Protecting Your Garden From Deer

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Deer eating fallen apples

From Mexico to Canada, Native American stories tell of the wit and wisdom of the deer. According to Sioux legend, the Great Spirit gave baby fawns their spots and took away their scents to help them hide while their mothers feed. Yet the deer’s forked antlers hint at the animals’ double nature – they can bless you with good fortune, or shape-shift into a less trustworthy being, such as the Deer Woman, who might lure a man with her beauty, and then stomp him to death.

I think she may be inhabiting my garden.

Or maybe it’s just the apples, which are fortunately in the front yard. Deer love apples, and this year our trees are loaded, so I’m having to rev up my defenses to limit deer incursions into my back yard vegetable garden.

They have the advantage. My main neighbor is a National Park, where hunting is not allowed, plus there is a stream and wetland nearby. It’s their home, and I’ve been gardening with deer for eight seasons now. Though we still have our conflicts, we’re working it out.

Beet tops eaten by deer

Passive Defense from Deer

Some time ago, in response to Ann Marie Hendry’s story on Designing a Potager Garden, Kris Martin commented that the information was great, but what to do when hungry deer move in? A fence tall and strong enough to exclude deer also ruins the view, which is my situation, too. It’s a personal choice, but I’d rather sustain a little deer damage than put my garden in prison.

That being the case, I use a number of small deterrents to define boundaries with deer. For low-growing crops like carrots, I cover the plants with wire cages, which protects them from rabbits, too. Hiding plants from view with tulle tunnels works well with cabbage family crops, and I know of one gardener who uses a cloth enclosure, strung between poles, to keep deer from finding her beans. Deer love beans, as well as beets, spinach, chard and carrots, so I don’t attempt to grow these crops without protection.

Deer repellent soap

Several of my neighbors have great success enclosing their gardens with a single-strand electric fence at waist height, and if my garden was in an open field, I probably would, too. But as it is, the garden is well served by a 12-foot (4m) deep bramble thicket on two sides, which is too much of a long jump – deer like to see where they are going.

The deer prefer to enter the garden by following walkways meant for people, but there are several ways to discourage them. They don’t like walking on metal roofing, so there are a couple of pieces on the ground just outside the garden’s back entrance. The front entrance is guarded by mesh bags laden with heavily-fragranced deodorant soap. Clusters of solar lights come on at night, and I move them around every few days to change the scene.

Deer Fencing and Repellents

A secure deer fence is serious business, and where I live all of the organic farms are enclosed with 8-foot tall mesh deer fences. They usually work, but not always because deer are phenomenal jumpers.

Deer fence

Deer don’t like surprises. Often while taking a walk in the woods, I’ll hear sudden huffing sounds from an invisible deer resting in the shade. If I turn suddenly, it’s gone.

In the garden, the surprise factor can be evoked with motion-activated lights, especially if the deer are more curious than hungry. But if they know there is something they want, say, chard, it would take a motion-activated sprinkler to keep them away. Dogs are helpful, but mine tend to take too many naps to be as effective as a motion-activated sprinkler.

As for me, I’ve decided to join with the deer in celebrating an abundant apple year, because I basically like them. They don’t eat herbs or squash or tomatoes, and if they didn’t eat the fallen apples I would have to pick them up.

Like I said, we’re working it out.

Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"I'm a fan of motion-activated "scarecrow" sprinklers. Until I forget to turn them off before I mow the orchard."
Jon on Friday 17 July 2015
"It seems a bit misleading to assume that what deer won't touch in one area applies elsewhere. Deer that roam my property love my tomatoes, and will strip them of leaves and fruit. Deer have eaten my squash vines (leaves mostly) in the past. I heard a TV garden "specialist" recently say deer would not eat dahlias or black-eye susans. Well, they certainly seem to love mine. The issue, I think, is that they will nibble on many things...and browse some things night after night. When they are hungry, many things that they are not supposed to like suddenly become their entree du jour."
Steve Marks on Friday 17 July 2015
"Steve, you have hit on the big question, which is hunger. In terribly overpopulated areas, deer will eat anything, as you might expect of an animal that can digest bark and lichen. And, in dry climates like the western mountains, gardeners in a naturally brown-toned landscape must be prepared to defend anything green."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 18 July 2015
"Here in CT on my 6 acres, my resident doe (she hides a fawn on the property every year) strolls through my garden on a regular basis. She will prune the tomato branches that dare to stick through their cages. I have raised beds, so most are covered with netting.(Peas, carrots, beans, lettuce etc. Peppers also in cages which works well) However so far plants that are not netted and being passed by are onions, basil, garlic, nasturtium, marigolds and my herb bed (sage, lemon balm, dill, oregano, thyme and mint). My pumpkin, squash and melon patch is 20 x 32 fenced with 4 1/2 foot cattle panels with the sunflowers in the center so she cannot reach over to browse. She could easily jump, but chooses not to at this point. I hoping it is a small enough area that with her poor depth perception there is the illusion the area is too small to jump in and out easily. I will also add a number of years ago when Hurricane Sandy came through I lived closer to the shore and the salt spray that blew in off the Long Island sound killed much of the native browsing vegetation. Within 2 weeks the local deer came threw and stripped all the leaves of all squash plants and even ate both summer and immature winter squash. "
Jenn Uncasville CT on Sunday 19 July 2015
"We live in deer country. A good friend of mine got a recipe for deer repellent a number of years ago. She had amazing results with it. For years a succession of Airedale terriers keep our yard deer free. When we decided not to get another dog after our last Airedale passed on we knew we'd have to do something to keep the deer out. Using "the recipe" I start spraying all the plants deer love to eat as soon as bulbs and seedlings start to emerge in the spring. I can always tell if I miss any plants as the deer quickly crop them off at the ground. The repellent consists of a basic mixture of 1 cup skim milk, one egg white and yolk, 1 cup of water and a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap. The ingredients are mixed in blender and applied as a mist with a hand sprayer. I apply this mix once a week. The plants should be more or less dry when you apply it. It doesn't matter if the garden gets wet after application. Our garden is approximately 1/3 of an acre in size. I use 2 or 3 times the basic recipe. It takes about 20 minutes to mix and spray all the at risk parts of the garden. You don't have to soak everything, a light misting will make the deer lose interest in nibbling. We have beautiful flowers while our neighbours that don't spray don't have flowers. A very good friend simply could not keep many plants in his gardens and was sceptical about the use of this simple recipe. The first time he did use it, he called me almost immediately after appying the spray to say five deer were in the yard, smelling the plants and then leaving without eating anything. He's had up to 7 deer in the yard at one time and had nothing eaten."
Peter Mackie on Sunday 8 May 2016
"I am going to give your recipe a try. It would be interesting if the spray also inhibited mildew because of the milk component, as I also battle that here in Connecticut. Jenn Uncasville CT"
Jenn Rudtke on Sunday 8 May 2016
"Don't forget the simple monofilament fishing line trick. I read this recently on various places on the 'Net and thought I'd try it. Just use some tall stakes or metal fence posts and run the line from post to post at the top, maybe four feet high, and approximately one and one half to two foot down from the top. It seems that the deer do not like touching things they cannot see, and the line is tough for anyone to see. Deer will also not jump what they cannot see, so I tried to keep the posts far apart and keep the weeds cut along that line so that it does not appear to be a line across the ground or anything that looks like a fence. I used fifty pound test line. Another friend was getting all his bean plants nibbled and so he tried the same trick. No more deer. So far. I did find tracks inside one day. I had taken the fence down to let in a big tractor with a cultivator attachment. After I was done I had to restring some areas because I had cut it when driving over it. I noticed that I had not placed the line at the exact same height in one spot and I believe the tracks came from there. I moved the line and have not had a problem. It seems that there is a possibility that if they can stick their neck thru, they may be able to step thru without jumping. Especially young ones. I am not sure. Am going to be watching this experiment for the remainder of the year to see what happens and what to do to improve it if need be. I am also toying with the idea of covering the whole garden with bird netting which would also eliminate the dear problem since they would run into their other problem, being that they have to calculate a certain distance as well as height to jump, and with no entry over the top, I'm sure they wouldn't try. Bird netting gives a little shade from the hot summer days and keeps out the deer and birds, and maybe other ground dwellers. We'll see."
Michael on Saturday 23 July 2016
"Good ideas, Michael. I use tulle netting (wedding net) that does not really cover the beans, but waves about above them, attached to stakes with clothespins. It works. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 23 July 2016
"Hey, it's a great idea using tunnels and covered fence. My sister is living in a deer country and she has a yard with so many plants in it. So to resist from those deer she used so many repellents. That are effective only for a week after that she has to search for another solution. We did not even think that we can use the fence for resisting them. Thanks for good article dude...! I have read another site that is This is also having useful tips about chasing a deer."
Kelly Bates on Saturday 17 December 2016
"My parents had problems with them on the rose beds. The lost the whole lot one year to deer. The next year they sprayed them with a mix of 1 part hot chilli sauce to 4 of water. The offending deer ate the first part and nver came back for the rest! They have sprayed them every year since, and never had the same problem., Could be worth a try! "
Ben on Monday 16 July 2018

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