Tips and tricks for keeping garden critters at bay

As she browsed the outdoor aisles of 380 Auction in Murrysville, Plum resident Marilyn Covert lamented the loss of her homegrown tomatoes to a deer.

“They’re terrible,” she said of the deer, as she pushed her cart stacked with gardening supplies. “There’s nothing like a homegrown tomato.”

Covert uses deer repellent to keep her garden safe, but she and other gardeners still are plagued by garden pests attacking during the summer months.

The Sharpsburg Community Garden recently lost 100 crops to a groundhog invasion, and it isn’t the only garden to have suffered losses at the jaws of local wildlife.

Covert says she researched ways to keep critters from getting into her garden — and even found one home remedy that involved using human hair to ward off wildlife.

According to Matt Beacom, manager of 380 Auction, most customers prefer to go a more traditional route when it comes to garden protection: “Lots of people buy marigolds to keep rabbits away.”

Beacom also said lemon balm, which can be used to ward off cats and small insects, is a big-ticket item.

Deer repellent is popular, as many gardeners, including Covert, think it is the most effective way to keep larger animals from eating their produce.

Elizabeth Pesci, owner of the LeFevre Butterfly Garden in Greensburg, said she uses store-bought repellent to defend against deer and other animals.

“There is a serious deer problem in the area,” Pesci said.

She uses many protective measures to defend against wildlife. One is deer repellent, which is nontoxic to plants and humans, and Pesci said it can be made from scratch.

Some people dislike repellent because of the smell, which is reminiscent of rotten eggs, and the necessity to reapply the product to plants after every rainfall.

Deer repellent is available at garden centers and home improvement centers such as Lowe’s. Popular brands include Deer Away, the repellent Beacom recommends, and Deer Off.

Pesci said the repellent can be replicated in all-natural ways with less potent smells, such as using cayenne pepper as Beacom suggested.

Deer Busters, a supplier of garden and deer fencing materials, shares five DIY recipes online for making deer repellent, one of which includes combining hot sauce, raw eggs and garlic.

The most popular ingredients are rotten eggs and sulfur. Some people add cayenne pepper, which works better against ants.

“There really isn’t a way to keep deer out without deer repellent,” Beacom says. “Even some fencing doesn’t keep them out.”

He says, at his own home, deer easily jump over 6-foot fences surrounding his garden.

Pesci doesn’t have the same issue because she has found a way to trick the deer into thinking they can’t jump over her fence.

By covering her garden’s fence with vines, she has created the illusion the fence is insurmountable for animals. Wire cloche or chicken wire also are effective defenses.

She explained vines add another foot to the fence, but they also have planter boxes that are about waist high within the garden walls, creating another obstacle for animal intruders.

If fencing, repellent and human hair aren’t appealing options, there are other ways to keep critters at bay.

There are several flowers that can repel deer and other animals, such as yucca or Russian sage. More plants that can ward off unwanted animals can be found in a blog post published on

Gardeners also have successfully used unconventional methods of protection, such as electric fences, air cannons and even plastic forks.

The best way to keep your garden safe is to do the research and figure out what works best for you.

If noise and smell are concerns, ditch the air cannons and deer repellent and opt for strategic fencing instead.

As the summer crawls to a close, these methods and more can help to ensure produce is still intact come the chillier fall months.

Haley Moreland is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Haley at [email protected].

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