It’s open season at PPCG, and we’re the targets, our gardens laid out like a giant picnic spread for deer. Tomatoes, beans, peas, flowers, beets, lettuce, peppers, zucchini, chard…more tomatoes. Tomatoes are taking a tough hit. Peppers too.
This year seems especially bad for everyone, not just a select few. It’s our ninth season in our location. The way we’re sheltered on all sides by trees, tucked away from street traffic, we can probably count ourselves lucky the deer haven’t discovered us earlier.
But let’s figure out what we can to to make ourselves less vulnerable.
Things We Can’t Do
Let’s get the don’ts out of the way first. Gary did some asking around at Holly Hill Farm, where he said they rigged a simple electric fence powered by a car battery. Tempting, but not especially safe in a public park.
Years ago, Christine and John S. looked into installing a perimeter fence, but quickly put that idea aside when they realized how prohibitively expensive it would be for us. Effective deer fencing needs to be a good 8 feet tall.
Products such as Liquid Fence, cannot be used in our gardens because they are not organic (#3 ingredient is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate).
Similarly, don’t hang smelly bars of soap (another recommendation I’ve read on a number of websites), which will drip down into the soil.
Probably Our Best Option: Barriers
UMassAmherst notes that the best way to protect a garden is to install some kind of physical barrier to keep the deer away from the crops. Since we’ve already ruled out a perimeter fence, that leaves us with…
- Bird netting. It’s probably the cheapest option, found here at Home Depot for around $7.
I’ve used this at home to protect some plants from squirrels. It’s fiddly to use and easier to install if you have a second set of hands. One of our gardeners laid this product neatly over their entire plot, and it seems to be working out well. As plants grow, taller supports can be used to lift the netting (though you may need a bigger or second piece of netting).
Another one of our gardeners wrapped this product around the perimeter, and yet another draped it over specific plants she wanted to protect.
⇒⇒⇒If you decide to use this netting, please make sure it’s secured. It’s very difficult to see, it’s a tripping hazard, and does a very bad number on our mower.
- Plastic mesh fence. This product is made of a heavier, stiffer plastic material that can be wrapped around your garden and hooked onto/supported by U-posts. I installed this by myself and thought the hardest part was pounding in the stakes. Remember to plan how you are going to get in and out of the garden. Here, I left an opening near a walking path and secured it with a strip of “tomato velcro” for ease. In addition, because a deer could still lean into the garden to nibble on plants, I wove a tight piece of plastic-coated wire around the top.
So far it’s worked: no more crop damage and limited hassle getting myself in and out of the garden. Also, the mesh is unobtrusive enough that I don’t feel caged, but sturdy enough to function as a trellis for peas and pole beans.
The biggest downside is the cost, between $50-$60, plus the cost of the U-posts.
Another important factor to note: deer can easily jump over a fence that’s 4-ft high, the size I used. But also, they apparently (1) don’t like enclosed spaces and (2) like to have a clear landing space when they jump. Still, there’s no guarantee. From Joe’s raised bed next to mine, it’s an easy leap into my lettuces. Parkour dining. Maybe I’ll pound in a few wood stakes near the center of my plot to give them pause before they make the leap.
One other way to make either kind of barrier–the bird netting or the heavier fencing–more effective would be to add some kind of “flag” to help the deer see it, so they don’t blunder into it and get spooked, which would likely result in a lot of damage to structures, plants, and maybe even deer too. Worse than a few nibbles. (Ever seen the movie Tommy Boy? This. Scene.) (YouTube link)
Might Be Worth a Try: Deer Repellents
- Once a deer gets a taste of a crop, it might be difficult to apply any smelly/distasteful/frightening product that’s safe for you and strong enough to stop deer. Also, these types of products must be used very consistently. Are you willing to put in the effort and accept that they are more likely deterrents than guaranteed barriers?
- I know at least one organic grower who uses PlantSkydd, which is OMRI-listed. It’s primary ingredient is dried blood meal (cow and/or pig). For the best chance of success and your own safety, follow all directions carefully, and note that it must not be applied to “edible parts of fruit, vegetables, and other food crops.”
- Predator urine (Amazon link) might frighten off a deer. One source indicated this was the most effective offensive scent.
- Border your garden/targeted plants with herbs that deer don’t like, such as oregano, lavender, and rosemary.
- Human hair, collected and hung in the garden in nylon stockings might also frighten off a deer, but remember the deer in our area are likely quite used to humans.
- Motion deterrents, like pinwheels and dangling disposable pie pans or CDs are easily installed. I put these in the category of “it can’t hurt to try.”
- Ultrasonic noisemakers may be effective until a deer becomes accustomed to them; also, they may work best when paired with a visual/motion deterrent.
- Solar-powered predator lights (Amazon link), again, may be most effective when paired with other deterrents.
Another option is to choose to grow plants not favored by deer. I’ve had good luck with tomatillos, ground cherries, eggplant, herbs, onions, and some flowers such as dahlia, zinnia, cosmos, tickseed, snapdragons, and calendula. For more ideas, see here and here.
Maybe it’s obvious, but doing nothing is also a choice. It’s all right if you don’t want to go to the expense and hassle of installing barriers, etc.. Nothing in PPCG’s rules indicates that you have to take any measures against deer; we only require that you maintain your plot organically.
One Final Note
“For best control, remember some facts about deer. They are afraid of anything new, yet learn quickly and adapt to your strategies, so try several repellents and rotate them.”
Sources/ For More Info
Preventing Deer Damage from UMassAmherst
Keeping Deer Out of the Garden from Bonnie Plants
Deer Deterrents–Scents from U of Vermont Extension, Dept. of Plant and Soil Science
Nonlethal Deer Damage Abatement Techniques–Deterrents from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Deer Proof Gardens: 4 sure-fire ways to keep deer out of your gardens from Savvy Gardening
Deer-Resistant Plants from Old Farmer’s Almanac
Deer-Resistant Garden Vegetables from SFGate Home Guides
How to Build a Plastic Mesh Deer Exclusion Fence from Purdue Extension