By Matt Gibson
Deer are absolutely majestic creatures. The first time you notice deer on your property, it probably brought a smile to your face. You may have even tried to feed them or get a picture with your guests. However, deer can very easily and very quickly wear out their welcome. Gardeners and homeowners with nice landscaping in deer country are all too familiar with the trail of destruction that deer leave behind them. Many a garden bed has been chewed apart and many a favorite hedge has been picked clean by these majestic misfits.
Deer don’t just decimate the vegetable garden either. After chewing their way through your veggie patch, they simply move on to the flower garden, devouring your tulips and pansies as well. Luckily, gardeners have had plenty of experience battling against wild deer for the right to enjoy their hard-earned harvests, and thankfully, those battles have led to a long list of successful methods for keeping deer out the garden.
In this article, we’ve gathered together the best pro tips and instructions for humane ways of keeping deer away from your bountiful garden harvests. Read on to learn everything you need to know to avoid sharing your crops with the local deer population in your area.
Create an Aromatic Barrier
Deer use their sense of smell heavily when feeding to help them locate food sources. Use this to your advantage by creating a barrier around the outer limits of your garden area. Plant pungent deer-deterrent plants along the barrier to keep deer from venturing inside.
Strong-scented herbs such as garlic, mint, chives, and lavender, not only deter the deer from crossing the barrier due to their loud smell, but such herbs also serve a double function, as they can mask, or even fully-cover the smell of crops that attract deer.
Minimize & Hide Deer-Favorites
Deer are always on the lookout for their favorite foods. One way to help avoid attracting deer, is to stop planting their favorites. If you have to keep planting certain crops that deer also love, try to cut down on the total amount of plants and hide their smells by surrounding them with pungent plants like garlic and chives, or helpful aromatic plants like lavender and marigold.
You might also want to plant deer-favorites near your home so that you can keep an eye on them better and chase off grazers. Deer-favorites include peas, beans, lettuces, clematis, hostas, pansies, roses, chrysanthemums, impatiens, azalea bushes, various berries, and English ivy.
Build An Invisible Fence
Fencing off your garden is an obvious, fool-proof method for keeping deer out, but fencing can be an expensive operation to undertake. A much cheaper alternative is to construct an invisible fence out of tall wooden stakes and fishing wire. Just place five foot high stakes (or fallen tree branches) on the perimeter of your garden and string fishing wire across them.
Start just a few inches from the ground and then move up about a foot for three more wraps for a total of four wires to complete the fence. The deer cannot see the fishing wire, so they will not attempt to jump over it. If you only have a small area of garden that you are worried about deer damage in, you could put an invisible fence only around the area in question.
Pairing to Protect At-Risk Crops
Plants with hairy, prickly, or thorny exteriors can also help to convince deer to graze in other areas. Use this to your advantage by planting rough and pointy plants all around the plants you are trying to protect. If deer have to endure prickly plants to get to the berries in your garden, the berries are a far less attractive option compared to berries growing elsewhere.
Grow Deer-Resistant Alternatives
Many plants have deer-resistant cultivars available. Cultivate these whenever possible instead of non-resistant varieties. Since deer love tulips, consider planting daffodils instead, as they will not entice deer to come to your garden beds, like the smell of tulips will. When selecting roses to plant, go for extra thorny varieties. For a comprehensive look at deer-resistant plants, check out this list from Rutgers University.
The tallow in most soaps will help deter deer, though you will want to avoid using soaps that contain coconut oil, as it can attract deer instead of deter them. Most bar soaps, however, such as Dove or Irish Spring will help deter deer. Use a grater to make soap shavings and sprinkle them around seedlings. Place small cubes of soap on skewers and place them just above budding plants to keep deer from eating the blossoms.
Make A Pungent Spray
There are plenty of deer repellant sprays on the market, but buying repellants can be pretty expensive. Make a smelly spray by putting a cup of milk, one egg, and a tablespoon of dish soap into a gallon jug and filling the rest up with water. You can also mix in some hot peppers for extra deterrent power. Spray your plants down with this pungent cologne at night time. It can also help deter several common garden pests. There are several other recipes for DIY deer deterrents online to choose from.
Whether using a DIY repellant spray or one bought from a garden center or nursery, be sure to switch up what you are using every now and then so that deer don’t grow accustomed to the smell over time.
Pump Up The Volume
Loud sounds and unexpected visual displays can scare off deer. String up some old scratched CD’s or some aluminum cans. The reflection of the sunlight off of the metal can spook deer, and the sound of the cans clanging together will send them scampering.
Playing a radio in the garden area is another effective deterrent technique. Some gardeners swear by playing talk radio to keep the deer away. Others claim that loud music works better. Either way, a little bit of noise or visual stimulation can go a long way towards ridding your garden of deer.
Another noisy element that you can add to your garden is wind chimes. Just as the deer finally gets past your barriers to settle in for a snack, a breeze blows through the garden and your wind chimes start clanging together, and the deer runs away in fear.
Deer are not very good at climbing. Creating multiple levels in your garden by stacking pallets, adding terraces, or sunken beds, can all work to your advantage to keep deer from entering your garden. Deer are very skittish, and will not step onto platforms that they are not familiar with, in fear that they will move, or cause them to fall down or stumble.
Deer tend to fear anything unfamiliar, so placing new items in your garden, especially if the items move, can help scare off deer. Adding new objects, such as scarecrows, wind spinners and other decorative items can all help keep deer away. Even if you don’t have any new objects to add, moving the decorative items around in your garden can also help spook deer away.
Keep tall grass trimmed, harvest your crops as soon as they are ready for picking, and don’t leave behind any fruit or plant debris when harvesting. Keeping your garden clean can help keep deer at a distance.
Fences for Defences
Fences might be too big for your budget, but if not, there’s no better way to keep out unwanted guests than tall sturdy fences.
If actual fences aren’t an option, you can actually grow your own natural fence line by planting large, sprawling, deer repellant hedges, such as short needle spruces, or boxwoods around the borders of your garden. It doesn’t need to be an impenetrable wall of hedges either. As long as it blocks the view of the garden, it could be all that is needed to keep deer away. If they can’t see your garden, they don’t know what they are missing.
Wrap Up Seedlings
You may also decide to physically keep deer from feasting on your plants by installing wraps, netting, or tree protectors around your most coveted plants. Seedlings can be protected with toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls. Place garden nets over fruits, bulbs, and bushes.
Motion activated sprinklers will send a deer running in the opposite direction, and could possibly scare them bad enough to keep them from coming back. Place the sprinklers in strategic locations where deer will likely set them off as they are getting close to your garden. The sudden noise and movement, not to mention the splash of water, will have them in a full speed sprint to the safety of the forest.
Don’t just pick a single deterrent method and run with it. Instead, build a plan of attack that includes several of the techniques discussed above, and use them in combination for a better chance of success in deterring deer. If you are still having trouble with deer after putting your plan of attack into motion, try switching it up and adding in a new deterrent or two to the plan. You may also decide to scrap the original combo and enact a new plan entirely.
Some of the methods we discussed are cheap, or even free to enact, like keeping the garden clean, or making a simple fishing line fence. Other methods on this list, such as installing fences or electronic repellent systems, can be quite expensive.
However, with the sheer amount of options that this list suggests, anyone should be able to afford to put a few of these methods into action to keep deer out of the garden. If your plan of attack is falling short, don’t give up, just keep adding additional tactics to the defense plan until you’re in the clear and free of deer.