ISSUE 79  |  Summer Picnics

The War of the Roses: Fighting the Enemy with Deer Spray

July 01, 2013 11:30 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

All over Mill Valley, other people’s roses are blooming. Armloads of pink and white and red flowers are flourishing my friends’ houses, despite dangling at the mouth level of the neighborhood deer.

But the roses are not blooming at my house. They’ve been eaten, snapped off and snacked on like bonbons. I went outside the other morning and saw a jagged row of rose canes, sticking up from the ground and stripped of their leaves.

I am taking this personally. It is clearly some kind of conspiracy. The deer are out to get me. I’ve been gathering evidence:

Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.

Coincidence No. 1: One block from my house, the deer are ignoring a trellis covered with pink roses. When I discovered this situation, I initially felt a brief moment of hope, thinking maybe there is a variety of pink climbing rose that tastes bad to deer.

I went home and Goggled (as my father puts it) “deer resistant pink rose” and “climbing roses deer don’t eat” and “deer safe rose” and a million other permutations . But to no avail.

Instead, the search results included “Help — Deer Eating All My Roses!!!” and “80 percent of deer proof plants get eaten” and “Looking out my window, I see frightful thorny skeletons in rose bed.”

I do not think there is a rose that deer in theory will not eat. Yet they are ignoring my neighbor’s pink climbing rose. The only explanation is that the deer are deliberately not eating them to drive me crazy.

Coincidence No. 2: I went to my friends Dawn and Bill’s house for dinner last night and saw a rose (Above) starting to unfurl.  How delicious would this look to you if you were a deer? It was growing unprotected on a trellis on the front of the house–no fence, no barbed wire, no armed guards in a gatehouse–and yet deer were not bothering it. I asked Bill if he ever had deer attacks, and he looked like me like I was the problem. Question: Is he in on it?

Coincidence No. 3: At my house, I have a fence (Above) and I also have surrounded my roses with the sort of strong-smelling plants deer do not like–lavender and rosemary–and yet the attacks continue. The rosemary bush is so big that it has started to intertwine itself with the roses. Why are the deer holding their noses and forcing themselves to eat these particular roses?

Above: Some of my fence posts are even whittled like sharp spikes. Yet the deer leap right over and into the flower beds.

This morning, I discovered a huge clump of lavender uprooted and left to die.

It was time to fight back. I have seen enough episodes of Homeland to know you have to face your enemies even if their motives and identities are murky. Maybe the deer are in on this alone. Maybe not. Either way, there must be something I can spray in the garden. Spraying stuff in the garden always makes me feel like I am taking control.

I went to the nursery and asked for deer repellent.

The clerk shook his head, sad for me.

“The repellent is only temporary,” he said, adding that anything you spray on roses or sprinkle on the round around their roots eventually will wear off or get washed away when you water the plants or it rains.

“I’ll settle for temporary,” I said.

The clerk handed me a 32-ounce red spray bottle of DeerStopper (also available for $12.99 from manufacturer Messina Wildlife). I read the label: “safe…organic…blah blah…” and saw that the main ingredient (besides rosemary oil and mint oil) was described as “putrescent egg solids.”

So now I am paying $12.99 plus tax for rotted eggs. (Do I hear snickering?)

 All the reviews say that DeerStopper will keep the deer away from my roses for up to 30 days if I wet the plants thoroughly. So I followed the directions and doused. But after I sprayed the roses, I didn’t have that much DeerStopper left.

Am I going to have to spend $12.99 plus tax on rotten eggs every month for the rest of my life?

Thinking about it depresses me, like when your accountant makes you add up the cost of all those Starbuck’s cappucinos you’ve been buying five days a week, and you realize that if you didn’t have a caffeine addiction, you could probably own a yacht. And fly private.

So I looked up “Homemade Deer Repellent Recipes” and saw there are about a million different ones to try, although some call for disgusting ingredients like hair clippings, sour milk, or blood meal (dried blood from slaughterhouses).

I decided to make my own (less creepy) concoction. The recipe I devised: mix two eggs, a few drops of rosemary-mint oil, and a squirt of liquid dish soap with enough water to fill an empty 32-ounce DeerStopper spray bottle. Spray roses with this mixture.

The first step was to make the rosemary-mint oil (Above). After jamming as many leaves as possible into a glass jar, I poured in enough canola oil to cover the herbs. Then I screwed on a lid and left it to steep in a sunny spot for a couple of weeks. By the time the DeerStopper wears off, I’ll be ready to make my first homemade batch of deer repellent.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy continues to unfold. Over at Dawn and Bill’s, the roses are of so little interest to the deer that the flowers actually last long enough to fully open, age, and die a natural death. I find this very suspicious, don’t you?