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Deterring deer from eating your garden

As enjoyable as it is to see deer in the wild, finding them in your yard eating your plants is a different matter. Two weeks ago, I went out to find all of the leaves eaten off the sweet potato plants, the okra eaten down to a stub, and all of my green tomatoes gone. I later learned that a family of deer has been seen in a nearby wooded area and forages from time to time in our yards.

There are a number of tried-and-true deterrents for deer, which are working for the short term in our yard. Marking the yard with human male urine or other predator urine such as coyote usually deters the deer, at least until the next rain. Several organic garden centers or website sell coyote urine. (If you opt for human male urine, how you obtain and distribute the material is up to you.) Another option is to spread human hair around the yard. If you have a sizable yard, you may want to go to a local hairdresser and ask them to hold cuttings from the floor for you.

I turned to Jason Stone of Unity Farms for some long term ideas on how to keep deer at bay. Jason suggested a number of good ideas, but said that the key is to change deterrents frequently. "Even if something is working well now, go ahead and try the next thing on your list."

  • Music or Radio: After someone accidentally left the radio on in one of the greenhouses at Unity Farms, the deer avoided the area with the greenhouse. Jason noted that deer get used to noise if it is consistently left on, but they are frightened off by new noises.
  • Video tape around the plants: Jason credited one of his neighbors with this cost effective idea. Open an old video tape cartridge and wind the tape tightly around the plants. When the wind blows, the video tape makes an odd noise that spooks the deer.
  • Dogs: Apparently, the deer learn quickly if your dogs will go after them or just bark, and get accustomed quickly to the dog.
  • Moving or shiny artwork, wind chimes: The deer are afraid of new things, so frequently changing the artwork will make it more effective as a deterrent.

Other suggestions include:

  • Hanging slices of Irish Spring Soap in your garden. Apparently something in the fragrance bothers or confuses them.
  • This Old House website suggests planting strongly fragrant herbs to mask the smell of the tastier plants, or to intermingle prickly or fuzzy plants, which are less attractive to the deer. Another suggestion was to build a tall fence or hedge around the garden.

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