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Kitchen Gardening

Damn You, My Deer

Even though the deer stepped silently into the yard and devoured a container rose bush all in one night, I remained optimistic for a bit longer.

  • Well, yeah, she's gorgeous. But she also just ate your spinach.   Photo by Skrewtape under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • This gentleman gives me pause, too. But I like having plants.   Photo by zapthedingbat under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • His eyes could melt icebergs. But let his mama teach him to forage in the wild so that he can survive.   Photo by jcantroot under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

It’s been so long since I’ve lived in the country that I had forgotten how deer can literally wreak compete garden destruction overnight. Our move to Hawk Hill in June has since jogged my memory. At our new house we have a fenced kitchen garden (fondly dubbed “the potager”) that’s — thankfully — strung with hot wire. This is the one refuge I have for some vegetable beds. I would like more as I have growing ideas that just won’t be squelched.

Even though the deer stepped silently into the yard and devoured a container rose bush all in one night, I remained optimistic for a bit longer. After all, it took them a week or so to notice the bush and we knew better anyhow. We hadn’t brought it to the enclosed potager garden yet. My attitude was “Serves us right. Our bad.” I was able to maintain this cavalier attitude because it was still early summer and there was plenty of wild cuisine for deer dinners.

That was then (early summer) this is now (fall). And winter looks grim.

In the fall, there’s a lot less groceries out there to occupy their little deer mouths…they’ve even taken to nibbling my Moss Rose (portulaca), a tender succulent. In early summer my citrus trees were beneath their discriminating palates. Come fall, they’ve now become a delicacy. I still find deer beautiful and sweet to watch, but in the air I can feel a quiet war coming on — and I’m not getting that winning feeling. So, I’ve begun asking my deer-seasoned neighbors.

Here’s some of the deer deterring solutions they offered:

  • Motion activated sprinklers — Some say this works great; others say the deer get used to it and eventually ignore them.
  • Keep a farm dog in the yard — This may work for some people. However, the deer around my area are exceptionally tenacious and will go after a dog especially if she has fawns.
  • Coyote or other predator urine placed around the property or garden perimeter — Yes, you can actually purchase this product. I’ve heard of this technique working. But if it rains or the area is watered, it’ll have to be applied again. Could get pricey.
  • Grow plant varieties that deer don’t usually enjoy such as lavender, barberry, daffodils, etc. — This works pretty darn well. But not necessarily for every season and there doesn’t seem to be many plants that work for sure in every area. Seems that the deer living in different zones have different preferences. Plus, this won’t work if you’d like to grow veggies.
  • Plant native plant species — Another decent plan. But see the comments above.
  • Spray a deer repellent onto treasured plants — I’ve heard of some success with these products. But once again, it has to be applied over and over, so if you have a lot of plants it’s not very cost effective.
  • Wrap the trunks of young trees with a plastic protectors too keep deer from stripping the bark before the tree has a chance to mature — I would do this for sure. It works as far as the trunks of the trees are concerned. The leaves, not so much.
  • Placing field fencing flat onto the ground in front of a garden area — The idea here is that the deer can’t stand the unstable the footing and won’t cross it. I’ve heard of this technique working and I’ve heard of it failing.
  • Hot wire or electric fencing strung a little higher than whatever fencing you have in place — This has worked very well for me so far. But I’ve been warned that if you don’t get the deer to feel the jolt from the very beginning, they’ll just sail over the fence never realizing that there’s a potential zap. People suggest placing peanut butter onto fabric strips so that the deer will take a nibble and understand right away.
  • 6′ tall fencing — Might work. Might not. Depends on how big of an area you’ve fenced. Deer don’t like to jump into tight areas, as they feel they may not be able to get out. But make no mistake — they can clear a 6′ fence easily.
  • 10′ tall fencing — Excellent fence height. This’ll keep the little beasties out.
  • Double-fencing at any height — I have it on good authority that you can place a 4′ fence surrounding a 5′ fence and it’s enough to keep the deer out. This is based on the fact that they tend to have trouble judging the space and the depth of such a situation. It seems to work.

I’m placing my bet on the tall fencing. Have you tried any of these techniques to keep deer from eating your plants down to the ground? Tell us what worked!

More about dealing with deer…

Video: What Deer Damage Looks Like

Video: Low-Cost Deer Defense

Deer-Proof Electric Fence

A Practical Program for Combatting Deer

Homemade Deer Repellent

Deer-Resistant Plants (from FineGardening.com’s Plant Guide)

15 Deer-Resistant Plants

Planting Plan: A Deer-Resistant Bed

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