Oh Deer!

CC-BY 2.0

CC-BY 2.0

They’re so cute!  However, they’re also ready to destroy your garden.  Deer are a fact of life for all gardeners.  Dealing with them can be a challenge because they are very adaptable.  Here are some tricks to keep them on their toes and hopefully out of your garden.

The first step is to identify the problem.  Is it deer or some other furry critter like rabbits?  Prints are a definite sign.  Deer leave small, cloven hoof prints.  In softer soils their print might just look like deep cylindrical holes.  Next are trampled plants and torn leaves.  Deer don’t follow garden paths, and they don’t have front teeth, so they tend to tear leaves instead of cleanly chomping them off.  After munching on your garden, they’ll leave another sign.  If you see droppings that look like little, brown pebbles … well.

When it comes to keeping deer out with fences, there are a couple of considerations.  First, deer can jump 8-12 feet!  Unless you’re planning on building the Wall from Game of Thrones, a fence is only a barrier to keep out the least determined wildlings.  Double fences 3-4 feet apart seem to work well as a deterrent for deer, but they can be unsightly and require quite a bit of maintenance to keep the area between the fences tidy.  Electric fences work well … until the deer figure out they can just jump over it.

Public Domain

Public Domain

Next, there are scare tactics.  Lights, high-pitched noises, and other types of systems can be employed to scare unsuspecting deer.  However, they will eventually call your bluff.  “Lights on a motion sensor?  Now I have light too see what I’m eating.  Thanks human!”  Perhaps the best “scare tactic” is to unleash the hounds!  A dog (like a big one, not a Chihuahua) is the best way to keep deer out.  (Assuming they don’t become best friends.)

Finally, there are repellents.  These are chemicals and natural substances that either scare the deer or smell bad to them.  Some repellents contain predator urine like wolf urine.  (I wonder how they collect it.)  Other repellents contain ingredients that smell bad to deer.  Smells like rotten eggs, rosemary, and various mints smell as bad to deer as something like sewage would smell to us.  Could you imagine eating at a restaurant that smelled like a toilet?

These are just a few tips that you can use to persuade deer to go elsewhere.  That’s really the key – making your landscape less desirable to deer than your neighbors.  Let’s face it.  That’s really what we’re going for with all of these tips.  To use an analogy, consider being chased by a bear.  You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.