Keep Deer Out of Your Yard and Garden

The strawberry Thief
Robert Muckley / Getty Images

Seeing deer in the woods when you are hiking can be a beautiful sight (or if it has a 10-point rack, it can be a hunter's dream!). In your yard or neighborhood, a sculptured or plastic deer statue can be a pretty lawn ornament or decorate our roofs with holiday cheer. But, unless there are 10 reindeer hitched to a sleigh carrying a jolly old man with presents, deer on our property can cause more damage than beauty.

Deer have become pests of lawns and property because the human population's sprawl into forested areas has displaced them from their homes and results in more deer-human contact. Deer will eat a range of vegetable, fruit, and flowering plants such as tomato plants and dill, and they often eat every hosta, azalea, tulip, lily or pansy in the garden!

Additionally, deer can attract and spread deer ticks that can transmit Lyme Disease. And, on the road, deer can cause automobile accidents, impacting vehicles at the rate of 1.5 million times per year. Because of all this, deer in wooded habitats near cities or even outlying neighborhoods can be pests that need to be controlled.

Life Cycle of Deer

Adult deer, which generally weigh 100 to 150 pounds and live 5 to 10 years, breed in November and December. They will produce spotted fawns, the males of which will begin to grow "spikes" or small antlers at about six months of age.

As adults, the males then shed their antlers every December and January. With deer, size does seem to matter as the larger, because the more aggressive bucks are favored by the female does as their preferred breeding partners.

Deer are cud chewers with high nutrition needs, so they prefer soft, easily digestible plant leaves, which explains their fondness for flower and vegetable gardens.

The Deer's Senses

Deer have highly attuned senses:

  • Their ears are shaped to funnel in sounds; they also can rotate around, so their sense of hearing is highly acute. 
  • The moist nose of a deer can trap odor particles from hundreds of yards away.
  • Although deer have poor depth perception -- as both eyes cannot focus on the same object at the same time -- they can see light in the ultraviolet range . This is one of the reaons that deer tend to feed in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Deer Control

Fencing, foxglove and fiery peppers are effective deer deterrents:

  • Fencing should be at least 8 feet high and fabricated of black, polyethylene mesh. Supplies can be purchased at home or garden stores,. Some will even have ready-made fences or that simply need to be installed, or kits that include everything you need.
  • Your local County Extension agent's office can guide you toward deer-resistant plants that are appropriate to your area's growing conditions. Additionally, plants with fascinating names such as foxglove, yarrow, bishop's weed, dragon's head, spurge and buckthorn are some gardener favorites that aren't favored by deer.
  • Sprays of garlic, hot fiery peppers, rotten eggs and bloodmeal can be homemade or commercially prepared. By whatever source, it comes from, the spray must be re-applied to leaf surfaces after every rain for maximum deer deterrence.