Deer: How to Keep Them Away From Your Garden

From using deer-resistant plants, to deer-repelling scents, there are a number of ways to keep them out of your garden.


Photo by: Image is courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Image is courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Deer are ravenous herbivores and eat primarily fruit, plants, nuts, leaves and grasses. Although timid around humans, they are quick to invade unattended gardens and orchards. Controlling deer is challenging and usually requires a variety of techniques.

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Two primary species of deer are native to North America. Mule deer and its sub-species, like the blacktail deer, are most common in the West. Its counterpart, the whitetail deer, is most prevalent in the East.

The deer population once topped fifty million, but upon the arrival of European settlers, the deer became an important part of frontier commerce as they were used for food, clothing and barter. Widespread hunting drove numbers as low as twenty million. Deer populations have stabilized, and they remain common wildlife throughout the United States. In suburban and rural areas, deer are a common sight and a common problem for growers.

Deer live an average of ten years and reproduce annually. Does enter heat in late fall and typically produce two fawns in spring. Deer have few natural predators and are extremely territorial. Once a deer community is established, an unmanaged population will continue to grow consistently and can severely impact both home and commercial crops.

Voracious herbivores, deer eat primarily fruit, plants, nuts, leaves and grasses. Although timid around humans, they are quick to invade unattended gardens and orchards. Because of their size, physical barriers are often ineffective. “Browse line” is a term that refers to the height at which vegetation has been stripped by feeding deer. When a deer population becomes excessive, vegetation in forested areas may be completely stripped as high as five to six feet with rampant crop losses and severe destruction of plant life. Controlling the impact of deer on gardens and landscapes is challenging and usually requires employing a variety of techniques.

Although deer are not especially discriminating eaters, there are some plants deer tend to avoid. Unappealing plants spaced along the outer edges of a garden plot can help keep deer out. Good deterrents include French marigolds, foxglove, crepe myrtle, mint and rosemary.

Scents can also be used to ward off invasive deer. Deer have a highly developed sense of smell, which serves them well for detecting approaching predators. This can be turned to an advantage by marking a territory with predator urine like that of coyotes, mountain lions or even humans. The smell of soap is also off-putting to deer and bars of strong-smelling soap hung around a garden plot can be effective in keeping deer away.

Fencing can be used to deter deer, especially electric fences, but they are likely to leap over fences less than eight feet tall. Deer are hesitant to jump over fences when they are unable to determine how far they must jump. Angling deer fencing out and away from the garden or stringing wire between tall posts over a shorter fence make it difficult for deer to gauge the clearance necessary.

Deer are notably skittish and the use of unexpected motion or sounds can be used to frighten them away. Windsocks or wind chimes are functional or the installation of a motion-sensing sprinkler, lights, or radio can be used to startle deer away. These devices should be occasionally repositioned as deer become acclimated to their presence.

When all other options have been exhausted, hunting may be employed to thin an overpopulated deer presence. Proceed with safety as first concern and consult laws in your area before hunting any animal.

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