A friend and neighbor, allies in our battle against hungry deer, first mentioned Milorganite several years back. I’d never heard of the stuff. She said she was trying it as a deer deterrent with some success.
She and her partner garden on one of the most exposed water front lots in our part of the community. We collaborated together on our list of deer resistant plants, but I never followed up on her suggestion to try Milorganite. Now I wish we had…..
A year or so later, a Gloucester based landscaper suggested it to me again. He recommended creating a barrier around one’s entire garden by broadcasting a 3′-4′ wide strip of the smelly stuff around the perimeter of any area you need to protect. He swore deer wouldn’t cross it. Sounded like a good idea; which I filed away to explore in more detail later.
Meanwhile, our personal battle to protect our garden from the deer continues. It’s not just the plants we want to protect from their grazing. Deer carry ticks, and ticks carry Lyme’s disease and other nasty infections. We’ve both had several bites over the years followed by expensive visits to the doctor, tests, and prescriptions.
Lyme’s disease is one of those infections one never truly gets over; it can linger in the body and flare up later in unexpected ways. It changes people’s lives in unpleasant ways; another reason to stay away from deer and ticks. We figured this out, of course, only after we fell in love with the community and bought our little forest garden. We’ve learned a great deal since then.
After nearly seven years of finding ways to foil the deer, a few somehow still slip into the garden from time to time. And once in, they find tasties to nibble while spreading ticks and leaving their little ‘gifts.’ We’ve both had ticks latch onto us this spring, already.
But a casual conversation with one of the garden experts at Lowes, earlier this week, reminded me of Milorganite. She gardens on the Northern Neck, along the Piankatank River slightly north of Williamsburg. And she contends with herds of deer, too. She highly recommended Milorganite as a deer repellent in the garden.
Now, before we go any further in this story, I need to share with you our real reason for avoiding Milorganite all these years. I was all set to try it years ago until we learned its true nature: municipal sewage sludge. Somehow we just didn’t want to spread dried sewage all around our garden, despite its potential benefits.
Since 1926, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has processed the sludge from its sewage treatment plant to produce a 5-2-0 natural fertilizer known as Milorganite. “Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen” was devised to reduce material in landfills while recycling this natural source of nitrogen as a safe fertilizer for lawns, golf courses, and agriculture. The dried sewage is heat dried to kill bacteria and other pathogens, then pelletized to produce an easy to apply, dust free organic fertilizer. But all the processing doesn’t completely remove the odor, which is why Milorganite repels deer.
If you’ve bought a spray bottle of deer repellent lately, you know it’s very pricey. Whether you buy Plantskydd , Repells- All, or some other product; you make an investment which often washes away in the next thunderstorm.
After resisting Milorganite these last few years, we finally decided to try it earlier this week. The little guys have been slipping through our ‘deer fences’ and have already grazed some favorite roses and Camellias just as they leafed out this spring. We are weary of chasing them out of the garden with no clue as to how they get in or out….
A 36 pound bag of Milorganite, enough to treat 2500 square feet, was only around $13.00 at Lowes. On Monday afternoon we decided to give it a try, and bought a bag. Produced as a ‘slow release’ fertilizer, it lasts a long time before it completely dissolves into the soil. How long will it work for us? That is part of our experiment….
I suited up in my usual garden ‘get up,’ covered head to toe, with hat and gloves; and broadcast the first strip of Milorganite along our street. Using a recycled plastic quart food container, I shook a light application in the spaces between our shrubs, and especially around the Camellias, from the pavement back to our deer fence behind the shrubs.
It wasn’t bad, really. It didn’t smell as bad as the sprays we use, and was so much easier to apply. Our single bag proved sufficient to broadcast a 4′ perimeter around our entire garden, and also to make barriers around vulnerable beds of Azaleas, roses, Hydrangeas, and perennials. I laid a stripe everywhere we know the deer frequent in our garden.
Although the University of Georgia has published studies on Milorganite as a deer repellent, it isn’t marketed as one. Its use to repel animals is a ‘word of mouth’ sort of thing between gardeners. And how long a single application will last depends on any number of variables. We plan to spread it again by the middle of June, then again in September. Based on what we’ve read, it should last close to 90 days during the growing season.
Now we watch and wait. My daydreams of full, lush Azalea shrubs and un-grazed roses may finally come true. Our hopes to finally watch our Hostas mature, un-nibbled and full, may be realized this year. Faith, hope and love wax strongest in a gardener’s heart in early spring, before realities set in.
I’ll let you know how it works, of course. If Milorganite performs as well as other gardeners have promised, we might actually plant a few vegetables later in the season with hope to harvest a cucumber or two! I’m curious to learn whether it deters squirrels, rabbits, voles, and other mammals, in addition to deer. If it does, we will use it faithfully from now on.
We may be holding our noses, metaphorically speaking, but we’ll gladly support the city of Milwaukee in their recycling efforts. And we’ll spread the word as broadly as we spread the Milorganite!
Have you tried Milorganite in your garden? If you have, how well does it work for you?
Woodland Gnome 2016
In recognition of Wildlife Wednesday
(Tina has posted some lovely photos of birds visiting her garden this month.
Please visit her for links to other Wildlife Wednesday posts this April.)
I might try this one for the bunnies. Some year soon I’d like to enjoy a few crocus blooms before they get nibbled! Up until now I’ve used it on non-edibles and it seems to work fine… unless I put it on too thickly 🙂
What happened when you put it on too thickly? I’ve been considering keeping a bag around and using it around everything newly planted. We haven’t seen a deer or rabbit all week. Even the squirrels have been scarce! Our cat doesn’t seem to mind it, and I can’t smell a thing 😉 It is amazing what animals choose from our gardens to eat, isn’t it? My sister swears squirrels have eaten her Caladium tubers in recent years… and supposedly Caladiums are poisonous! Such is life… Thank you for visiting, Frank 😉
Sounds like a great use for sewage sludge! I hope it works wonders for you. I will tell my parents about it – they have some deer issues. Thanks for the tip!
Anna, I hope that if they try it, you’ll let me know how it works for them. I’m still not quite past the thought of what I’m actually spreading on the garden. But that is my own issue. We use animal manure as a fertilizer without a second thought- 😉 Thank you for the kind wishes- One of these days we’ll get it handled ❤ Thank you for visiting today ❤
I definitely will. I think the thing that’s a little freaky about using a sewage product is how full of medicinal and chemical residues it likely is -probanly far worse than animal manure.
Well, Anna, that is why I’ve waited so long to give it a try. Since it is certified ‘organic,’ I’m hoping the processing removed most of those nasties…. Still not putting it around edibles, however ;=)
I totally hear you!
This certainly sounds like a win-win solution.
It certainly feels that way to us, too, since the milorganite will improve the soil and feed all of the shrubs 😉 And, it won’t hurt the wildlife in any way. Thank you for visiting, WG ❤
PLease be sure to post your findings.
Will do, John. Have you used it?
I’ve been using milorganite for at least 15+ years as an additive in my raised bed soil recipe, but not as a ring to ward off deer.
Do you grow edibles in beds enriched with milorganite?
I don’t grow edibles…not into veggies.
😉 Thanks, John-
Looking forward to seeing how it works for you. As much as we love Nature, when it comes to gardening, it is a battle against it! It seems deer are a huge problem in the mid-Alantic states. You need predators, but unfortunately predators aren’t selective about what they eat, domestic or wild. 😦
My landscape maintenance guy recommended it 2 years ago. He said he sought out local farmers, asking any suggestions they may have to reduce deer browsing, and he was told about milorganite. I found it where Joe said i would, in Lowe’s. It does seem to work, but it’s protection seems to be partial, with some occasional damage found.
Thank you for that, Jeffrey. That bears out exactly what the researchers at the University of Georgia said in their reports. I can live with occasional damage, and just hope it serves as a barrier to keep them from forcing their way through our fences. By the way- we’ve been watching butterflies visiting the garden for the last 10 days here. They are here ahead of our perennial milkweeds, but they are finding plenty of nectar. Thank you for visiting 😉
Poop stinks and hopefully will repel those hungry deer! I used Milorginite years ago, when I still had turf. Here in Austin, the city produces a product called DilloDirt which is a combination of sewage sludge and the yard waste trimmings that we can put out on our garbage days. It’s a win-win because the yard waste doesn’t go into the landfill and DilloDirt is an excellent product as a soil amendment. I know at one time, it wasn’t recommended for veggie or herb gardens, but I believe that as the technology for making it has improved, they’ve removed that limitation.
Good luck with your experiment–love the photos of both the mama Cardinal and also the bunny–another scourge in some gardens. 🙂 Thanks for participating in Wildlife Wednesday!
Thank you, Tina! If I could find ‘Dillo Dirt’ we certainly would use it! We buy compost made of yard waste trimmings produced in Maryland called ‘Leaf Grow.’ It is wonderful for planting, building raised beds, and spring fertilizing- but is basically odorless. I hesitate to use Milorganite around anything we might eat- probably silly, but I’m not sure what heavy metals or Rx drugs might still be present in the mix….
Will be eagerly awaiting your report on results. I don’t suppose that product is available here, but there’s always ZooDoo.
I’ve heard of Zoo Doo, but not tried it, Rickii. Does the Portland Zoo offer it? Amazon carries Milorganite, as does WalMart. Lowes had the best price of all those I checked. But you could order it if you ever decide to try it yourself. Will hope to have nothing to report save success ❤ ❤ ❤
Oh deer ! we have no deer in our garden but occasionally rabbits, I am always amazed how some small animals like rabbits can do so much damage in the garden ! I hate to think what deer can do !
Our rabbits rarely touch anything beyond the abundant clover in the ‘lawn.’ We enjoy them and feel a bit like we’re hosting ‘Watership Down’ at times! Sorry to hear they cause damage in your garden, though. It is always hard when the wild things eat what we’re trying to grow for ourselves! Thank you for visiting ❤ ❤ ❤
well, they are wild animals and don’t know they are eating in “our” garden, I have my veggies in big pots and also in the greenhouse so it’s my plants they eat but as long as there aren’t too many I let them….
You’re right, Gwennie. We are living in their forest 😉 We tried growing veggies in pots on the deck. Safe from deer, but pilfered by squirrels. We just buy our veggies and content ourselves growing herbs and figs – Hope yours all survive this year 😉