Sprinkling human hair gathered from a barbershop over your vegetablegarden may sound a little strange, but it could protect your crops from the ravages of deer.
That's the advice of Jo Mercer, program assistant, urban agricultural division, of the Harford County office of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.
Deer damage is about the toughest -- though not the only -- problem facing rural Harford vegetable gardeners this year, said Mercer.
"Smaller pesky animals are dealt with much more easily," said Mercer. "In rural areas, deer can be extremely destructive because what they don't eat, they trample. And a high deer population like we have in Harford will eat anything."
Mercer said it's nearly impossible to keep deer away from vegetable gardens or tender young saplings without a 12-foot-high fence.
But there are some less expensive, if less effective, remedies available.
"The odor of human hair, collected from barbershops, piled around the perimeter, may keep deer away, or you could try blood meal," said Mercer. "Tying strips of white cloth to flutter from the branches of small trees mimics the alarm signal of a white-tailed deer and may keep deer away. But this is not a normal situation. Deer are starving and they may not respond."
Robert Sachs, owner of Kroh's Nursery Inc. on Route 22 in Churchville, knows first-hand about the ravages of deer and the effect on his business.
"With so much building and so much movement, there's no place for the animals to go and it gets worse every year," Sachs said.
"We planted 400 cherry trees, and if 20 are left we're lucky. The deer ate every one," he said. "Fencing is really about the only way to go."
More typical garden raiders, like insects, are more easily controlled, said Sachs.
Sachs said many home gardeners are reluctant touse pesticides for fear they could harm young children or pets.
"So we recommend they wait and see what kind of bugs they have, instead of spraying chemicals all over everything to begin with. You don't want to misuse pesticides," said Sachs. "And it may be cheaper to letthe insects or the animals eat than to pay for sprays and other pestrepellents."
Sachs calls this method Integrated Pest Management.
"What it means is common sense," he said. "It's not completely organic and it's not completely chemical. It's a happy medium."
For those who prefer the completely organic, Beth Kuser Olsen, a Delta, Pa., environmental landscape design consultant, has a few other tips for keeping away troublesome insects.
"Sometimes people worry about attracting butterflies because they're afraid the caterpillars in thelarval stage will eat their garden," said Kuser Olsen.
The trick,she said, is also to plant the kind of plants the caterpillars like to eat. Then they'll leave your other plants alone. Kuser Olsen suggests checking the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies to determine what tickles the palate of the butterfly you'd like to attract.
Gardeners also can use natural predators to combat unwanted insects, she said.
"You can collect or purchase ladybugs, which specialize in aphids, or praying mantises that eat many other insects," said Kuser Olsen. "You can also construct bat houses -- batsare nocturnal insectivores. Or you can build bird houses to attract insect-eating birds."
Birds that would eat insects in your garden include purple martins, barn swallows, bluebirds and the familiar robin, she said.
"As for mammals, like rabbits, probably the only wayto keep them out would be to fence the garden," said Kuser Olsen. "And you can plant marigolds and onions around the edge of your garden -- they're odors rabbits are supposed to consider unacceptable."
Even if the marigolds don't keep out the rabbits, they might also helpkeep insects out of the garden," Kuser Olsen said.
For homeownerswho plan to plant young saplings this spring, Kuser Olsen recommends re-thinking your plans.
"You could put a fence around each seedling," she said. "Or you could spend the money that you would have spent on 20 or 30 seedlings and spend it to buy one large-size tree. If you buy saplings, you're just battling against a lost cause. Saplingshave little, tiny, tender stems that attract deer and groundhog."
The bark on a more mature tree is less tempting, explained Kuser Olsen.
"Besides, it's less effort to put one fence around one tree," she said.