After a mild winter and a gentle start to the growing season, our local deer population has increased. Just today on the way home I saw a doe with twin fawns right near the end of our driveway. While they’re pretty to look at, the population boom has presented a need to keep deer out of the garden. They started by sampling their way through the swales and fruit trees. Then they sampled the raspberry bushes, and finally the peas and beans. Thankfully, they seem to be responding to some basic deer deterrents, so we haven’t yet had to fence off the entire compound, just certain trees and shrubs. I’ll share some tips to help you tell if you have deer damage (versus rabbits). Then we’ll cover ways to keep deer out of your garden.
Deer Signs – How do I know deer are eating my plants?
If you catch them in the act, then you know it’s the deer that are munching on your plants but often they indulge in “midnight munchies”. I see deer in our area all the time – usually at a distance, munching grass near the neighbor’s woods. But I’ve never seen them in the garden eating my plants. That said, this year I know for sure they’re in the garden due to specific signs of deer activity, including:
Chewed off plants – Rabbits have munched our garden in the past. I’ve warded them off with garlic and herbs, which have worked pretty well. I knew it wasn’t a rabbit problem this year because it was the tops of plants that were chewed off – peas, beans, raspberries, jostaberries, fruit trees – all with shaved tops or one side of the trellis missing leaves.
My gnawed off bean plants
Hoof prints – Hoof print are pretty much impossible to see in mulched areas or grass, but soft garden soil can give a nice, clear imprint. Deer have a cloven hoof. A clear print will resemble two half circles. Often just the tips will push in on firmer ground.
Hoof print from our driveway this past winter
Trampled plants – The deer went right through the onion ring to get to the peas. They also broke the tops off of lettuce that was seeding out – without eating the lettuce. (Too bitter, I suspect. My deer are still selective eaters.)
Deer poop – My resident deer thoughtfully fertilized the lawn on the way out of the garden, so I was able to get a nice fresh photo. Deer droppings resemble rabbit droppings, only bigger. They are piles of individual marble sized poop nuggets.
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden – #1 Repellent Sprays
Even though they seem to take a taste of everything in the yard, deer have sensitive taste buds and noses and can be deterred by unpleasant flavors and smells. Some stink-away options include:
- Egg sprays – Blend together 6 raw eggs and 6 cups water and spray on plants. Deer don’t like the sulfur smell of the eggs.
- Pepper spray – Blend hot pepper or Tabasco sauce into water, strain (if needed) and spray on plants.
- Predator urine – You can purchase commercial “liquid fence” type products, or encourage your faithful pets to mark their turf around the areas you want protected. Obviously no one wants urine or feces directly on their food, so this works best on non-food plants.
- People pee – Given that we are predators of a sort (at least those of us who are meat eaters), peeing outside may indeed help deter deer from a specific area.
- Peppermint extract – If you only have a small area to protect, this might work well for you. Purchase some mint extract (or make your own with excess mint). Mix in a ratio of roughly four parts water to one part extract. Spray on plants that you wish to protect. That cooling menthol taste is less than appealing to deer.
- Combination sprays – Mixing your eggs and your peppers together will give deer a double whammy. Other recipes include sour milk, onion tops, dish soap, vinegar, clove oil, fish emulsion – if it tastes nasty to you, odds are the deer may not care for it, either.
Spray on repellents should be reapplied after rains, or every one to two weeks to maintain the stink. Rotating your sprays is also a good idea, as deer have been known to develop a taste for spicy food.
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden – #2 Solid Repellents
While generally less effective than those deer repellents sprayed directly on the foliage, solid repellents placed strategically around the garden may help deer feel less welcome. Options include:
Hair from people or predators – My husband cuts the boys’ hair at home, so I’ve started placing the trimmings around the garden. Specifically, I tuck the hair around the tops of the raspberries. There the raspberry thorns will catch and hold the hair for a bit. I’ve been applying the hair from the kitties’ grooming brushes there, too.
Bloodmeal – Sprinkled around plants, this gives off an unpleasant odor.
Ivory soap – Placing bars of soap in soaks around the perimeter of your garden has been recommended for ages, but it probably one of the least effective methods. You can try it, but I wouldn’t rely on it for full protection.
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden – #3 Scare Tactics
Random lights, noises and water sprays can encourage deer to move their munching elsewhere. We’re using a variety of strategies around the yard. Some are better suited for urban or rural settings – don’t have your neighbors calling the cops just because you’re chasing off deer.
Motion activated lights or sprinklers – We put a solar powered motion light out near the corner of the swales. There are no neighbors nearby to get hit with the spotlight, and it’s handy if we need to go and check on that area of the yard at night. Sprinklers may work even better, but I’d rather not waste water or water the garden at night and increase the risk of fungal diseases.
Noisemakers – I’ve placed several plastic grocery bags around the garden, and they seem to be helping. I admit, the changing noises they make when the wind catches them even surprise me, and I know that they’re there. The beans are growing back, so they seem to be working. Aluminum pie pans or cans strung together on a wire or string can also startle your nocturnal visitors. Commercial ultrasonic noise makers are less likely to annoy neighbors while still getting the point across to deer.
Dogs – Back on the farm growing up, my dog Mr. Pupper was on patrol every night when the garden was growing. The barking was not so great, but we did get a harvest. There are a lot more deer in that area, so a farm dog was a must. Barking alone is not likely to deter the deer for very long – the dog will need access to be able to back up the bark with bite if needed.
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden – #4 Fences
While more work and expense than most of the solutions listed above, fences are one of the most reliable options available. To keep deer out of a larger area (like a garden) where they can get a running start and have room to land on the other side, an 8-12 foot fence is recommended. (White tailed deer should be kept out by a nine foot fence.)
Using two fences instead of one allows you to use shorter, less visually intrusive fences. Pairing up two 5-6 foot tall fences 3 to 5 feet apart may do the trick. (Deer are better at the high jump than the broad jump.)
In our yard, we use 4 foot fences around individual fruit trees that are far from the house. With the fences places about 2 feet out from the trees, the deer can’t easily reach the trees. (As my eldest said, “They are not giraffes.”) There’s not enough room for them to jump the fence. We’ve also used 3-4 foot fences around specific shrubs that seem to be their favorites. While they might be able to reach over those fences, they don’t seem to like putting their heads in a cage.
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden – #5 Other Physical Barriers
Try plastic netting, floating row covers or chicken wire to protect small beds or specific plants or crops. These covers will also help deter other marauding munchers, like birds and other wildlife who want to sample your plants and/or fruit. My brother has a chicken wire cage topped with bird netting to protect his beautiful blueberry patch. Without protection, he’d be unlikely to get any crop at all. Use a hoop frame or secure the edges of your row covers to keep them from blowing away.
You can also get creative and combine different techniques, like the fishing wire tripline paired with empty cans on top of buckets demonstrated in the video below. The deer bump into the fishing line, knocking the cans off the buckets, which scares them away from the garden.
So far we’ve been using different deterrents for different parts of the garden and yard, and the crops that were “sampled” earlier in the season are recovering. Now that I know the deer are getting bolder, I’ll be keeping a closer watch and taking action accordingly.
Did I miss any deer deterrent tips that have worked for you, or has one technique worked better than another in your garden? Please leave a comment to share your experience.
You may also find useful:
- Homemade Bug Spray for the Garden – 3 Easy Recipes
- Natural Pest Control in the Garden
- New to Gardening – Start Here – 10 Tips for Beginning Gardeners
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