicating the likelihood that they will avoid the plant, which are available for pickup in the store at 1877 Painters Run Road. The Agricultural Science department of Penn State Extension in Pike County also compiled a state-wide list of native, deer-resistant plants.
Other types of food, like birdseed, also attract deer, Baker said.
“Put hot pepper flakes in the seed and it won’t bother the birds, but the deer won’t pick at it.”
Fencing, Baker advised, should be installed in a staggered manner.
“They won’t jump in between two fences so they have a chance of getting stuck, and so they won’t jump a high fence or multiple fences, either,” she said. Same goes for fishing line, which deters deer because they don’t like “things they can’t see, but can feel.”
Deer also avoid all herbs except basil, and garlic is a good bulb to plant in between traditional leafy vegetables.
“Or plant marigolds, or hide your vulnerable plants behind rows of shrubs,” Baker said. “This is a community problem, and it’s your job now to help educate your neighbors and your community how to tackle this problem.”
“And whatever you do, don’t feed them – but never, ever feed them during winter. People feel bad for them that they have no food, but if you’re tossing out corn or apple cores, you’re actually hurting them,” she said, “as you disrupt their digestive systems that are primed for fasting, you reset them and it takes weeks for them to get back.”