A dog is one of the more effective ways to deter deer from your property, but if you're dog-less like me, you'll need to come up with a few more tricks to keep deer away from your garden! I like to divide my anti-deer tactics into three categories - scare tactics, scent and taste tactics, and physical barriers.
Since deer are basically big cowards, scare tactics are quite effective in the short term (yup, i said short term). Their nervousness can work in favor of the gardener, but deer are very adaptable to their environment, especially the bold, urban deer (darn them!), so scare tactics don't often remain effective for long.
Common scare tactics include using sound, water or floodlights. Loud sounds, such as those from a radio will often scare deer temporarily, but I personally (and I expect my neighbours do too!) find it a bit annoying - especially at night! There are devices, that may be less offensive than a blaring radio, which emit a high pitched warning sound when activated by a motion sensor. I haven't personally tried this, but it does have potential.
Old fashioned scare tactics include tin cans hung on ropes, plastic shopping bags strung up around the garden or deer tape - a product that produces a loud vibrating noise in the wind. Yet, if deer are hungry enough, they will eventually brave such tactics for your precious pole beans!
A few other scare tactics include bright motion sensor floodlights or sprinklers. I have tested a common sprinkler called the Scarecrow and found it worked quite well to scare off the deer within reach of its hard jet of water.. Ideal for small gardens, but not as effective in large plantings.
Scent and Taste Tactics
These two strategies use products that manipulate the smell and taste of your garden. Some garden centers even stock such glamorous products as 'predator urine'. Yep, I'm serious, you can actually buy the urine of coyotes, wolves or bobcats! Apparently, if a deer gets a whiff of a predator in the vicinity - courtesy of its urine - they should take off in search of a safer food source. Although I'm sure these can be effective in an ornamental garden, I don't feel so good about spraying coyote urine around my salad greens..
Other, perhaps less noxious scent and taste tactics include using strong aromas such as sheets of fabric softener, human hair (apparently male hair is best!), bloodmeal (an organic nitrogen fertilizer), mothballs (not so organic), fragrant soap (Irish Spring has worked for me when shredded and hung in pantyhose - not pretty, but temporarily effective), or garlic oil. You must place these fragrant items close to the plants so that the deer get a whiff when they go in for a bite.
For taste tactics, many gardeners create their own anti-deer brew - often a concoction of rotten eggs, garlic, hot pepper sauce, cayenne powder and so on. I'd agree that it would taste foul and repel deer from hosta, but I don't want it anywhere near my lettuce! You could possible spray it around the perimeter of your veggie garden, but I'd be worried about drift from the spray landing on my veggies, as well as the nasty scent anytime I wanted to work in or enjoy the garden!
Ok, here we go, these are the MOST EFFECTIVE methods for protecting your plants from deer. In his wonderful book, The Truth About Organic Garden Remedies by Jeff Gillman (again, a brilliant book!) he compares all the different types of deer repelling tactics and found that the physical barriers are best - even a single 4-foot tall strand of electric wire around the perimeter of the garden was extremely effective.
For me, I've found that by using a 7-foot by 100-foot deer netting as a garden fence, it keeps the deer out (most of the time - they've gotten over twice, but that was my bad planning - see below). It's stapled to 8 foot long, 2-inch x 2-inch posts that are spaced about 6 to 8-feet apart all around the garden. At the entrance, the netting is looped over two screws to keep the door secure, but allow me easy access.
In the past, I have taken advantage of the vertical support of the fence and have allowed some of my large gourds to climb the fence.. bad idea! As they matured into huge Speckled Swan gourds, the netting was progressively pulled lower and lower.. until the deer could jump the now 5 1/2 foot height of the fence! Oops!
The most effective fence is at least 8 feet high, as deer can sometimes jump 7 feet.. Some fences are also angled away from the garden, creating a wide and tall barrier that deer will not attempt to jump. As mentioned above, some gardeners add an electric wire, but I haven't done this as it's just too tempting for curious hands of the kids..
I'd love to hear any of your suggestions, so please comment if you have found other easy ways to keep deer out!