Ask the Master Gardener: A fence of fishing line effective in deterring deer from eating plants – Brainerd Dispatch

Dear Master Gardener: Lately the deer have come into my yard and are treating it as a salad bar. Is there any kind of deterrent to keep them from eating my plants?

Answer: Gardeners up here in the beautiful north woods have their work cut out for them when it comes to protecting their landscaping from deer. White-tailed deer feed on gardens, landscape plants and agricultural crops. Gardening where there is a heavy deer population can be very frustrating. The best way to keep deer out of your yard is to install a fence that is at least 8 feet tall, but this can be costly and impractical. Deer avoid small fenced-in areas because they are afraid to jump over something where they may get entangled, so for a small garden, a 4 foot high wire mesh fence may do the job.

You can make “fencing” with heavy duty (30 pound or more) monofilament fishing line tightly strung around a garden bed. Deer tend to be skittish, so when a deer approaches a garden after dark to nibble the plants, it meets resistance from the unseen wire, causing it anxiety and discomfort, and it moves on. Having tried this myself, I have found it to be most effective around smaller garden beds. In addition, it is more visually unobtrusive than a fence. I used green, plastic-coated steel garden stakes to try to blend in with the environment. The U of M recommends tightly stringing the fishing line around the stakes 30-36 inches above the ground going beyond the outside edge of the garden bed. For good measure, I experimented with adding one or two extra rows evenly spaced and tightly strung around the stakes and found that adding two more (three total) was the most effective. When deer density is high or those brazen creatures are even foraging during the day, this technique may become ineffective.

Commercial sprays can also be effective when used according to directions. There have been many research studies done about repellents. Researchers have found that a simple homemade solution of three chicken eggs per one gallon of water is the most effective repellent. There are many online recipe variations of this solution, however, gardening folklore isn’t necessarily research-based. University of Minnesota researchers also noted that adding secondary ingredients (vegetable oil, dish soap, etc.) may actually mask the egg odor enough that the spray’s effectiveness will be reduced. The U of M deer repellent recipe is as follows:

  1. Use a blender to blend three whole eggs thoroughly in water.
  2. Pour the mixture into a container and add water to reach one gallon. Strain.
  3. Spray the mixture onto new growth with thorough coverage using a hand sprayer or tank sprayer for larger amounts. Spray until leaves are wet and have a sheen.
  4. Reapply every two weeks or after rain.  
  5. The DIY egg spray offers a lower-cost alternative to commercial sprays and can be considered a reliable deer repellent for summer months when applied diligently.

Dear Master Gardener: What is kokedama and is it hard to do?

Answer: Kokedama is the Japanese garden art of creating beautiful moss-covered balls that feature a unique plant. In this art form, plants are displayed on a moss ball, which in turn is usually suspended from string or exhibited on a platform. They are easy and fun to make. If you Google Missouri Botanical Garden Kokedama, you will find easy step-by-step instructions on how to create one.

Dear Master Gardener: I’ve had a large group of hostas in the same spot for a long time and they have been getting smaller over time. What seems to be the problem?

Answer: When hostas get smaller over time it could be due to overcrowded conditions. As a general rule, they need to be divided after about five years. Over time the soil may have settled and become more compacted and/or the plants may have consumed all the nutrients from that area, and that too could cause hostas to get smaller over time. You may need to dig up the plants, divide them, and replenish the soil with a lot of compost. Another possibility — hostas are not very drought tolerant. We have had drought conditions the past few years and lack of moisture can also cause hostas to not grow well and get smaller.

Dear Master Gardener: I heard that a hoptree is a great addition to a butterfly garden. Is it native to Minnesota and will it grow in Crow Wing County?

Answer: You heard right! A hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata), also known as wafer-ash, is a great addition to a butterfly garden. Giant swallowtail butterflies use the leaves of hoptree as caterpillar food and the sweet nectar of the flowers attracts many species of butterflies. It is native to the eastern and central parts of the United States and into Minnesota. It is hardy to zone 4. Hoptree is a single-trunked large shrub or small tree that gets about 15-20 feet tall and wide at maturity. This tree has fragrant clusters of creamy to light green flowers that are visited by many pollinators. The flowers of the female plants are followed by dangling light green, papery, seed clusters which then ripen to brown and remain on the tree into winter. Hoptree is not a good choice for a formal garden, but a great addition to a woodland garden. It grows best in part to full shade and is very heat and drought tolerant.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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