The infiltration of deer into home gardens and landscapes is a widespread problem. Deer cause damage to vegetables gardens, trees and ornamental shrubs. Once deer begin eating in your garden, it is more difficult to get rid of deer. This is because their eating patterns are habitual and they will return to the same spot repeatedly unless they encounter a deterrent that makes that spot less appealing.
Managing deer problems is not a quick fix and persistence is key for long-term success. However, not all hope is lost! Today I’m sharing proven tactics to get rid of deer in the garden and yard. We live near a metropark and, as a result, deer are a frequent problem in our yard, however, I have been able to grow a vegetable garden and edible landscape with success by being diligent about making our yard less pleasing to deer.
Get Rid of Deer
Are Deer the Cause of Your Damage?
Before trying to get rid of deer in your garden, first you must verify deer are causing the damage. Many animals will eat vegetables and destroy a garden and there are varying ways to attack the problem, depending on the exact pest. There are a few signs you can look for to determine if deer are eating your plants.
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What Does Deer Damage Look Like?
Foremost, deer do not have upper incisors. Instead they tear vegetation. Plants damaged by deer will have a jagged edge. Male deer also can damage trees by rubbing antlers against the trunk, scraping off bark. Keep in mind that deer are large animals so the height of damage, especially to trees, is typically higher. Small critters are more prone to attack a trunk at the base.
Home gardeners often notice deer damage in the spring on new, succulent growth. However, deer problems should be addressed year-round. As a general best practice, during the winter season, do not provide winter feed or salt for deer. It’s also important to put your garden to bed each fall and remove all unharvested fruits and vegetables at the end of the season. This will make the area less enticing for hungry deer.
Stop Deer Before the Growing Season
While you may not be thinking about how to get rid of deer in March, while it’s still winter, deer damage control is most effective if implemented before the growing season begins. In February and March, deer are likely entering your yard, creating their feeding patterns and coming back on a routine basis.
Personally, I have not seen any deer in my yard so far this year but I have noticed droppings and tracks. Keep in mind that just because you don’t see deer, it doesn’t mean they are not in your yard. Like many animals, deer can often be found looking for food at dusk and early dawn, or even middle of the night hours.
Methods to Get Rid of Deer
Now, let’s look at five tactics to get rid of deer. Depending on the severity of your deer problem, your level of ambition and where you live (city or country) – you may be able to implement one or more of these tactics. I recommend finding at least one tactic to try if you are having a deer problem.
If you do not do anything to deter deer from your yard and garden they will continue to cause destruction. In fact they will likely only leave your property once they have eaten everything, and then will return at a later date to see if you added any more edible plants!
1) Scare Tactics and Devices to Frighten Deer
- Loud noises or flashing lights can be used to scare deer off your property. These devices includes strobe lights, radios, propane gas exploders, gunfire or fireworks. Another method to scare deer is to use a motion-activated sprinkler that is triggered when deer enter the garden.
- Scare tactics and devices work best when the problem first begins, which is late winter to early spring. However, a disadvantage to this tactic is deer may retreat and return later. Noises and lights may disturb neighbors and certain methods may not be legal, depending on where you live.
2) Use of Contact and Area Repellants
- Contact repellants are applied directly to plants to make them taste bad when a deer takes a bite, and deter them from eating more. These mixtures often include essential oils, hot-sauce or soap. Sprays are best suited for use in vegetable gardens because they are expensive and have limitations on use. Examples of contact repellants include Liquid Fence, Plantskydd, Deer Stopper and I Must Garden. Use a sprayer to apply the liquid.
- Area repellants are placed near desirable plants to make the area around the plant smell bad, and therefore deter deer from trying the plant. Examples of area repellants include bags of human hair, Irish spring bar soap and predator urine granules such as Shake-Away. Toxicants and poisons may be illegal to use with deer. Check your state laws.
- Repellants are most effective on “less preferred plants,” however, success rates will vary. They often reduce damage, but do not get rid of deer completely. Sprays and liquids may need reapplication, especially after rainfall and when new growth occurs.
3) Shooting of Deer
- Shooting deer provides quick relief to get rid of deer, however, shooting deer may not be legal in your area. Check hunting regulations in your state before trying this tactic.
4) Selecting Plants Strategically
- Keep in mind that if a deer is hungry enough, no plant is completely “deer proof.” Many species, however, are “less preferred” by deer (including herbs) and can be planted to reduce chances of damage. I have another post about how to plant a beginner herb garden if herb gardening interests you.
- Plant more susceptible plants near the base of the home, in a fenced area or inside a “protective ring” of less preferred species. This will help to “hide” the tasty plant. I do this with my vegetable garden by planting a border of hardneck garlic around the beds. I order all of my garlic through Botanical Interests. Garlic starts at only $4 per bulb and is an affordable tactic that also allows you to enjoy use of homegrown garlic in your cooking.
5) Use of Fencing and Barriers
- This can include fencing of entire yard, a specific area of the yard or specific plants. For small areas burlap or chicken wire can be used to create a protective barrier around plants. Tubes of industrial vexar netting can be used around individual seedlings or on small trees. Fresh growth and newly established smaller trees are most at risk.
- For larger areas such as a large vegetable garden, or for an entire yard, a homeowner may wish to fence the entire area. Fencing should be seven to 10 feet tall because deer can easily jump over shorter fences. Fencing should also be low to the ground so deer cannot crawl under it.
- The use of fencing is only 100 percent proven way to get rid of deer. However, fencing is costly, can impact the aesthetics of your garden or yard; and height and size of fencing can be limited or local laws. For example, where I live fencing is limited to six feet in height.
Get Rid of Deer in Your Garden
Theses are the primary means to get rid of deer in the home garden and landscape. You may choose to try one tactic or several in conjunction. While it is difficult to stop deer entirely without a tall fence, all of these tactics can help reduce the presence in your yard and the amount of damage they cause.
If deer have to jump through a few hoops to reach your plants or your plants taste bad due to the application of a repellant – the deer will likely look for another yard to go have dinner in. As I mentioned, my focus is vegetable gardening and edible landscaping. I have been able to grow edibles while combatting deer. It takes advanced planning and persistence, but the effort is worth it I think.
Are deer a problem in your garden?
Sources: Controlling Deer Damage in Gardens, Prepared by Uma Ramakrishnan (2002), The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, W-5-2001; and Colorado State University Fact Sheet Preventing Deer Damage, Fact Sheet No. 520