The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to keep deer out of the garden

Guard dog

Upgrading one section of fence and plugging in the deer deterrent seems to have been sufficient to nip last month's deer incursion in the bud.  It's hard to say how much Lucy helps with these problems --- I do sometimes catch her on the game camera barking at the boundaries, but I've also seen deer in the yard with Lucy sound asleep and not noticing.

Deer carcass

One of these days I'll write an ebook on the topic, but for now, here's a rundown on the utility of various deer-deterrent techniques.  We've tried everything on this list, and I've organized your options from most to least effective.  I hope the summary helps those of you with high deer pressure.  (Just so you know how high our pressure is --- one neighbor killed 18 deer last fall, I suspect the other neighbor got at least half a dozen, I got 1, Lucy got or found 1, and there are still deer everywhere.)

  • Fences --- Moats, especially, are multi-purpose, relatively low-cost ways to keep deer out.  A taller, more solid fence would obviously work even better, but would cost many times more (and wouldn't double as a chicken pasture!).
  • Deer deterrents --- Mark's deer deterrents are my favorite of the ones I've used, although they wouldn't fly in suburbia.  You really need at least four of these deterrents per acre (probably more, and moved every few weeks) for total protection, but the deterrents gave us perhaps 75% protection even before we erected fences.  Other scare-based deterrents we've used have been worthless for large gardens.
  • Anti-deer coversSpot covers --- As a short-term fix while getting a more permanent solution in line, plastic trellis material over especially tasty beds (like strawberries) does work.  Similarly, I've had good luck using one fencepost and some trellis material to make a cage around young trees that are outside our perimeter.
  • Hunting --- This is really only effective if you're willing to kill deer out of season and to fire at any animals you see in your yard.  Deer are creatures of habit, and I suspect that when we have a repeated incursion, it's the same individuals coming in over and over, so killing that problem deer can make a difference.  You can get a kill permit for shooting deer in your garden out of season, but the permit we got only lasted a short time and didn't feel worth the hassle.
  • Dogs --- Their utility really depends on the dog.  As I mentioned above, Lucy is sweet, but probably only keeps deer out 15% of the time since she naps most nights and deer are most active in the dark.
  • Sprays, soap, etc. --- These are completely useless in our climate.  If you have one prize plant and don't live in rainy climate, this might work better for you, but you have to reapply after each rain on all plants you want protected.  Meanwhile, the local standbys of tying smelly bars of soap to a tree or pouring cheap cologne on the ground are completely worthless as well.

Why am I posting about keeping deer out of the garden at the beginning of February when nothing's growing?  This is the time to figure out your campaign for the year, because if a deer gets used to coming into your yard in the winter, it's going to be triply hard to keep it out in the summer.  That's why we ramp up our defenses immediately at the slightest incursion.  Good luck!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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is there any way you could put a motion detecter, like on security lights, on your deer deterent? that way it would not run all the time, and they get used to it, and start ignoreing the racket

you dont have to publish this comment

Comment by ron Mon Feb 3 21:27:55 2014

My neighbor gave me a motion-activated sprinkler to try out this year. My barber has suggested human hair (kind of grosses me out but I will try almost anything at this point). Any experience with those? I got some pelletized coyote urine on the cheap. Will try it out, but I think it would be at the bottom of your list.

I live in Portland, OR and the deer are rampant and voracious here. Fencing and Mark's deterrent are not feasible for me.

Comment by Nick Thu Feb 6 00:43:51 2014

Nick --- The motion activated sprinklers are supposed to be pretty effective. We haven't tried them because it would be expensive to protect such a large area (we'd need at least five of them, probably more). Of course, they don't work in the winter, which is a major deer time around here.

I should have mentioned hair. I found it equal to soap, which means useless. I haven't tried the various blood/urine sprays and pellets because I figure they're like other sprays --- they'd have to be applied after each rain, which would get expensive fast. I have heard the latter are more effective than hair, though.

Comment by anna Thu Feb 6 08:16:09 2014

This subject is the one thing that has puzzled me the most after looking at all your pictures for the past year. I kept saying, why is she so spread out? Why doesn't she have fences around one place instead of a bunch of little plots here and there? I just kept thinking, look she knows what she's doing. Stop trying to out-think this. But now you talk about deer problems. So I have to start worrying about you all over again...

Anyway, maybe it is time to get your beautiful doggy a younger companion. He's looking a little grey around the muzzle. A beefed up dog patrol might cut down the incursions even more.

By the way - LOVE your writings. I must have read your cover crop ebook about 5 times already. I can hardly wait to get the field radishes in the ground this fall, so they can rot and cause widespread panic amongst the neighbors.


Comment by Laura Tue Feb 18 00:38:04 2014

Have you ever tried Sepp Holzer's "bone sauce" recipe for deterring animals from trees?

Its deterrent effects are supposed to last for a long time (many years is claimed!), so it would likely be OK in your weather. If it really works, that is. It could be worth a go.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Wed Feb 26 17:08:50 2014
Darren --- I have to admit that when I read about his bone sauce, it struck me as so woo-woo (or at least biodynamic), I never even considered trying it. Maybe if I ever get really, really desperate.... :-)
Comment by anna Wed Feb 26 18:36:21 2014

Yeah, it sounded a bit woo woo to me too at first. But then people who've tried it say it smells really bad, so there's at least some chance it's got a basis in science :-).

Sepp has a few "out there" ideas, but generally his stuff is pretty practical.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Tue Mar 4 18:54:38 2014

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