By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Has your backyard become the favorite neighborhood diner for hungry deer who nibble brazenly on your shrubs and perennials? Have you almost given up hope that you'll ever get rid of them?
You've tried taste and odor repellents, such as soaps and predator urines, with no luck. You've tried noise repellents, including ultrasonic emitters and radios, again to no avail. Perhaps you should now think about a deer fence.
Physical deterrents such as fences are the most effective way to keep deer away from your garden. But you can't use just any type of fence, and often if the deer populations are high, and the deer really hungry, even fences may not be totally effective.
Deer have a good sense of smell and hearing but quite poor eyesight, so make sure they can see your fence. Otherwise, they may try to jump right through it and could get injured. This is often the case with single strands of fishing line or black mesh netting.
Yes, monofilament fishing line may be strung between 10-foot posts, the strands about two feet apart. This may be one of the least expensive deer fences to construct. However, if this is your choice, be sure to tie streamers to the strands so the deer will see your fence. Use several colors, as deer do not see some colors very well.
A high wire fence (eight to 10 feet) is perhaps the best choice but also the most expensive. Less expensive is a double or triple strand electric fence. Place strands about two to three feet off the ground and about four feet apart. The deer may jump one fence but often refuse to, or can't, jump both.
Your best bet is a triple system, with the two strands as above and another in between but about five to six feet high. This forms a fairly impenetrable triangle, and while not too high for deer to jump, they can't clear all strands considering the width.
Some people have had good luck with only one strand of electric wire, baited with peanut butter. This latter system is perhaps the cheapest (as low as $2 per linear foot) of the more effective physical deterrents.
If you use guns or bow and arrows, be sure to follow all safety precautions, local ordinances, and state laws concerning hunting. Poison baits are not recommended since, in addition to being inhumane, are often illegal and easily work their way into the food chain killing predator animals as well.
Dogs to chase and bark at the deer may be another effective deterrent. Again, deer can be fairly smart. In one apple orchard in New York, a few deer would approach from one side of the orchard. When the dogs gave chase, the rest of the deer would enter from the opposite side of the orchard and begin feeding!
If a fence is not pleasing to your budget or sense of aesthetics, and dogs are not an option, you might consider just using perennials and shrubs the deer don't like to eat. Try peonies, irises, tiger lilies, and others recommended by the experts at your local nursery and garden center. But keep in mind that if deer are under severe pressure and stress for food, they will even sample these.
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