Keep Deer Out of Your Garden: Dogs, Repellents, and Fences


You have planted all of your vegetables and things are starting to sprout. Before you know it, you have a garden chock full of healthful greens, squash plants running wild in your yard and pole beans trellising upward towards the sun. Your ornamental gardens are in full bloom as temperatures rise and daylight hours increase. Then one morning you step outside to check on the progress of all these gardening delights and find there has been a visitor or two munching on your plants. The tops to several plants are gone. Whole plants are missing. Even a few leaves have been eaten off of your maple tree, azalea bush or arborvitae. You’ve heard deer may be a problem, and now you've seen the havoc they can wreak. When it comes to keeping deer out of a garden, what’s a gardener to do?

Keeping deer away from your garden is not an easy task, not even in the city, as deer can be a problem in both urban and rural areas. But it's especially difficult if your property is surrounded by or adjacent to a wooded area or an open field. Even if you install fencing, it may not work. Many urban areas have seen an increase in deer populations due to the disappearance of deer’s natural habitat. Housing complexes, shopping centers and highways are replacing or dividing deer habitats. In rural areas, the increase in deer population has been partially attributed to hunting laws, a decrease in predators and changes in state or federal laws that protect certain wildlife. The increase in deer means that learning how to keep deer out of your garden is even more important now than in previous years.

Setting up a deer fence may seem like the best solution to keep deer out of the garden, but it’s not that simple. Deer fencing can be expensive and difficult to build. According to Dr. Leonard Perry at University of Vermont Extension, there are a variety of deer repellent recipes, landscaping ideas and deer fencing options available to keep deer out of the yard. However, there are also a variety of factors that might affect the success of these deterrents. The size of the deer population in a particular season, the availability of alternative food sources, the system chosen for keeping deer away and the location can all affect your success at keeping deer out of the garden. It may be best to alternate with different garden protection methods until you find what works in your particular location.

Before learning how to keep deer away from the garden, know that it’s best not to consider poison bait at all. Some people put out poisonous bait around their deer fence or in their garden. Poisonous deer repellents are considered inhumane and illegal in some areas. A poison bait placed out in the garden may indirectly provide poison to an unintended species of animal and end up moving its way easily up the food chain, killing other predators along the way. Plus, if you decide to go with one of the more popular deer deterrents for gardening—a dog—then you may end up harming your dog if he ingests the poisonous bait.  There are plenty of natural deer repellent products you can try using instead.

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Deer Repellents

Whether you have a deer fence or not, repellents can deter deer from coming around your garden. Repellents provide deer control by using either an odor, some type of motion or sound. They provide an invisible deer fence to protect the garden. Dr. Perry says that although new deer repellent spray products are introduced each year, only the most tried and true products are still being used. None of these deer repellents, however, are guaranteed to keep deer away from the garden.

Since deer have a keen sense of smell, try making your own deer repellent using scented soap, human hair or predator urine in and around the garden. To make your own deer repellent soap, take a scented bar of soap and cut it into quarters. Hang it in its original wrapper or a small cloth bag. Tie each bag to a stake and place them around the garden every 10 feet to create an invisible deer fence. The bags can also be hung on the fence posts surrounding the garden. A recipe for deer repellent such as this is not only easy, but it’s affordable as well. If you want a more organic deer repellent, human hair can be used instead of soap and can be hung in the same exact way. If you need help collecting enough hair for this natural deer repellent, be sure to get some hair from the floor the next time you are at a salon or barber.

Deer Damaged GardenMore recently, predator urine has been touted as the best deer repellent and can easily be purchased online or from some gardening outlets. With this product you can build a liquid fence of deer repellent. When making such a purchase, be sure to buy the urine of a predator common to your particular area. If you don’t, the deer may not be familiar enough with the scent for it to repel them. Keeping deer out of the garden with this method can take a lot of work because it must be reapplied often, such as after it has rained. Regarding odor deer repellents and fences, Dr. Perry notes, “It seems that those (repellents) that are most effective are ones containing blood or slaughterhouse wastes.” If you’re able to keep reapplying the product, you can successfully repel deer with predator urine or slaughterhouse wastes.

If used properly, noises may be a moderately effective wireless deer fence for the garden. Deer quickly become used to stationary objects and sounds, so you’ll need to get creative. If ultrasonic or similar sound emitters or radios are used, they should be rotated often. Human voices, such as all night talk radio stations, are a more effective electronic deer repellent than music and can be placed on timers to go on and off periodically. It helps if you move the radio around into different areas; deer are clever enough to know that you have tricked them if the radio is left in one area of the garden for too long.

Deer repellents and invisible deer fences such as these are often a more affordable option than building deer fencing around your garden. However, whether you use store-bought or homemade deer repellent, keep in mind that a specific deer repellent may work at one site and not another, depending on sources of food available to the local deer population and how desperate the deer have become.

Landscaping Ideas

Since deer rely on their fine sense of smell as an early warning system of approaching danger, try inter-planting aromatic plants or strongly scented herbs to create a natural looking fence that blends with nature yet can still keep deer out of the garden. To create a deer repellent using plants, Dr. Perry recommends planting a variety of “deer-resistant perennials.” Strongly scented herbs are good deer repellent plants. Some of these herbs that deer avoid may include Mints (Mentha), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Catmint (Nepeta), Oregano (Origanum) and Lavender (Lavandula). Another deer repellent plant is garlic. The culinary treat will yield long, tall, aromatic leaves to help keep deer out of garden areas in early spring.

If you plant springtime bulbs, choose Crown Imperial (Fritillaria), Daffodils (Narcissus) and Squills (Scilla) instead of the usual tulips and crocuses to make an invisible deer fence around your garden. Dahlias and Daylilies are other good plants for repelling deer. Rather than planting succulent stems or perennials such as Autumn Joy Sedum, New England Asters and Garden Phlox, try planting Yarrow (Achillea), Ornamental Chives (Allium), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and prickly-leafed Globe Thistle (Echinops Ritro).

Woody plants or thorny shrubs can also be used as a deterrent near property boundaries to create an invisible deer fence. Be sure to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service, local Master Gardener group or local nursery to get a full list of deer resistant plants for your area. Resistant plants will vary by region so make sure you figure out what specimens thrive in your location. You may even get some contradictory plant lists. Be sure to plant non-invasive native plants and plants that will survive in your zone. Be aware that if deer are under severe pressure and stress for food, even deer repellents and fences made of plants may not protect your garden.

In addition to building an invisible deer fence, you can make sure your yard is well manicured. If your yard gets easily overgrown with tall grass and brushy areas, be sure to keep such spots neatly mowed or brush-hogged so that deer do not bed down in these areas. Also try adding multiple levels within your landscape. According to Rhonda Massingham Hart in “Deerproofing Your Yard and Garden,” deer do not like climbing up and down or in and out of garden areas and they avoid getting into confined spaces. To keep deer out, add raised beds or sunken areas in various locations if you have the space available.

Dr. Perry also has particular advice on whether homemade scarecrows, garden sculptures or those ornamental solar glowing balls on a stick might deter deer from the garden. He says, “They probably won’t work. Remember that deer are very smart. Unless it startles them, like a motion light, those types of items would need to be moved around every few days.” Learning how to keep away deer can be tricky and you’ll have to outsmart the animals if you want to succeed.

Deer Fencing Options

Deer do not see well. This may be why a physical deterrent, such as a deer fence, may be the most effective way to keep deer out of the yard. Fences work best when deer can see them well so fence height should be set at 8 to 10 feet. However, installing a fence at that height may be cost prohibitive for some. If you can’t build to that height, then a less expensive option for fencing is to set up a double or triple strand electric fence that is 2 to 3 feet off the ground with posts that are 4 feet apart. Deer will often refuse to jump this type of electric fencing.

A mono-filament fishing line deer fence strung between 10-foot posts, while a successful method of garden protection for some, was discouraging when Dr. Perry tried it to keep deer out of his yard. When asked about this type of deer fencing Dr. Perry says, “In high traffic (deer) areas, the mono-filament line with streamers wasn't too effective for ‘my’ deer. They apparently did not see it, got tangled and ripped the deer fence down. White clothesline, although unattractive, seems to work. This year I will be using a black, very heavy-duty nylon cord with streamers, like the kind used for top wire support on plastic fencing.” The streamers are an important part of your fence because they create a bit of motion that deer can see.

Garden Dogs

If you find that odor repellents are not working and installing a deer fence is not within your means, a garden dog might be the solution. One of the most popular forms of deer deterrents for gardening is a dog. Deer and dogs are like oil and water; they don’t mix. Since dogs like to chase deer, deer are quite fearful of dogs. When choosing a dog for this purpose, make sure that the dog put to this task is a breed that will bark and not wander off, especially after getting a scent of wildlife. Certain dog breeds should also be considered because some are better deer deterrents than others and some breeds are more easily raised and trained to dissuade wildlife. For example, the Siberian husky and Malamute mix are successful at keeping wildlife away from crops on farmland and apple orchards. Border collies and other working dog breeds are also ranked as some of the best garden dogs.

If you feel the best form of deer deterrent for your particular garden is a dog, you may also need to consider installing invisible fencing and getting a radio collar for the dog. This will keep the garden dog within property lines. This has been done with garden dogs in larger areas such as orchards and nurseries and could be modified or adapted in residential areas to protect landscaping around the home.

Whether you decide to try a deer fence or other repellents, keeping deer out of the garden is not an easy task. Their natural instinct to survive may be stronger than ours to deter them. Don’t give up, but do remain flexible when learning how to keep deer out of the garden. Try getting a garden dog or fencing gardens from deer with homemade deer repellents, deer fences or deer repellent plants. Remember that some dogs, repellents and fences may work in some gardens and not others, so try different methods of keeping deer out of the garden until you find what works best for you. 

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