dealing with deer in the gardenDeer are not often regarded as “pests”. More often than not, these graceful creatures are appreciated as one of the many gifts of nature. Rarely are we lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a doe and her fawn, or a stag with his majestic antlers on display.

You are most likely to spot deer in the garden or otherwise on your property in early morning hours close to sunrise, or early in the evening, at dusk. It is also common for deer to be active throughout the nighttime hours. Deer are not generally seen during the daytime, as this is when they seek shelter and rest.

Still, as beautiful as the deer are, they can tend to roam where they are no longer most welcome. Usually, this is the fault of the urban developer. Over the years humans have taken down forest after forest in favor of countless subdivisions and businesses. We have built neighborhoods on top of the deer’s homes, shoving them aside. We plant gardens with luscious grasses, fruits, and veggies that are just too tempting for the deer to resist. Over time, humankind will drive the deer even farther and farther away. For now, while they still join us – even if for a small snack – we appreciate their visits.

Most Common In…

  • Obviously, this is only an issue outdoors and if you’re experiencing it indoors, we’re really not sure what to tell you.
  • Most likely at dawn and dusk
  • Most common in areas surrounded by woods or neighborhoods that used to be forested lands.

Dealing with a Deer Problem

Deer can be a nuisance to just about any type of garden. Since they’re nocturnal creatures, you often won’t discover the damage done until the next morning. Unfortunately, they are notorious for eating through your entire garden rather quickly. From buds to stalks and everything in between, they enjoy consuming it all.

Beware of Ticks

Take care when going through gardens after deer have passed, as Lyme (one of several causes of Lyme Disease), is known to be transmitted via the “black-legged” or deer tick. Wearing long pants and long sleeves while in the garden, and a thorough inspection of the entire body and scalp by a partner, are measures that can help ensure no ticks have made their way onto the body. In the event of a tick bite, attempt to remove the tick before it becomes embedded for easiest removal.

However, if the tick does bury its head, remove gently by pinching the tick’s body with tweezers as close to the head (which may be completely under the skin) as possible. Rotate tick clockwise and very gently lift upward with steady, constant pressure. Be sure to remove the entire tick. If you are having difficulty getting the tick to let go, cover the tick with petroleum jelly or any kind of oil. The oily substance will render the tick unable to breathe and it will let go.

After removal, clean area with isopropyl alcohol or soap and water and wash hands thoroughly. Keep an eye on site of a tick bite. If a target-shaped rash begins to appear, or if a person begins to feel unwell at any point within the following month, seek medical treatment and request a blood test for Lyme Disease, which thankfully now has many treatments available. Also, remember to never crush a tick as they carry many additional diseases – instead dispose of the entire tick in a sealed trash bag away from the garden area and any pets or people.

While deer ticks are a major cause for worry, they are not the primary reason many of us mind having deer roam our garden, nor are they often as dangerous as feared. The majority are quite harmless, so while you should always be diligent, you can feel comfortable tending your garden after a deer visit with limited concern. Most gardeners are much more interested in determining how to prevent the deer from feasting on their delicious crops!

Damage Caused By Deer in the Garden

Even though the deer are beautiful, they are also hungry and love to chow down on all of our hard work! During spring and summer, their favorite snacks are softer plants and veggies, while in the fall they shift towards the crops with a higher fat and carbohydrate content. That said, there isn’t much that deer won’t eat. They like nuts and fruits best, due to their higher calorie content. They are also known to eat seeds from the bird feeder.

During the fall, in particular, keep an eye out for bucks rubbing the velvet off their antlers against the bark of your trees. This is done to prepare for sparring with other males for the right to mate but can damage the trunks of fruit trees or newly planted trees, especially. Wrap trunk with a length of hardware cloth and secure up to the tree’s first branches. This will not only protect the delicate tree from the deer but from bird and rodent damage as well. During winter the deer will return to the trees to feast on the bark, branches, lichens and any other edible findings. This can be prevented with a few rounds of deer fencing circled around the tree – we recommend a couple circles so that the deer cannot easily figure out how to leap over the fencing.

If you are having trouble identifying whether your plant damage is due to deer or another critter, there are a few key signs to look for. First of all, deer will usually pull entire plants out of the ground while munching on them. Many other pests chew on plants but leave the root and/or central stem system mostly intact. For trees or shrubs with hanging leaves and branches, deer tend to leave bite marks that appear like shredded leaves. Additionally, these bites are at a typical deer height, as opposed to most other garden animals like rabbits, which are much lower to the ground. Finally, you may find deer droppings on the ground, which is a sure sign of your culprit.

Types of Problems Caused:

  • Deer will eat nearly any plant from bud to stalk
    • Will also eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds
  • Deer ticks can carry disease
  • Bucks can damage tree trunks by rubbing their antlers against the bark in preparation to mate
    • Protect the trunk up to the first branch with hardware cloth
    • Circle trees with fencing in winter – deer will feast on bark, branches, etc.
  • Deer usually pull entire plant out of the ground when eating

Getting Rid of Deer in the Garden

The most obvious solution, when visited by deer, is putting up a fence that the deer are not capable of jumping over. If this is not possible, you may consider putting up an electric fence to deter the deer from entering your growing area.

Another option for you to use would be adding motion sensor lights around your garden or grow area. Due to deer being easily startled, this should keep them at bay. Although, depending upon how often the deer come by and activate the light, this method could potentially begin to negatively impact some plants’ flowering cycles. Just be sure to place the light far enough away that it does not confuse your plants.

Of course, if neither of the above works for you, a different way to prevent deer from continuing to feast on your garden is simply to disrupt their routine. Not only are deer herd animals, but they are also very much creatures that adhere to a specific pattern and a specific schedule. If you monitor the deer for a few days or weeks, determine when and where they enter your garden, and simply block that entry point at their designated time, the deer will likely find a new feeding place without you needing to purchase or do anything else.

Planning Ahead is Always Best

The best method for deer management is to plan for this from the very beginning when designing your garden. Surrounding the perimeter of your garden with a protective hedgerow – a line of relatively tall shrubbery which cannot be jumped over, and which is thick enough not to be eaten through. On the outside of the hedgerow plant “sacrificial plants” that you intend for the deer to eat. They will munch on these and then continue on their way, leaving the rest of your garden undisturbed.

If you have a few plants that you want to try planting elsewhere on your property or outside of this perimeter, try “hiding” them! Deer do not like to forage, so you can easily grow susceptible plants buried within fragrant or ornamental herbal greens growing close to your house or a shed. Another method of plant protection is to drape bird netting (or deer fencing) above specific plants. The deer will hit their noses on the netting before they reach the plants, providing excellent protection.

Finally, you can try utilizing a few scent deterrents to rid yourself of the deer visitors. There is any number of smells which may repel your particular deer, but a good place to start testing is with rotten eggs, fragrant soaps, garlic, wolf or coyote urine, or anything marked by the family dog. Deer are highly sensitive animals and any number of these changes in the environment could result in them leaving the area.

Methods for Removal:

  • Install a fence
    • Must be tall enough that the deer cannot jump over
    • Consider electric fence if necessary
  • Install motion-activated lighting
    • Will startle deer
    • Make sure lights are not aimed at flowering plants
  • Block entry to the garden
    • Disrupts deer’s pattern
  • Plant a protective hedgerow
    • Around the perimeter of your garden
    • Thick enough to protect the garden
    • Line the outside with “sacrificial plants”
  • Hide susceptible plants – deers do not like to forage
    • Under bird netting
    • Within ornamental or fragrant greens
  • Utilize scent deterrents
    • Rotten eggs
    • Fragrant soaps
    • Garlic
    • Wolf/coyote urine
    • Family dog

Deer are one of our favorite creatures and we just can’t imagine trying to get rid of them completely. One of our favorite sights is a family of deer early in the morning. With some proper planning, you can have the best of both worlds – a habitat that is good for the deer, and a garden that is still protecting your best crops.

Happy Gardening!