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Got Nature? > Posts > Protecting Spring Plants from Wildlife Damage Using Repellents
April 14
Protecting Spring Plants from Wildlife Damage Using Repellents

While the weather may tell you otherwise, spring is upon us. With the changing weather comes greening grass, breaking buds, and sprouting plants. This plethora of fresh growth can help cure the winter blues, but it also provides wildlife with a desirable food source. Recently you may have noticed deer and other wildlife increase utilization of winter wheat fields and other green areas like lawns – early spring is the time you see deer in Indiana feed extensively on grass.

For homeowners, this is the time you need to scout around your home for emerging plants in your lands​caping beds. Plants that are frequently browsed by deer such as tulips or hostas need special attention, but the limited amount of green plant material can leave any plant as a potential target. Most homeowners choose a type of taste repellent to protect plants.  There are several tips on how to increase the efficacy of this approach.Emerging tulips in a landscaping bed.

  1. Timing: It helps to have some foresight into when damage is likely to occur and/or the plant developmental stage(s). Unfortunately, this is usually based on past experience. Ideally, you want to time applications during these periods.  With tulips, for example, applying repellents early during sprouting, later during sprouting, and during flower bud develop will prevent damage during most years.
  2. Type of repellent: There are many types of taste repellents labeled for deer and other wildlife species. Most have a combination of capsaicin, putrefied egg solids, and/or fatty acids of ammonium soaps. There are of course others with different ingredients.  So which do you choose? There have been many studies that have investigated the efficacy of repellents. The bottom line – they work, but control is not 100%.
  3. Label: Failures can often result in not following the directions on the label. The label also provides safety information and what you can/can’t spray. Read and follow the label – it’s the law.
  4. Expectations: You aren’t going to solve all of your wildlife problems by spraying a few plants or even everything. If you use repellents, reapply according to label directions (every 3-4 weeks is usually a good rule of thumb).  To increase success, you may use them as part of an integrated approach that includes exclusion, cultural practices, and other approaches.

Diagnosing and Controlling Wildlife Damage
Preventing Wildlife Damage - Do You Need a Permit?
Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wildlife
Wildlife Conflicts

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources​

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