Defending Gardens from Deer

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

I’ll never be mistaken for a master gardener, and it really doesn’t bother me. Beyond borrowing the neighbor’s tiller and breaking up the ground, I lose interest in the garden even before the first spuds are planted. 

But I also fully understand the pride many gardeners take in their summer produce, as time is measured in weeks and months rather than hours. 

While gardeners toil in the soil in anticipation of garden fresh fare, from the first radish to the last tomato and everything in between, I hear grumblings of the damage caused by deer and other wild garden thieves.  

There are ways to minimize these problems. I won’t say cure, or end, however, as dealing with wildlife involves few guarantees. As you plan your garden, take several factors into account. 

First, if your goal is to protect your garden at all costs, an 8-foot-high, completely enclosed, mesh or chicken wire fence is the best deterrent. A less costly alternative is dividing your garden into smaller subplots with four-strand smooth-wire fence. Deer can easily jump over such a barrier, but they’re less likely to take the leap if they’ll wind up in a small enclosure. 
The list of homemade or commercial deer repellants is long and includes things like rotten eggs, human hair, soap-on-a-rope, blood meal and many others. Some even suggest planting desirable vegetables such as squash, beans and peas in with food deer dislike. 

Keep in mind, deer have plenty of time to investigate your garden, and these methods are seldom completely effective. 

Deer don’t just nibble on garden fodder. They eat young trees, flowers and fruit as well. One way to deter deer from eating things around your yard, besides putting up barriers, is to plant varieties that deer do not find desirable. 

It’s much easier and more efficient to plan as your garden is established and before the first greens emerge, instead of after the deer and other animals set their sights on the fruits of your labor. 
The following plant lists are divided into categories based on studies of deer preference to aide in reducing depredation on your trees, bushes and garden. But don’t forget, I’m not saying anything other than an exclusionary fence will be strongly effective.   

Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.

Featured Photo: A Good Defense. Solid fences help keep deer away from the plants of well-maintained gardens. NDG&F Photo.

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