Keep deer and rabbits out of your garden in the Buffalo area


deer eating in Buffalo NY winter Jan 2011

by Connie Oswald Stofko

The image at left is lovely if it’s on a Christmas card, but aggravating if it’s actually happening in your garden.

I’ve written before about ways to keep deer and rabbits out of your garden. Even if you read those articles when they were published, take a second look and make sure you take a look at the comments sections. Readers have followed up and shared great tips!

I think it’s time to address the topic again. Winter is coming, and animals can do a lot of damage then. We also have some new tips that weren’t addressed in the first articles. People are always coming up with new methods to deter deer and rabbits as well as other pests such as skunks, squirrels, gophers and woodchucks.

Even if you’ve found something that works, animals seem to get used to various deterrent methods, so you have to keep changing it up.

Here are some ideas for keeping deer and rabbits out of your garden this winter:

Tip #1: Wrap your bushes and trees.

If you have certain bushes you want to protect, try wrapping them in landscape fabric, suggested David Clark, who presented a recent class on pest management and disease at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Landscape fabric is that black gardening fabric sold in rolls that you can lay down as a weed barrier. The fabric is made of  paper, plastic or synthetic fibers and is porous, so it lets water through.

If it’s rabbits you’re trying to deter, you have to make sure the fabric starts at the ground and goes up a good three feet, Clark said. Do you remember how deep the snow got last year? Rabbits can sit atop the snow and easily munch on tender branches that would be a stretch for them to reach in fall.wrapped tree at Buffalo Botanical Gardens

Notice how high the tender saplings are wrapped at the Botanical Gardens, Clark said. Check out the photo at right.

Doug O’Reilly, horticulturist at the Botanical Gardens, said the wrapping does double duty: It protects against frost cracks as well as damage from animals.

(A frost crack can occur when one side of the trunk is thawed by the sun while the other side remains frozen. A frost crack can cause permanent damage to the tree.)

The wrapping does help protect against rabbits, but a bigger problem to trees at the  Botanical Gardens is deer, O’Reilly said.

The gardeners use a paper wrapping called Clark’s tree wrap.  Wrapping the tree keeps deer from chewing the bark and helps keep bucks from rubbing their antlers on the trees, O’Reilly said.

Tip: #2: Try a product with coyote urine.

David Clark suggested using a product that contains coyote urine. Coyotes mark their territory with urine, so you place a few drops in one spot, take a few steps, then place a few more drops, just the way a coyote would. The idea is to create a scent barrier around the perimeter of your property to keep pests away.

Tip #3: Um, there are other kinds of urine, too.

I’ve talked to gardeners who tell stories of using human urine to keep deer and rabbits off their property. One lovely lady told me how her son-in-law would take two bottles of beer outside and relax in the evening. Before he came back inside, he would do his part to deter the deer. She said it worked well. I suggest you try this only if you have a yard that affords some privacy from the neighbors. Also, I wouldn’t suggest using urine on a regular basis near a vegetable garden.

Tip #4: Cook up a spray to keep rabbits and deer away.

There are many recipes for sprays that you can make at home to keep rabbits and deer away. They all seem to involve some combination of garlic and cayenne, with soap added to help the solution stick to plants.

Here’s a recipe for Garlic Fire Spray, which Clark shared during his class on pests. The recipe originated on the No Dig Gardens site.

The spray should discourage rabbits, gophers, woodchucks and other garden gate crashers.

Garlic Fire Spray is stinky, but the smell dissipates quickly once it’s been sprayed, according to the site. This mixture needs to be re-sprayed frequently, such as after rain and dew.

Garlic Fire Spray “is the stuff of legend,” according to the site, which says the uses for this natural garden pest control are unlimited. “Depending on its strength it will slay dragons and ants (must have dragons if we mention legends!).”

It will kill ants, aphids, caterpillars, grubs, bugs and just about anything small. Because it has oil and dishwashing liquid in it, it sticks to plants and suffocates pests such as scale and mealy bug.  Be very selective in using it, the site warns, because it will also kill lacewings, lady bugs and other beneficial bugs.

For bugs, it’s best to spray every few days until there’s no sign of pests, then spray about every week to 10 days for any eggs or larvae that may have hatched out.

Garlic Fire Spray Recipe

  • 2-3 garlic bulbs (about 6-10 cloves per bulb)
  • 6 large or 12 smaller hot chilli peppers (any variety will do) or use 1-2 tablespoons hot chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 squirts of liquid dishwashing detergent
  • 7 cups water. (Use about 2-3 cups in the blender, and top up with the rest later.)

Put 2 to 3 cups of water and all of the other ingredients into a blender and blend well. Strain through muslin, a coffee filter or something like that. Pour what you need into a spray bottle and keep the rest in jars with lids, unrefrigerated. Make sure you label the jars well. garlic bulblet in Western New York

Check for results. If the sprayfixes the problem and your plants are happy, you’ve got the perfect mix. If there are still a few pests, albeit struggling, experiment with the mixture by lowering the water dilution rate or changing the ingredient quantities slightly.

Tip #5: Plant garlic bulblets throughout your garden

Since rabbits and deer don’t seem to like garlic, I’m planting garlic bulblets around bushes that are troubled by rabbits. I have a lot of garlic bulblets because I allowed my garlic to go to seed.

Perhaps garlic will be offensive to the rabbits and the animals will stay away from my bushes. Even if the garlic is ineffective, I still win because I’ll have more garlic plants to harvest!


Do you have tips on preventing pests from eating your plants? Please share by leaving a comment!


Photos by Connie Oswald Stofko

12 Comments on “Keep deer and rabbits out of your garden in the Buffalo area

  1. we had problems with rabbits munching our morning glory vines (or any lovely vine, for that matter). When I trimmed the rose bushes, I put the dead thorny branches at the base of the vine and it did the trick!- plus no ingredients that can harm beneficial bugs.

  2. Donna, thanks so much for your tips! It seems that anything with red pepper deters rabbits and other critters. I’ve never tried cinnamon.

  3. For rabbits and gophers I use dried red pepper season I get from costco. I think it get on thier feet and they dont like it. I hear cinnamon works too.

  4. Laura,
    I talked to a man who said he tried it and it didn’t work. The woman who told me about her son-in-law seemed to think the trick is in the regular application of urine. Apparently doing it once isn’t enough.

    Then again, you say that your plants were eaten the same day you tried applying urine. Perhaps you didn’t use enough urine. Maybe it works only if you drank beer. Perhaps female urine just isn’t smelly enough and that’s why we need guys to apply it for us!

    Gardeners do get desperate when it comes to keeping pests, particularly deer, away from their plants. I’m sure there are folks who will try using human urine despite your lack of success.

    Thanks for writing!

  5. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I tried to human urine trick and it DID NOT work. I brought a cup with me into the bathroom, filled it, and brought it outside to pour around the plants. They were eaten down the same day. So, save yourself (or your male friends/relatives) some embarrassment. 😉 It DOES NOT work.

  6. Sharon,
    Ha ha! I don’t think you actually need a son-in-law for this to work. Go ahead and try it yourself!

  7. Rhonda,
    Thanks so much for that great tip! I hadn’t heard of this. I’m sure our readers will be very interested.

  8. Thanks, Donna. When it comes to keeping deer and rabbits away, you can never have enough methods to try.

  9. Being in the hort industry for many years; I found quite by accident as sign in Walmart of all places hovering over bags of Milorganite stating its use as a deer repellent. I had a fellow come into my store and asked to purchase six bags of the stuff for fertilizing his shrubs. I asked what kind of shrubs was he using it for and he said,
    ‘Arborvitae’. I asked how long has he been using it and if he’s had any problems with deer as the ‘Arbs’ were one of the deer’s favorite meals. He said no. So, from then on I sold Milorganite to my customers as a deer repellent, having some even test it on tulips in their yards with positive results. Coyote, and the other repellents were already tried without much success. I called Milorganite and they sent me test trials from Cornell. The Milorganite was used with Taxus,Hosta, and Tulip and the tests were very positive. They just couldn’t get the government agency to approve it for repelling deer. I still recommend it.

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