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Last year, I made the mistake of not actively protecting my garden from deer and we were tempted to invite a hunting friend to take care of the issue but decided to experiment and found several functional solutions instead.
(Filling your freezer with deer to rid them is not only unethical if you don’t have the assigned hunting tags, but a temporary solution. If deer are munching away at your plants now—more are alive and likely to come later.)
A variety of permanent and changing protection options are your best choice to keep deer away.
After this article, you’ll be able to decipher which tactics are worth your time and effort as I share everything we’ve tried, how long it worked, and what we are going to do next to keep it all working.
Avoid using a single tactic alone and thinking it’ll work forever, and worse; repeating this mistake over and over.
We’ve discovered, the most fool-proof option for passive plant protection against deer, and it requires a worthwhile investment: The Best Fence to Keep Deer Out (Cheaper & Easier Too)
But I don’t suggest you put up a fence and do nothing else forever. Deer are excellent jumpers!
Also, if you aren’t able to put up a fence now, many effective options below will protect your plants from deer.
A combination of permanent, changing, long-term, and short-term defenses is the best way to keep deer away for good. A permanent fence, an accessible friendly-food plot, and a diverse variety of ever-changing noises, smells, motions, and lights are sure to keep deer second-guessing your area.
For ultimate plant protection against deer, you’ll need to combine multiple options below and switch things up often. You don’t want deer getting used to anything.
Think about their strengths and weaknesses. What can we do with them?
- Deer have excellent hearing, smell, strength, and jump height, and are quick to react to run away.
- Deer are timid, afraid, have poor vision, and dislike stepping onto unstable surfaces.
Plant a trap crop (a passive perennial paradise)
This defense mechanism is a bit of a long-term project with a passive result
A trap crop, or food plot, is a patch of perennials that deer love to eat.
You’ll want to select a mix of:
- deer favorites and
- a mix of prolific growers to sustain their intake.
Our deer love to eat a variety. They eat a little bit of everything, every time.
So, if you can provide a diverse and prolific trap crop; deer are likely to stick around the trap crop for longer and become well-satiated before they move on to your garden.
Even if they don’t fully devastate the trap crop, they usually don’t, by the time they finish their browsing, they are more likely to cause only minimal damage to your garden (or fence) since they’ve had a fix of some good stuff in an uneasy environment.
What plants do deer love to eat?
In general, deer love to eat a variety of plants and all their parts including; leaves, grasses, flowers, woody green stems, nuts, and fruit.
Around a few living stumps is the best place to start a food plot for deer. The new growth on stumps is a prolific and filling food source next to a tasty variety of softer herbaceous perennials such as:
- Hostas (Plantain lilies)
And just about anything else especially when hungry. A good food plot will focus on a diverse choice of fast-growing plants with strong roots.
Strategize a deer-resistant hedge with plants
With an obvious and appetizing food plot over there, a deer-resistant hedge can prevent them from grazing your garden first.
Boxwoods are common because deer don’t favor them and if they do happen to graze, this shrub can grow back as if nothing happened. Your local nursery will provide other climate-appropriate hedge suggestions.
Well-known options include:
- Andromeda appropriate for zone 5b
- Cotoneaster appropriate for zones 3-9
- Forsythia appropriate for zones 4-7
For extra reinforcement or with non-flowering shrubs, include flowers along the hedge.
A few deer-resistant flowers deer never touch around here are:
- Bee Balm
Strong-scented flowers along your main hedge may help deter them from winter-grazing and doing damage to more sensitive hedge types.
For example, Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is a popular hedge choice but very attractive to white-tailed deer during winter. Once grazed, recovery is futile for this plant.
These trees can be protected with burlap over winter to avoid this damage, but what would the sense be in planting something that is less likely to serve your needs?
They do look good.
Make a safe homemade deer repellent
Making your own deer repellents eliminate the use of toxic chemicals produced commercially. Below is the best practical homemade deer-repellent recipe that isn’t entirely useless.
Blend one gallon of warm water, three tbsp of milk or yogurt, three tbsp of garlic powder or cloves crushed, 3 tbsp of cayenne pepper, and 2-3 eggs. Strain the concoction and fill your sprayer and it’s ready to use for frequent application.
While you’re at it, make a double batch; as ripened repellent is increasingly repulsive over time.
The smell reduces as it dries. Good for us, however still effective for the deer. If not the smell, the taste, and even the cayenne would cause most critters to move past our gardens.
Sprayed repellents are only effective with regular application as the weather washes it away.
If you’re desperate, even for a temporary solution, give this a try, report back in the comments how it went for you, and let us know how long you plan to continue.
This method is ideal for the time between a more permanent and sustainable protection method such as fencing.
It’s also ideal to be done sometimes, and not others. While you aren’t spraying repulsive smells, implement the other options. Keep things changing all the time! Don’t stick to one thing for too long.
Commercial chemical sprays are never a good answer as wildlife, environment, and personal safety, health, and longevity are a higher priority.
Construct a sturdy and tall enough fence
Permanent options are steel wire or plastic fencing as they physically prevent deer from access, and allow for visibility of the garden.
Deer can jump very high, especially the hungry motivated ones, whitetails, and the opportunity for a running start. Eight, even ten, feet high is what will be needed to be effective.
This is my go-to permanent strategy for keeping deer out of the garden without putting in active effort all the time. Our garden is surrounded by forest and whitetails.
Our main garden fence is only 7 feet and they haven’t jumped in—yet. We did make our wooden posts taller than necessary so we could always add some height to the fence if needed—that’ll change things up when we do!
For a 56′ by 80′ garden, a 6′ tall by 300′ roll of new steel wire for deer cost $350 CAD. (We raised the bordering soil by a foot, so we have a 7-foot height—if you do this, ensure no gaps are below your fence; deer will crawl under surprisingly small spaces of just 8 inches).
But the fencing itself isn’t your only expense, for more detail, see: What it Costs to Grow a Food Forest + Ways to Afford It
Use a double fence strategy
Many people have effective double fence designs which is why it’s even a thing.
Choosing a double fence over other options is another matter that depends on your preferences and budget.
Prevent the deer from jumping with a solid fence
A solid fence is a solid choice against deer as they can’t see what they’d be landing on.
But you won’t be seeing your garden either, unless you’re in it, and will cast some shade during some parts of the day on your plants—not always a bad thing.
Solid enclosure options could be vinyl fencing, metal, or wood, all with varied costs.
When deciding, look beyond the initial price and add up what maintenance might cost over the years.
Startle deer with a variety of tactics
Startling deer combines well with the temporary solution of applying scent-based repellents.
Noise, light, and motion will each startle and scare deer away on their own. You could choose one method, but combing the use of them all is more effective because you’ll have a wider diversity of options to work with.
I don’t mean using them all simultaneously; I mean cycling through them randomly.
Keeping deer on their toes, not knowing what to expect, is key. Use a diverse mix of noise, lights, and motion at different times.
What causes these tactics to not work anymore?
- If the deer experiences the same thing over and over and in the same spot—on your property—they’ll get used to it and no longer mind it.
- If no consequence happens from the deterring tactic then they’ll develop no reason to stay away as no harm has come as a result of the interruption.
The wireless deer fence (not sponsored) offers a product that I haven’t tried but looks promising because it does offer a consequence.
However, I would imagine that deer would learn not to interact with the device and resume interacting with your plants. If you try it, report back to let us know in the comments!
Use a motion-sensors to automate your options
Combining noise, light, and motion is a lot of manual work and monitoring that you won’t be around for—with motion sensors you can use the deer against themselves!
Solar-powered motion sensors come in many forms.
- For a “touch” sensory deterrent, use motion-activated sprinklers.
- For noise, you could try the ultrasonic systems, and later switch it up with a regular-sounding intruder alarm that has strobe lights, instead of an alarm, you could also find a motion sensor activation mountain-lion roar or dog bark.
- Throw in a statue of a lion while you’re at it!
- Regular lights pathway lights are nice for you, but exposure for night-time deer.
- Lights that create a full 360-degree shine on the garden you’re looking to protect can prevent nighttime banqueting.
Solar power will maintain the ongoing energy cost for free, and all you need to do is buy a product, put it outside, and move it around or turn it off once in a while.
For a budget of $300, you can have 6-8 sensory gadgets to cycle through. The more variety you have, the longer time they will be effective.
If you can’t afford everything now, start with a few and accept that you don’t need to be frustrated about old tactics failing, but to be proactive about changing it up and being a step ahead before they fail.
Cheap wind-powered options could be as simple as a lightweight silk scarf attached to a stake. It provides startling and unpredictable movement to the poor eyesight of a deer.
Changing it up could even mean switching the location of a gadget. A scarecrow with clothing on can be moved around to different areas of the garden; similar to human activity.
This article was originally published on foodforestliving.com. If it is now published on any other site, it was done without permission from the copyright owner.
Wrap individual plants with netting
Along with all the area deterrents, making it harder to access your prized plants is practical and protective.
You can use cheap mesh “invisible” netting or solid wire to wrap individual trees or shrubs.
The netting should be secured on sturdy stakes.
Alternatively, a six-foot height roll of galvanized wire is as high as most standing deer can reach, and jumping isn’t a concern.
I recommend sturdier options for situations where deer have tasted and shown love for a particular plant.
The cheapest alternative could be stakes with fishing line twirled around. They won’t see it but they will feel it, be confused, and move on, especially if other “dangers” are keeping them uneasy in the area.
This, of course, is best used in conjunction with other options presented in this section.
Brush your dog and scatter the fur
On the topic of changing it up, maybe spray repellents can take a back seat and physical repellents can run the show.
Some of the rhetoric out there is to use hair, possibly human or animal (dog Hair).
Yes, I’ve tried this and they didn’t eat the tomatoes with fur nearby! I don’t imagine this would work forever, though, like anything.
With a sheltie and tons of fur every week, I figured why not give it a go? If anything, the birds will have easy access to nesting material to work with.
It’s vital for your ecosystem to not only think about deterring deer but how what you use to deter deer will impact everything else.
- Hair is also a great compost ingredient, snail control, and slug trapper.
- Another beneficial way to protect the environment from the needless use of disruptive chemicals.
How might you use hair or fur other than loosely blowing away in the wind?
Keeping it bundled in porous pouches such as nylon stockings and hanging them around is a scent-deterring motion combination—a great sell for the possibility of danger.
Maybe this tactic is a great winter-time strategy for Christmas time—it’ll look a little less odd.
For ultimate plant protection against deer—be prepared to use multiple tactics on an ever-changing and random routine.
- Some gardeners with fences and using no other resources have reported the most problems with deer.
- Other gardeners using no fence (in the same area) report no issues at all because their space is constantly changing and never familiar.
Keep your garden unfamiliar every time the deer come for a visit.
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