How to Keep Deer Away When a Garden Fence Isn’t Practical

Deer pose a significant threat to gardens, often becoming a hot topic among gardeners on social media as they can decimate a garden overnight. Instances of deer damaging vegetable patches rise as the year progresses, especially when native forages dry up or have been consumed since the spring rains.

While double fencing stands as the most effective long-term deer exclusion method, it is costly and aesthetically unpleasing. There are many types of deer fencing and the key lies in erecting a fence taller than eight feet or incorporating a second barrier fence, typically a strung wire, placed several feet beyond the taller fence. Deer can leap great distances and heights but not simultaneously, making the second fence (wire) a crucial deterrent. However, fencing may not always be feasible due to factors like cost, rental properties, garden layout, or existing fencing limitations.

When fencing is not an option, various tactics can be employed to combat deer in the garden. It’s important to note that many of these strategies have limited effectiveness as deer tend to adapt quickly. Thus, rotating tactics every few weeks is often necessary to maintain efficacy.

Deer-resistant plants

It might seem surprising, but deer actually have preferences when it comes to plants — some they’ll only consume when there’s no better option available. Incorporating deer-resistant plants into your garden can make it less appealing to deer looking for a meal.

This strategy can be particularly effective when the less desirable plants are positioned on the outer edges or perimeter of the yard, serving as a protective barrier for the more delectable offerings within. If feasible, a hedge of unappetizing plants could even act as a natural deterrent, akin to a fence.

However, it’s essential to remember that deer will resort to eating almost anything if they’re desperate for food. Garden feeding becomes particularly problematic during drought periods when wild food sources become scarce.

‘Trap’ crops

Distinguishing from baiting deer for hunting, this tactic involves offering a preferred food, like clover, to divert deer away from desired garden plants. Particularly beneficial for those with expansive properties, this approach allows for the separation of deer-friendly plants from those intended for human consumption.

Motion-activated sound and water

Various devices are on the market that emit sounds or spray jets of water upon detecting motion. While these can be costly and, like other tactics, deer may become accustomed to them over time, recent advancements in solar battery technology have made these devices more practical. Optimal outcomes are attained by periodically relocating the devices throughout the garden to maintain their effectiveness by keeping the element of surprise intact.

Urine and blood repellents

Deer heavily rely on their sense of smell, and products like blood and coyote urine emit scents associated with danger. Studies have demonstrated significant success with these products, particularly in dry climates where rain doesn’t immediately dilute the scent.

Regular application of these products according to the instructions is essential, as they typically have a noticeable odor (detectable by humans) for several days after application. Some products are directly applied to plants, while others are used to establish a “smell perimeter” around the garden. It’s important to carefully read and follow the instructions before applying these products.

Movement and sound

All these methods have some effectiveness in deterring deer, particularly when they are regularly rotated to maintain confusion for the deer.

  • Dogs.
  • Wind chimes.
  • Air dancers.
  • Wind socks.
  • Whirligigs. 

Dogs that remain outdoors at night can also act as a deterrent, although particularly hungry or breeding deer may challenge even a large dog. Some dog owners have utilized the hair collected from grooming their pets by placing hairballs in net bags hung from vulnerable plants, enhancing the perception of danger.

During drought periods, increasing hunger may drive more deer into managed areas as the season progresses. When installing a physical fence is not feasible, rotating tactics often yields better results than relying solely on one method to deter deer.


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