Most gardeners have a deep appreciation for nature and, in turn, for wildlife. However, those feelings of reverence tend to fade after a herd of deer pillage the landscape you’ve so meticulously planned and cared for, or help themselves to the fruits and vegetables you planned on enjoying yourself.
While anyone who gardens should plan on sharing some of their plants with the many creatures of nature, whether it be slimy slugs, odious squash bugs, or adorable bunnies, the graceful deer can take more than their fair share of your hard work. Adult deer can eat six to ten pounds of greenery and they’re not very picky, especially during the spring. All members of the herd are working to gain back the weight lost during the winter, and doe especially are hungriest as they are nursing their fawns.
There are several products, methods and practices that can help alleviate the damage done by deer. The best and most effective way of keeping your garden deer free is fencing. Ideally a fence should be eight to twelve feet tall, with spaces between the pickets no more than eight inches. Electrifying the fence is also a great option to ensure your garden is undisturbed.
If you don’t have the capability of making a fence up to eight or twelve feet, a shorter fence, around 4 feet high, that slants outwards at a 45 degree angle can keep deer at bay. While deer can easily scale a 4 foot vertical fence, the depth of the slanted fence will keep them at bay because they won’t risk jumping both high and long.
Fencing an entire garden can be costly and impractical. If this solution is not available, consider protection for individual plants that deer are targeting. Deer netting, a sturdy plastic netting sold in rolls at most home improvement and hardware stores, can be placed around plants and small areas with metal fence posts. Chicken wire and galvanized hardware cloth are also good options to protect individual areas or plants.
These deterrents can be effective but are not the most aesthetically pleasing alternatives. If aesthetics are a factor, consider stringing fishing line on tall stakes. The deer will come in contact with the fishing line and become spooked because they did not see it. In general deer are timid in nature and have a flight response to unexpected objects and sounds. Use this to your advantage by hanging empty cans or other noisemakers on the aforementioned fishing line for an added effect.
You can also utilize things like wind chimes, motion activated lights, and motion activated sprinklers to keep deer at bay without installing fencing. Sometimes just placing unexpected objects, such as yard décor, in an area deer visit can keep them at bay. Be warned though that deer will quickly become accustomed to these objects and you’ll need to change up your methods often.
If these physical deterrents are not possible or are not working, consider attacking deer’s senses. There are many over-the-counter and homemade concoctions that can convince deer to move onto someone else’s garden. Solutions that can be purchased may contain things like the urine of predators (coyote, and wolf, etc.). Some homemade options include a simple bar of Irish Spring soap, a sprinkling of human hair at the perimeter of the garden, or a solution made of rotten eggs or milk. The disadvantage of these types of deterrents is that they need to be reapplied often, especially after being washed off in the rain. Deer can also become accustomed to or tolerant of these smells over time.
Attacking the deer’s sense of smell may not be enough. You may also need to deter their tastebuds. The rotten egg or rotten milk solutions mentioned above serve as both a scent and taste deterrent, but another long term option would be to consider what plants deer do and do not enjoy eating, and planning your garden and landscape with those things in mind.
In general deer enjoy smooth, tender and flavorful plants; things like English ivy, lettuces, beans, hostas, impatiens and pansies. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy these plants, but you should think carefully about how to protect them and where to plant them. Consider planting things you know deer enjoy closer to the house or in areas that deer cannot access.
Consider choosing plants for your landscape and garden that deer don’t enjoy. The texture of plants like lamb’s ear, mullein, and boxwood are offputting to most deer. The scent of things like catmint, lavender, bluebells, bugleweed, daffodil, or bleeding heart will also convince deer to graze elsewhere. This doesn’t mean you have to plant these items exclusively, but consider planting them around other plants to deter deer from snacking.One of the most important things to remember is that it’s impossible to protect all of your landscape and garden from all of nature’s creatures and deer can be especially troubling. You should always plan for losses and vary deterrents and strategies to find out what works best for you and your landscape and to keep deer from getting used to your methods.