Deer, Gracious Me! Nature’s Guide to Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden

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Deer Final

Photo used with permission.

The scene is always the same. A tired, overly tan, slightly muscular figure stands in a garden, holding — ever so gently — what remains of a green bean bush. The culprit is the elusive odocoileus virginianus, or more specifically, the deer.

Little can be as enraging as battling an aggressive herd of hungry deer. Their stealth and grit go unmatched. They can wipe out a hard-earned crop in a matter of minutes, in the middle of the night, while you slumber pleasantly in your bed.

However, with a few tricks, you can most definitely encourage these furry critters to dine elsewhere.

10 Tips to Keep Deer Out and Sanity In

1. Go Ruff. Match furry creature for furry creature and get yourself a good garden dog! I will note, however, that this will ONLY work if the dog is left loose at night, as well as possesses some guarding tendencies. I have personally seen a deer walk three feet from a husky-going-bonkers because that deer knew that dog couldn’t come any closer. I have also seen dogs that will use the one-eye-open technique of determining the safety of guests. A dog that is going to snooze through a visit is not going to be very helpful.

2. Go Stinky. Think predator urine. Think human urine. Think bars of soap. Think moth balls. Get creative, but make sure your garden has *some* form of undesirable smell lingering. Lovely thought, no? If you decide to go the potty route, you can purchase coyote and other predator urine at farm and garden stores, or if you have men-folk in your home, send them to the garden for some, ahem, relief. On the flip side, sprinkling soap shavings around your plants and hanging bars of soap or bags of moth balls from nearby trees have both contributed to deer-less gardens. The more offensive the smell, the better!

3. Go Plant-Crazy. Border or co-mingle plants in your garden that are on the “no” list for deer. It is important to note, however, that what deer will eat varies from animal to animal, as well as from area to area. There are so many factors that go into this. You can get an idea of the kinds of deterrent plants to try in this article.

4. Go Hairy. Human hair. Dog hair. Sasquatch hair. Get to know your hair dresser and sprinkle this stuff near your plants. If nothing else, hanging a bag of human hair from the trees in your yard will keep strangers thinking you’re strange. : )

5. Go Fencing.  All kinds of fencing have been used to repel deer. Electric fencing, white cord, wire fencing. A decent fence around a garden is — by far — one of the best techniques for protecting your plants. A good, completely deer proof fence will cost you, but if you have the funds to do it, this will definitely be the most low-maintenance option. Punch “deer proof fence” into any search engine and you will be bombarded with hundreds of plans and opinions. Essentially, you want to make sure your fence is two things: high and tight. Don’t underestimate the ability of a deer to hop right on over a 6-foot fence. A truly deer proof fence is going to be 8- to 10-feet high and tight all around. Your other option is to construct two fenced borders around your garden. One 4-foot high fence around the perimeter, and another fence of the same height, 4-feet away from the first fence. Deer can jump high, but they dislike (and will generally avoid) jumping into a small confined area.

6. Go Noisy. The very desperate have been known to hook up motion detected radios in their gardens. We have actually used this technique to keep racoons and skunks out of our chicken coop in previous years. It works alright, but there is a catch: change the station regularly. Deer and other furry creatures are startled by the sounds at first, but it doesn’t take them long to get used to the noise. We found success in varying between all genres of music and talk radio, switching the station every evening. After a few months, however, this stopped working and we had to break out the big guns, regardless.

7. Go Shiny.  I’m sure you’ve heard of people hanging cd’s and shiny ribbon in fruit trees to keep birds from stealing the harvest. This is the same concept. The flashing of cd’s and tinsel-type ribbon during the day is unsettling. At night you can use motion sensor lights to give the same effect. Again, the problem you run into here is that deer grow accustomed to regularities with ease. Without switching it up from time to time, your hard work will be for naught.

8. Go Generous. The traditional farmer’s adage went something like this: plant 1/3 of your crop for disease, 1/3 for critters, and 1/3 for your family. If you are participating in an inner struggle between befriending local game and keeping them out of your livelihood, I suggest you take this route. Plant enough to be okay with the one-third rule of thumb. Some families also have great success with planting cover crops near the garden that the deer actually enjoy! One friend plants white clover in a 10-foot border around her actual garden. The deer leave her plants alone and spend their time munching on one of their favorite treats instead!

9. Go Cooking. There are SO many deer-repellent recipes out there. You can find a recipe for natural deer-repellant here and here. Find tips on making your deer repellant concoction most effective here. Deer do not like spicy or rotten tastes. At least the deer I have asked in my lifetime have concurred. Egg wash and hot sauce spray have been used for decades in the world. It takes regular application, but many people have had success with this method.

10. Go, and go, and go again.  The most vital piece to the puzzle of protecting your plants is the most important! In our home of toddler and adolescent boys, we like to call this technique the “game change”. Short attention spans and sharp mental capacities alike call for this trick. You must change things up ever so often — generally once a week — in order to remain effective.

Dear Deer, Don’t Dance On My Plants!

What kinds of plants do you commonly lose to deer cravings?

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Comments

  1. says

    This was a fun read as deer are plentiful around here! We have tried all of these things over the last few years and still lost most of our bushes and flowering plants (with hosta and tomato plants topping the favourites list) until we discovered motion-censored water sprayers. They hook up to your hose and make a ticking noise and spray water when the deer walks in front of them. Cheaper than a fence and we haven’t lost a plant since we installed them. Our veggie garden is surrounded by the relatively inexpensive plastic “deer fencing” you can buy in rolls from the hardware store. We attach it to stakes around the perimeter and it is almost invisible to the eye, but it keeps the deer out. Now on their daily romp in our yard they stick to the lawn and stay away from the gardens! :)

    • says

      Andrea! I can’t believe I forgot the motion-censored sprinklers!! They most definitely a great deterrent. I am the kind of person who would forget about them and walk right into one without thinking. ;) Shower, anyone?

  2. says

    Go Mountain Lion: If the deer population explodes, you may find a few mountain lion families will move into your area to dine on venison. Your garden will flourish but you’ll have to keep your kids on a chain right around the house because lions like meat of all kinds.

    • says

      Amanda, we had a mountain lion killed in our driveway a few years back. Someone hit it with a truck. We haven’t seen any sign of them recently, but we absolutely carry our firearms when we head to the barn just in case! That is one animal I would much rather NOT come face to face with!! Eek!

  3. Carole says

    You are so funny! It is true, you can’t really keep a Deer away from something they want..I think the cover of yummy plants just for them is probably the best advice!!

    • says

      I am really liking the cover crop idea… or maybe I’m liking the planting something soft in my yard to lay on with a good book idea. Either way, I’m thinking clover. ;)

  4. Adam says

    Thanks for the article. Deer and other critters are pests. A good fence should keep deer out. I have been planning on letting the wild blackberry vines grow til they are to thick for the deer to go through or jump over. I would have a gate with blackberry vines growing over the top. It would feed me and doesn’t cost anything.

    • says

      We LOVE blackberries around here, Adam. That is a great idea! And with the amount of blackberry bushes we have around, I highly doubt they would choose a blackberry fence to munch on. They have acres and acres to keep them happy. :)

  5. Dan says

    Oh dear, you could always just shoot the deer and post new recipes with deer on this site and while your at it you could leave it’s head and antlers near your garden to scare off any future deer :D

  6. says

    It’s the crazy wild rabbits that are reeking havoc in our garden and yard. We’ve tried several different approaches, maybe one of these will work for rabbits too? Otherwise, we may resort to Dan’s idea above and start a new dinner craze – rabbit nuggets. LOL!

    • says

      Rabbit nuggets… I like it!! ;) I would definitely try a few of these! On a side note, when I read your comment, I sent a text to one of my dear friends in Arizona who has overcome – recently – a real rabbit problem. Here’s how the conversation went:

      Me: “Ernie – What did you find worked best for keeping wild rabbits out of your garden?!”

      Ernie: “A pellet gun, buttermilk, flour, seasonings, and hot oil.”

      Sounds like rabbit nuggets are now on the menu!! Hehe.

      • says

        That is SO funny! Sounds like I need a pellet gun, because it’s next to impossible to get rid of these rabbits. Our poor lawn looks like someone set fire to it! :(

  7. Christine says

    When I lived in Alaska, shavings of Irish Spring soap around the perimeter of a vegetable garden would keep moose feom munching on the goods… I wonder if it would work with deer, too.

    • says

      It will definitely repel them for a bit Christine – especially if they have other “pickings” nearby to keep them sustained. I know here in Oregon our only problem with soap shavings is that – even in the heat of summer – our mornings can be wet now and again. If we use things like soaps and sprays, we have to reapply regularly to keep their effectiveness up. :)

  8. says

    Thanks for this Laura. Our dear pooch passed away this spring and it has become readily apparent that despite being only 30 pounds, he was a VERY effective deer deterrent. We’ve had some luck this summer with smells, but I will have another furry friend by next spring, or I won’t bother. Too much heartache and not one tomato from 7 plants. I admit that I love watching deer, but I’d rather they ate my ornamentals. ;-)

      • says

        Yep, still nary a one, although we have found a new furry friend and as soon as he’s comfortable enough to go out back without me I think the deer part of our problem will disappear. Next year I’m doing netting to stop the squirrels. It’s a exurban critter conspiracy!

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