Deer, Oh Dear! 3 Helpful Tips

Deer in the garden

Deer, oh dear! Ecologists have estimated a grim 3% of our land in the lower 48 states is considered “undisturbed” (Source: Frontiers Academic Journal). As a result, deer and human interaction will continue to increase due to habitat destruction, development, and increasing encroachment in nature. Gardening with deer is frustrating, takes patience, and can cost money. We’ll discuss some cost-saving tactics to deal with them.

When dealing with garden pests, it helps to understand the animal’s behavior and most importantly their weakness. Then you use a tactic to exploit the weakness. White-tailed deer are no exception. Based on scientific studies, their weakness is farsightedness. If deer were humans, they would need eye glasses. They would not be able to read the fine print in a newspaper.

1. Fencing

While deer’s peripheral vision is amazing (ability to see the slightest movements surrounding them), their ability to focus is below par. Skewing this focus effectively deters deer. And you do not have to spend top dollars for 10′ high deer fencing. My suggested options are economical with price ranges around $10 for roping, $20 for garden mesh rolls, and $30 for cow panels.

Using rope with an “X” pattern skews deer vision.

“X marks the spot” is a $10 economical way to deter deer by using rope attached to existing fence stakes as seen in the photograph. Using an “X” pattern confuses the deer’s focus. They will not jump into a space in which they may get trapped. Any brightly colored rope will work. Deer could easily jump my temporary 4′ high mesh fence around my vegetable patch but the “X” pattern has successfully deterred them. It may not aesthetically look great but it has worked.

Double fencing protects vegetables from deer. Outside perimeter: cow panel. Interior perimeter: garden trellis nylon netting.

The double fence confuses deer’s vision. I have used various economical combinations of cow panels, garden mesh, and nylon netting. All have worked. Deer will avoid jumping into enclosures with double perimeters. Garden meshes are usually green or black which make them invisible from a distance. This spooks deer especially when they bump their nose in it ($20/roll).

You can also fence prized plants individually versus an entire area. Ensure the meshing/fencing used is rigid. Please do not use bird netting. It is loose and deadly for wildlife. I made the mistake of using bird netting to cover a blueberry bush once. Luckily, I was able to save a beautiful black snake tangled in the netting. This experience could be a post all of its own in how my phobia for snakes changed to a high respect. Bottom line: Please do not use bird netting.

2. Deer-resistant plants

I can’t tell you how many times I have lost deer-resistant plants due to deer. What works for others doesn’t necessarily means it will work for you. It’s tricky to globally define deer appetite because it’s dependent on environment and the herd. Deer will eat anything if they are hungry. I have seen my deer-resistant plants such as bee balm, chives, salvia, and eggplants eaten by deer. There are plenty of articles that already list deer-resistant plants so I’m not wasting your time with that.

Euonymus americanus (hearts-a-bustin) is a native shrub often called “deer candy”.

Here’s my takeaway: Observe how and where deer browse/nibble on plants in your garden space. Then use that to your advantage. For example, my residential deer stay close to the edges where the lawn and woods meet. Deer are skittish and will normally travel a safe path along borders. But you may be saying .. ‘not my case, Allison!’ Ha! I hear you and understand the frustration to find beloved plants nibbled to the ground. I have strategically planted Euonymus americanus (hearts-a-bustin) along our lawn’s edge. This plant is often called “deer candy” for good reason, and fortunately it grows in abundance on our property. Deer will continue to nibble on my prized plants but frequency is now less. Guiding deer with their favorable plants farthest away from your favorite plants may be a compromise.

3. Repellents

I’ll be honest. I’m not recommending any repellents because I do not use them. As a wildlife and edible gardener, I limit introducing radically different things (such as chemicals in sprays and pesticides) to nature. There is an entire industry offering repellents in the forms of sprays and clip-ons deterrents for deer, rabbits, snakes, etc. There are a few reasons for all of these products: the desire for a perfect garden (no holes in leaves, picture perfect vegetables, deer/bugs are all perceived as bad, etc), repellents wash away after rains, and what works for others may not necessarily work for you. And this ties back to how deer behavior/appetite differs based on environment and the encompassing biodiversity. If I had to choose a repellent, I would ensure the repellent is OMRI certified, the ingredients are ‘readable’, and it works via a clip-on or hanging mechanism.

Closing Statements

This blog is an addendum to my Instagram Deer Proofing Post. Out of the 3 methods discussed, fencing ranks as #1 in my experience. It exploits the deer’s weakness of being farsighted. If deer are hungry then any plant is susceptible to damage. I’m not an advocate of repellents. As mentioned on my home page, I asked the question “What Would Mother Nature Do?”. This question guides how I garden. If I have a plant that is continuously being eaten by deer or other pests, then that’s a sign it’s not meant to be. I would prefer using my money and time on other plants versus dedicating it to one plant. There’s no right way on how one gardens, and I wanted to share my two cents regarding the compromises I have made with deer.

Published by all.i.plant

Horticulturist with an emphasis on improving biodiversity one yard at time. Organic vegetable and wildlife gardening.

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