June 28, 2009 in Features

Oh, deer … get a taller fence

By The Spokesman-Review
SUSAN MULVIHILL Special to photo

To these deer, a 4-foot tall fence is just a speed bump. Special to
(Full-size photo)

No matter which gardening topics I lecture on, the most-asked question is “How do I deal with deer?”

I’ve had way more experience with this problem than I’d like, which means I have plenty of ideas to share.

With deer, you have three main strategies: create a physical barrier that will keep them out, repel them by offending their keen sense of smell, or scare them away.

Standard deer fences need to be 8 feet tall. Some folks buy tall fence posts and put up two sets of 4-foot field fence, one above the other.

A friend of mine has built a fence using 4-foot cattle panels with two horizontal wires running above them at heights of 6 and 8 feet.

Another option is to put up a solid fence that is about 6 feet tall. Deer don’t like to jump over them because they can’t see what’s on the other side.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, there are ways to take advantage of the few limitations deer seem to have.

In “Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden” (Storey Publishing, 199 pages, $14.95), author Rhonda Massingham Hart points out that “deer can jump incredibly high, and they can leap long distances.

“But what deer cannot do is a high jump and a broad jump at the same time. That gives the fence an advantage.”

How? The author describes several ways to do this. One technique involves putting up two parallel rows of 4- to 5-foot-tall fences that are spaced 4 to 5 feet apart.

Another option is to build a slanted fence. As Massingham Hart explains, “the fence should meet the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees and reach a total height of six feet with a spread of four feet.”

There are many ways to use odors to repel deer. Garden centers sell several types of deer repellents that work well. If you need to spray on and around edible crops, be sure to select one that is specifically labeled for that.

You can make a simple repellent by beating a dozen eggs and putting them into a clean sprayer along with a gallon of water. When you spray this mixture on plants you need to protect, it gives off a sulfur smell that deer don’t like.

Another problem is bucks rubbing their antlers on tree saplings in the fall. To solve this, we hang bars of fragrant deodorant soap, like Irish Spring, from a few of the tree branches.

There are several plants that usually repel deer, including most herbs, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, hellebore, iris, Russian sage, sedum and yarrow.

Deer-resistant shrubs include chokecherry, cotoneaster, golden currant, lilac, Oregon grape, red-twig dogwood, rhododendron, snowberry, and spirea. Some deer-safe trees include birch, false cypress, juniper, pine, spruce, sumac and willow.

To scare deer away from your garden, you can buy a ScareCrow sprinkler that contains a motion sensor. When deer walk near it, they get a sudden burst of cold water from the sprinkler.

Placing loose sheets of chicken wire on the ground around plants you’re trying to protect works well because deer don’t like to step on unstable surfaces. Having a dog in your yard also keeps deer away.

Even with all of these ways you can repel deer, it’s important to understand that they won’t necessarily work every time or in every garden.

If the deer near your neighborhood are really stressed by adverse conditions like drought, they tend to be bolder and less picky about what they eat.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at inthegarden@live.com.

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