Q: Several deer come every afternoon and munch on my yard. They’re now getting over the fence, into my garden and eating my tomato plants. Can you give me any advice on how to deter deer from eating all my plants?
A: There is a lot of information about deer-proofing your landscape by choosing plants that the deer won’t eat, or by using things that will scare them away. None of these strategies work for a vegetable garden and are hit or miss in the landscape.
The best way to keep deer out of your garden or yard is with an 8-foot fence. Many folks don’t like the look of a permanent fence or don’t have the means or ability to install such a tall fence. However, the fence doesn’t have to be permanent to be effective, and can be made from “invisible” deer netting and a few t-posts. This is black mesh netting that can be purchased in a roll and is easy to install. Just make sure that it is at least eight feet tall.
It sounds like you already have a fence around your garden, but it’s not tall enough if the deer are able to jump it. You can extend the height by tying or wiring a stake to the existing posts and then stringing smooth wire or netting around the top of the fence including the gate. Make sure to tie ribbon or other easily visible materials to the wire so that the deer can see it. This will deter them from trying to jump over.
Another way to make a shorter fence deer resistant is to put an electric fence a couple of feet out from the existing fence so it interferes with deer trying to jump over it. This can also be done by blocking the view into the garden’ deer don’t like to jump into an area they can’t see, so a 6-foot fence that they cannot see through such as a solid stockade style fence can also keep them out.
Installing a wide border of large irregularly-shaped rocks instead of a fence --- or as an addition to a shorter fence --- is another way to keep deer out of an area. This is because hooved animals don’t like to walk over unstable rocky areas or jump onto them. Creating a six- to eight-foot wide border of large rocks around an area will keep deer from entering. The rock bed needs to be wide enough to prevent the deer from leaping over it.
Cattle guards can also be useful for preventing deer from entering properties via unfenced driveways or roadways.
I know that many of these options can be labor intensive and expensive to install, so a couple of low-cost solutions are to fence individual plants in the yard that deer tend to eat. I’ve done this with my fruit trees. Each tree is surrounded by a cone of welded wire fencing held in place with a t-post.
You can also use the “invisible” deer netting or bird netting draped around or over tender plants.
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Another inexpensive way to deter deer is to use deer repellents. These are taste deterrents that are sprayed on plants, but they only work if you are consistent and apply them weekly. They’re not recommended for any plants that you might eat.
The Shasta Master Gardeners Program can be reached by phone at 242-2219 or email email@example.com. The gardener office is staffed by volunteers trained by the University of California to answer gardeners' questions using information based on scientific research.