|Written By Chelsea Hafer
Nothing can be more picturesque than the sight of a deer loping through a field – unless it’s on its way to the garden to chew your plants to the ground. That’s when Bambi turns into a destructive pest that you don’t want around.
It’s happening more and more as deer populations grow, and humans build homes in what was once rural deer habitat. These majestic creatures can wreak havoc on your carefully tended garden, leaving you feeling frustrated and disheartened. Fortunately, there are effective strategies to keep deer out of your garden and protect your plants.
Understanding Deer Habits and Appetite
Deer are opportunistic feeders that will eat almost any vegetation they come across, but their preferences can change with the seasons and their level of hunger. The average adult male deer can consume more than five pounds of food each day. To effectively deter deer from your garden, it's important to recognize their habits and preferences.
Early Intervention is Key! No matter what method you choose, early intervention is best. It’s much easier to deter deer before they've decided that your backyard is the best dining spot in town. Let’s explore five categories of methods you can use to keep deer out of your garden:
1. Use Plants to Keep Deer Out
- Deer-Resistant Plants: Deer have a keen sense of smell and will avoid anything that smells unpleasant to them. You can plant strong-smelling herbs and other plants around your garden to keep pests away. Lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, catmint, garlic, and chives are some of the aromatic plants that deer avoid because of their powerful smells.
- Fuzzy Foliage: Deer dislike the feel of fuzzy or hairy materials against their tongues. Before buying a plant for your garden, consider its texture. If you notice little hairs on the leaves, whether bristly or soft, it’s a good plant for deer-proof gardening. Lamb's Ear, Lady's Mantle, Siberian bugloss, flowering tobacco, and tuberous Begonias are some examples of plants with fuzzy foliage.
- Prickly Foliage: Most deer also don’t like plants that have spines on their leaves. This group includes plants like bear’s breeches, globe thistle, cardoon, and sea hollies.
- Plant Deer-Attracting Plants Closer: In the spring, deer may enter yards in search of tasty plants rich in protein and minerals. During this time, deer enjoy eating English ivy, peas, lettuce, strawberries, peaches, and many flowers like pansies and impatiens. You can deter them by planting these plants closer to your house and placing them where they can be seen from the windows. Deer are wary of approaching a human dwelling at such a close distance. This is not the most effective method though.
2. Use Physical Barriers
The next category includes any physical barriers you can use to keep these beautiful, but annoying, deer away. This method is best for those of you living in mountainous regions where deer frequent your garden. Remember, the mountains are their home and you are living on their turf.
- Fencing: Generally considered the best remedy but can be unsightly and expensive. The conventional deer-proof fence is eight feet high and features woven wire. You may be able to get away with a shorter fence as deer are opportunistic nibblers, and any barrier may be enough to dissuade them if there is alternative food in the area. Sometimes, something as simple as a plastic fence is enough to keep them out of your yard.
- Electric Fencing: This is a notch up from regular fencing since it adds an electrical shock to the barrier. Electric fencing has the same general advantages and disadvantages as traditional fencing. To make it more effective, some people smear peanut butter on aluminum foil attached to the fence. The peanut butter is a powerful lure, and once the deer’s nose makes contact, it won’t want to repeat the experience.
- Hedges: Creating a border and barrier with hedges can work to keep deer out. Deer are less likely to enter yards where they can't see through the hedges into the yard, as they may consider it too dangerous.
- Tree Netting: Tree wraps or netting are frequently used to keep deer from nibbling and rubbing their antlers against trees. To protect plants, fruit trees, and bulbs from deer, drape the net over them. The nets allow your plants to receive water and light while also protecting them.
3. Utilize Scare Tactics
Some harmless scare tactics here and there can make a bigger difference than you think. Here are some of our favorite methods to keep deer out:
- Motion Activated Sprinklers: Even deer don’t like the unexpected. The sudden noise, movement, and spray scare the animals away, teaching them to avoid the area in the future.
- Ultrasonic Devices: These devices emit noise that deer can't stand, effectively keeping them away.
- Dogs: Having a dog as a pet is a great way to deal with deer. Regardless of their size, their scent and bark are natural deer repellents.
4. Use Deer Repellents
Deer repellents are sprays, dusts, or substances applied to plants to deter deer. These products are designed to smell bad and taste worse, which makes them effective. However, their effectiveness depends on factors like the level of deer hunger and your local deer population's feeding pressure.
Common Deer Repellents Include:
- Putrified Eggs
- Dried Blood
It's essential to experiment and see what works best for the deer in your area, as effectiveness can vary from year to year.
5. Maintain Your Landscape
Finally, maintaining your yard is crucial. Don’t make your yard a comfy spot for visiting deer. Trim areas with a lot of plants to make them look less appealing as hiding places.
Deer prefer locations that provide rapid cover from predators. Therefore, removing this cover will deter deer from visiting your yard. Additionally, harvesting crops as early as possible can reduce the opportunity for deer to dine on your vegetables and fruit.
Dealing with deer in your garden can be challenging, but using a combination of these strategies can help you protect your plants and create a thriving, deer-resistant garden. Remember to be persistent and adapt your methods as needed, and you'll be able to enjoy your garden without unwanted furry guests.
|Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer
Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.