Protecting Vegetable Gardens from Deer

Beautiful and nervous, but often bold, deer will trample the vegetable garden and devour anything and everything from lettuce to azaleas.

The best solution for a vegetable garden is to fence it in. Unfortunately, deer are harder than most animals to fence out because the jump so well. See Fencing Out Animals for some tips.

Another way to keep them out is to cover individual crops with netting. This works where deer are particularly interested in one crop and visit it repeatedly.

Many people have luck with repellent materials. A wide variety of these are available in garden centers in deer country. Most of them are not appropriate for food, though, so be careful how you use them.

Repellents work one of two ways: by taste or by smell. Taste repellents are usually non-volatile, so last longer. Don’t use taste repellents on anything you plan to eat—you won’t like it, either.

Smell repellents are volatile, so must be replenished every couple of weeks. Many can be used in vegetetable gardens (read the label), but be careful not to get them on parts you will eat. They work best if the deer are not allowed to get used to any one repellant. Change repellents every couple of weeks for the best effect.

Here are some non-commercial repellents that have been used successfully:

  • Composted sewage sludge or blood meal, sold as soil amendment or fertilizer. Both are good for the soil and plants. Sprinkle them around the garden on the soil and replenish them after a rain or every few days.
  • Perfumed soap. Irish Spring is often used. Place bars of it near the plants you’d like to protect.
  • Sprays made with garlic, rotten meat or eggs, fish emulsion fertilizer, Tabasco sauce and red pepper have all been successfully used. Don’t get them on produce you will eat, but they can be used to protect parts of the plant that aren’t eaten.