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How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden
Hillary T
How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden

How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden

I write this on the heals (rather, on the cloven hooves) of discovering deer crumbs (in my world that's half-eaten foliage) and hoof prints in the garden.

Finding the remnants of their hydrangea snacks was a reminder that doing nothing doesn't work.

The deer were there because I became careless with my methods of deterring and repelling them so they were free to wander around lazily eating random bushes.

On another page we've written about how to identify deer damage to your plants.

As a hydrangea grower, both in the nursery and in the garden, we have experimented with a few methods of deterring and repelling dear. I'm not going to opine about methods I've never tried, rather I'll stick to what I've tried that has proven successful.


Deterring Deer

Deterring deer with a barrier (fence) works best for us. Fencing requires more cash up front, but our fences are saving us from daily dear patrol and repelling methods.

We installed deer fence only around our nursery pens. Our 1-gallons are the fruit of our labor and they are our inventory, therefore we deemed it worth the effort and expense to put up 7' tall fencing to protect these plants. 

After asking around and researching a bit, we settled on the Tenax brand of plastic deer fence. It's not the frustrating deer netting that tangles on itself (which makes me want to run screaming) and latches onto every minuscule twig.

No no no, this is much, much better. It's a rigid plastic that comes in a giant roll. You'll need a pick-up truck (a small pick up is all you need) or a van to transport it. It's rigid, but it does need support so we drove those 6' tall T-post fencing stakes into the ground.

An hour later and a little out of breath, we had our first plant pen secured.

A year later, the fencing has sagged a little between the stakes or the top unsupported 1" has flopped over, but it seems to be holding up well in the sunlight and not degrading. I think the sunlight and heat made it a little elastic at some point.

It is fine though - the height is still there are it's keeping the deer out. I know because I see not only their hoof prints, but their entire un-frightened selves boldly grazing outside the pen when I make my daily rounds of checking on the plants. I yell to scare them off, but I'm not putting down "yelling" as a good deterring device.

The color of Tenax is perfect - it's black and blends into the background. It seems like it would be useful to run through the woods is you were wanting to fence off your entire property.

For high-visibility sites, like ornamental gardens or a vegetable garden, 6x6 posts and nice wire trimmed with more wood would be fitting. There must be a million ideas on Pinterest for creating a lovely, structural, deer-deterring fence that will also win you awards for design. I'm not out for awards. (Yet.)

Fencing is expensive, but peace-of-mind is worth it. Fencing is like an investment in sanity.

If you do it beautifully, it's also a design element. Sometimes it can be simply practical, that's okay. (It's how we're behaving, so of course I'm going to say it's okay.)

We used Tenax C. This picture is meant to show the scale of the Tenax C squares and the heft of the plastic. But, have you noticed that the iPhone isn't fabulous for handling depth of field? (Hello! Isn't it fantastical that I can write a blog post using pictures from my phone?!)

fencing for deterring deer


Repelling Deer

Repelling deer is the next category. I've read to revolve your methods so these grazers don't get used to your tricks.

So far, if we're consistent about it applying these products, Bobbex and Milorganite have worked to repel deer.

I've been alternating using them totally randomly. I have no patterned advice for an alternating schedule. Just get out there are use these products.

Bobbex works great. It stinks, but in a nice spicy-musky-skunky way. Did I just admit I like the smell of skunks? (Maybe.) 

Apply Bobbex after a rain. Be prepared for sticker shock. Bobbex is not cheap. If it's going to rain tomorrow, hold off applying this stuff. I watch the weather and wait - if it looks like it's not going to rain for a week, then I'm in the hydrangea patch frugally squirt some on each hydrangea. Price aside, Bobbex comes in a handy size and it really, really works.

picture of Bobbex deer repellant


Milorganite has been working well for us too.

It's a product made of "biosolids," the new term for sludge, which is the old term for human waste treated at a municipal facility. This is not for the squeamish, but it's a useful way to recycle our waste. (Poop.)

This is folk remedy passed around from gardener to gardener. Interestingly, Milorganite doesn't support claims to repelling dear. I don't know why they don't and I don't want to speculate (but, please don't sue me if any of the tips in this article don't work to protect your plants - these tips are my opinions). Wait, was that a disclaimer?

Again - apply after rain, but maybe only after heavy rain. No recommended rates have been published.

I don't use this product in autumn because it does contain some nitrogen and I shouldn't be fertilizing plants at this time. I do sometimes spread it on pathways in the fall, if I've been spooked by seeing deer in the woods or seeing signs of deer.

Dogs repel deer by chasing. An ambitious dog-like dog who loves a good chase is a fantastic asset to have around. 

I emphasize that the dog must behave like a dog and get up and do something about a trespassing deer. Some dogs are simply onlookers and will not give chase. That doesn't work. The dog, even a small dog who will never ever catch an athletic deer, must get up. Bark. Run. Be a dog.


Both Deterring & Repelling Deer

There are two electronic solutions we're experimenting with. Since they give deer a mild shock and thus train them to stay away and they are somewhat fence-like, I think of these two solutions as both deterring and repelling deer.

-We are experimenting with Wireless Deer Fencing. I believe I need to get a lot more and place them closer. Right now we have 6 posted on about 1 acre at the places deer show up the most office. We have an impression that they are working because since they've been posted, we haven't seen deer in those favorite spots of theirs!

-I am considering an electric fence - the kind that are knee-height and are affordable enough to encompass a large area. A friend has one and it's working for them. My day-dream is that we can get solar panels to power it. I'll let you know if/when my dream becomes a reality.


We hope these tips help you a bit in your gardening adventures.

Happy Deer Deterring,

Hillary & Mike


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