Wily Coyote has nothing on white-tailed deer. These graceful creatures have a way of breaking through all of our defenses, outwitting us at every turn in their efforts to browse on our gardens. And browse they do. A bite here, a bit there, sampling a little bit of everything and leaving us with damaged harvests.
Deer also spread parasites that are harmful to sheep, goats, and horses, not to mention dropping ticks off for our pets to pick up and bring indoors. Keeping deer out of the garden is a matter of health as well as garden security. Here are some strategies to deter deer from your garden, once and for all.
Commercial Deer Fencing
The most effective method of keeping deer out of your garden is also the most expensive. Deer can jump almost eight feet high, which means that any fence you put up needs to be around eight feet tall. This is an intimidating fence not just for deer, but for homeowners. The installation and purchase of commercial deer fencing takes time and money, but it works. Deer, coyotes, foxes, and most other pests will also find your deer fencing an imposing challenge.
Commercial deer fencing comes in several types. Woven wire is the most effective. Plastic mesh works well for moderate pressure and is cheaper than wire. If you already have a fence around your garden, you can always add height to it by elongating the posts and stringing wire strands up to ten feet in height.
Some neighborhoods and homeowner's associations have restrictions on yard fencing, which can pose an issue for gardeners with deer problems. Check your zoning ordinances before installing an expensive deer fence. If your area has height restrictions, consider installing a privacy fence around your yard or garden. Deer are more likely to jump a fence if they can see food beyond it, according to the University of Vermont Extension, so if your tender lettuces are out of sight they will also be out of mind, even if the deer can smell them.
Wide Spaced Deer Fencing
Height is not the only thing deer don't like. Jumping wide distances is equally intimidating, as it comes with the risk of getting stuck in the middle. Two 4 or 5 foot tall fences spaced 4 feet apart should deter deer from entering your garden. It also creates a 4 foot wide pathway that requires maintenance. You could use this pathway to herd livestock, as a dog run, or keep it mown or mulched to prevent weeds from damaging your fence.
Electric Deer Fencing
Deer don't enjoy electrocution any more than we do. Adding strands of electric fencing or creating deer fencing out of electric tape is usually effective. This method can be used with 8 foot tall fencing or wide spaced standard fencing. Highly visible electric tape is preferable to thinner wires, as deer respond better to a visual barrier.
If you are worried about deer respecting your electric fencing, you can always bait it with peanut butter. While this might seem cruel, it will startle the deer and send them packing in the opposite direction of your garden.
Prey animals like deer have a healthy respect for perceived predators. Your Golden Retriever or Cocker Spaniel might not seem like a threat to you, but barking dogs are almost as effective at deterring deer from your garden as deer fencing. I noticed a stark difference between the number of deer in my yard and pasture when I didn't have a dog compared to when I did.
If you have a shedding dog breed, put that hair to use by spreading it around the border of your garden. This adds a scent barrier that might help dissuade deer from taking a chunk out of your squashes. Since deer are most active at dawn and dusk, let your dog spend time outside during these periods to scare the deer away from your garden.
Visual Deer Deterrents
Visual deer deterrents are not as effective as fencing or dogs in keeping deer away, but they are better than nothing. I worked for a farmer who put a single strand of metallic ribbon around her corn and watermelons. It didn't do much to deter groundhogs, but the deer seemed sufficiently startled by it and we noticed far fewer hoof prints in the fields.
Old CDs, scarecrows, wind socks, and other eye-catching, preferably mobile objects all startle deer. These deterrents work best on new gardens, as the incentive of remembered fresh produce might overcome the deer's natural wariness about your visual deterrents.
Urine and Repellants
I mention urine because I have heard one too many people suggest sprinkling human or coyote urine around the garden perimeter as a deterrent for my peace of mind. While the thinking behind this method is sound, it is rarely effective. Commercial repellents work better than home bottled urine and you won't have to worry about explaining your stash to a child, relative, or friend. If you are dead set on a urine perimeter, go for it, but combine your approach with another method on this list for best results.
The best time to set up a deer fence or deterrent is before you have delicious delicacies growing in your garden. Without a tasty incentive, deer are less likely to try and breach your defenses. They are more likely to brave obstacles if they know you are hiding lettuce, melons, and other yummy vegetables behind your fence, so start planning your deer deterrent strategies soon.