Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh Deer!

It's early morning as I write this and I'm sitting beside my big kitchen window.. Each morning, around this time, as I work and enjoy a nice hot tea, I can usually count on seeing at least three deer meandering around the fence of the veggie garden, looking for a little snack.

Deer are a very common complaint among gardeners, who know first-hand the destructive power a deer can inflict on a bean patch in just a few minutes. Or the tops of tomato plants. Or they will take a single bite out of every cucumber in the garden. Let's not forget the damage done by marauding hooves! Good times..

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.

Scare Tactics

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!

Physical Barriers

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!

Happy Gardening!


  1. Perhaps your local zoo(if you have one)will trade you some tiger or wolf poo for a donation. There is also a latex product that was mentioned on your show I think that is costly but very very effective and lasts a long time. pete

  2. Good idea Pete! The latex product works well with ornamentals.. but not so great on the salad greens! :)

  3. Nice list of deer-repelling tactics! I've been using a repellent called deer off. It works by targeting both the highly developed sense of smell and taste that deer have. I can't smell it once it dries.

  4. The predator urine idea makes me so sad because I Imagine wild animals locked in cages, with pee collecting trays under them, and no dignity or wildness in their miserable lives.

  5. Hi Lisa - too true! i don't use predator urine.. my neighbour used to, but in her case, the predator urine was her hubby! she would get him to go out and pee around their property because apparently male urine works best.. made for an interesting sight through the window! :)


Please feel free to leave comments. I welcome your tips, questions, thoughts and ideas (and suggestions for new veggies to grow!)