Deer have become a major pest of gardens throughout North America, from rural farms to urban parks. People and deer share habitat like never before. How can we keep our garden plants intact, yet live in peace with our hooved neighbors?
When trying to foil any pest or nuisance animal, learn about its habits, likes, and dislikes. It's no surprise why deer have become a problem. There are fewer predators than years ago, and many gardeners have moved out into country areas where deer have long roamed freely.
Deer in rural areas are often more timid of human presence and activity than those in suburban areas, so different control methods may be effective. Your county agricultural extension service or local wildlife management office can give you the most accurate information about deer activity in your area.
Assess your site. If your landscape is large, with many prized and widely spaced plantings, your choice of deterrents may differ from those of a gardener with only one or two areas susceptible to damage. A repellent that must be reapplied frequently may be more cost-effective for large landscapes, whereas a couple of small barrier fences could work fine for an area with small gardens or just a few fruit trees.
Vary your use of control options. When using repellent products and/or tools designed to scare wildlife, don't use any one method for too long, or the deer may catch on to your game. Mixing things up can keep them guessing for a longer while.
Work with your neighbors. If an entire block can get together to make the area unpleasant for deer, then they'll have more incentive to move elsewhere.
Four basic ways to prevent deer from damaging your garden
An electric fence is a good choice for garden beds. Bait the fence with peanut butter, and when the deer come in for their snack, they'll learn that your gardens are to be avoided. To avoid injuries, alert neighborhood children and owners of small pets about your electric fence.
Caging tree saplings and young shrubs is a good option where you have just a few to protect. Once trees are older, they'll be more resistant to browsing deer.
Fabric row covers supported with hoops can protect vegetable beds. "Invisible" mesh netting can be erected over ornamentals to allow viewing but not chewing.
A single strand of monofilament fish line strung across a deer path creates an invisible force that can confuse the creatures enough to detour them around your garden.
Plant wisely; fertilize judiciously. Choose plants best suited for your site. Stressed plants are more likely to be browsed. If you fertilize regularly for a lush look, you may attract deer and other pests to your garden, because excess nitrogen in plant tissues makes foliage more appetizing.
Use more than one method to protect your most valuable plants, and alter your strategy frequently to keep deer guessing.
Photography by USDA