Protecting Plants From Deer

How does one go about protecting plants from deer?  They will eat your fruit, plants, and garden produce before you get a chance to reach for them.

Oh Deer

Oh Deer

The whitetail deer is a nasty four-legged apple eating machine.  At my orchard in West Virginia, they show up about the time the first apple ripens.  They stick around until the last apple falls and then they decide that they liked the place so much the are going to stick around and eat the apple trees as well.

The deer are very determined adversaries.  I have tried numerous different ways to get them out and keep them out of the orchard.  Best case scenario, I scare them out of the yard for fifteen minutes.  I have come up with a few things that work in some smaller areas as well as some things I’ve seen online I’ll be trying next year.  But first, the basics of what drives the varmints and why I want them gone.

The whitetail deer is native to North, Central, and South Americas. The deer’s coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. They have a white underside to their tails.  They raise their tails when alarmed to warn other surrounding deer of the issue. White-tailed deer’s horizontally slit pupils allow for good night vision and color vision during the day.

Damage

Deer Damage

Deer Damage

Deer damage plants in two ways.  By eating the fruit and plants and by marking or scraping the bark off of small diameter trees.  Deer eat legumes, small trees, acorns, corn, fruit such as apples and they love young shoots.  They will also eat hay, grass, and clover.  The white-tailed deer is a ruminant, which means it has a four-chambered stomach.  This allows it to browse heavily and then go off elsewhere and digest later.

As if eating fruit and plants isn’t bad enough, they also tear up trees that they do not eat.  The bucks make rubs and scrapes on small diameter trees.  This is to either rub off the velvety covering on their antlers or to mark territory and tell the does that there is a male present.  Often times they will scrape all the way around a small tree removing the bark, which kills a small tree.  The picture titled Deer Damage shows a tree that was recently killed by a deer.  Even though it still has green leaves on top, it will not survive because the bark has been rubbed off all the way around.  I have another picture at the bottom of this post that shows a tree that was damaged, but will survive because the bark was not taken off all the way around.

Protecting Plants From Deer – Deterrents

Below are some deterrents for protecting plants from deer that I found online as well as some that I have tried myself.  Remember, deer are excellent fence-jumpers, and their fear of motion and sounds meant to scare them away is soon dulled.

  • Daffodils – it is said that deer do not like daffodils. I have not tried this yet, but will be including daffodils in some of my plant guilds specifically to keep deer away.
  • Fence shrub combination – If you have a fence and line shrubs up against that fence, you may keep the deer away. The thought is that deer can jump high, but not high and far.  So if you have a four-foot-high fence that has a shrub up against it and the shrub is four or five-foot-wide, the deer will not be able to jump over it.  This may not be practical for large acreage, but may work for a smaller property.
  • Protecting Plants From Deer - Fenced Tree

    Protecting Plants From Deer – Fenced Tree

    Enclosed area – In theory, deer do not like enclosed areas. The only problem I have with this is what constitutes a small area?  I have a garden that is 40×40 foot.  The deer stayed away from this garden all summer long.  But then they discovered that I had ripe pumpkins in the garden.  They were eating a whole pumpkin in a night.  So 40×40 foot is too big.

  • The picture titled “Fenced Tree” shows a shrub that is wrapped in a fence.  The deer can not cause damage to this tree, because they can not reach it.  This is a very effective way of keeping a tree alive, but it gets expensive if you have a lot of trees and shrubs.  I have a picture at the bottom of this post that shows my first rendition of this method using recycled parts.
  • 8-foot fence – It is said that an 8-foot high fence will keep them out. I have too much land and not enough budget to put an 8-foot fence around the farm.
  • electric fence – This did work for me this year. I used a single strand string type electric fence this year.  I basically made rows of the string so that if they jumped in, they would be bound to hit the fence at some point.  This seemed to work well.
  • Wrap with nets or tubes – I don’t know about the nets. I can see that a tube could keep deer away if the tube was high enough to protect the plant from rubs and scrapes.  I just bought 10 Tubex tubes from www.treeprotectionsupply.com/ and will give you a product review in the spring of 2016 on how well the products worked.
  • Deer repellents – most smell, need to be re-applied after a rain.
  • String a line of monofilament (fish string) around your garden or plants. – This supposedly confuses deer and drives them away.
  • This Old House posted the following: “Some gardeners swear by hanging fabric softener strips and/or wrapped bars of soap from trees, both of which can confuse a deer’s sense of smell. Others point to using hot pepper sprays, garlic and rotten egg mixtures, ammonia-soaked rags, and bags of hair and/or blood meal around the garden for the same reason. As with commercial repellents, the trick is to switch things up, learning by trial and error, for maximum efficiency.” (Source:www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20368362_20784353,00.html) I’m sorry. I do not want bars of soap hanging from a hundred apple trees or the smell of rotten egg mixture in my back yard.
  • It has been said that the scent of Dogs can drive deer away. I have found this not to be true.  I have had my dogs out playing in the orchard all morning.  I brought them in to feed them and by the time the dogs went back outside, there were deer in the orchard munching on apples.
  • Motion activated sprinklers – I have not tried this one yet, but it sounds promising. The thought is that a passing deer sets off the motion detector, which sets off the sprinkler.  The sprinkler is one of those old style sprinklers that makes a lot of noise.  The combination of sudden noise and getting hit with a stream of water scares them away.  I’ll be trying this one next year.  Hey – you are even watering the garden when the deer show up. 🙂 I’ve included an Amazon link below for the one I look to purchase.  Here is the Amazon link.

  • Installing motion lights has been suggested. This is a no go.  I have motion lights on my house facing the orchard and when the wind blows the branches of the trees, it often sets off the motion lights.  Sometimes I think I hear the deer thanking me for the extra light to find the apples on the ground.
  • An online source suggested turning a radio on to static noise between radio stations. This doesn’t sound like a long term solution to me.

Do you have any suggestions on Protecting Plants From Deer not listed above?  Please let me know about them by writing a comment below.

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More Damage

More Damage

Protecting Plants From Deer - First Fenced Tree

Protecting Plants From Deer – First Fenced Tree

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Commenting area

  1. I use a double fence at about two or three feet apart. The first fence can be two strands and the second fence a single strand about one foot higher than the highest strand on the outside fence. Deer are good at height perception, but not depth

    • Todd McCree March 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm · · Reply

      I now have a two-foot-high fence that is 2×4” to keep the ground hog out. Just above the 2’ fence I have one strand of electric fence with another strand 18” above that. Then I have another strand on T-posts about two foot inside of the first fence. I have had one deer get into the fenced area and it is obvious by the damage he caused to the wires that he made a hasty exit. This system has been up for over a year now around my food forest and works great.

  2. Thanks Mike. I’ll have to give this technique a try.

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