Deterring Deer

December 4, 2016 lawanda Newspaper Columns

As we build homes further out into what was once countryside, we encroach on the homes of many species of wildlife, including deer.  With fewer undeveloped acres available to provide natural food, deer are forced to look at our residential landscapes for sustenance.  Many of our home landscapes and gardens are virtual deer buffets.

      There are many methods people use to discourage deer such as hanging bars of Irish Spring soap around the garden, spreading human hair, getting a dog to patrol the area, noise makers, sprinklers, flags or shiny objects, and pepper spray and other sprays you can make or buy.  Some of these methods actually work.  For a while.  But the thing is, deer aren’t stupid.  They are eventually going to find a way around, through or past every one of these. 

      The UW-Extension issues a publication entitled “Plants Not Favored by Deer” that lists approximately 275 trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, groundcovers and grasses.  However, the introductory paragraph states that hungry deer will eat almost anything!  They do steer away from fuzzy, bitter, thorny, coarse, bitter or aromatic plants.  Of course, they may need to sample the plants first to find out whether or not they fall into one of those categories. 

      The best solution for deterring deer is to use a physical barrier – a fence.  The entire garden needs to be enclosed.  Leave even a small gateway and deer will find it and walk right through.  A large garden needs an 8-foot fence.  Most deer won’t try jumping anything higher than a six foot fence, but some will, and there is a risk of a deer becoming entangled in the fence and injuring itself, wrecking the fence, and wrecking the garden inside in efforts to free itself.

      Deer don’t like to jump into an area where they don’t have enough space for a clear landing and to take a few running steps to get back out.  My own garden has only a five foot fence, but the garden is long and narrow.  So far no deer have entered.  Fingers crossed! 

      If an 8-foot fence seems like too much, there are other options.  You can try two 4- or 5-foot fences spaced three feet apart.  Another alternative is a 4-foot fence with a 2-foot chicken wire fence at the top, angled at 45° toward either the inside or outside.  Shorter fences may also work if tree branches or thorny shrubs prevent clear take-off or landing spots.

      Some recommendations say that the fence should extend partly underground so deer cannot crawl underneath.  My fence does not extend underground; perhaps the deer haven’t been hungry enough to try crawling under.  If deer pressure is particularly high in an area and there is little other food available, extending the fence underground may be necessary.

      If you can’t fence your entire garden, you can individually fence your most valuable plants.  Make sure the mesh in the fencing is small enough that deer can’t get their mouths through the openings. 

Gardening techniques and toolsPests/Weeds/Invasives


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