I’ve been thinking a lot about deer lately. Not because they are majestic creatures (which they are) or because the walls of my recently purchased home was once covered with deer heads (which it was), but because of their ability to devastate a garden in a matter of hours. I’ve dealt with groundhogs in years past, and though they too can take out your garden in no time, they don’t have the overwhelming numbers of a herd of deer. The reason for my garden destruction ruminations is this season I’ll be establishing a whole new garden (or gardens as it were) out in the country. My anti-deer strategy at the old place near Kent was built over a decade of trial and error, but for the most part, the deer left me alone and I left them alone.
With this being the first season at my new home, there are no guarantees that my past strategies will work now, but I plan to utilize them while trying new ones. My overarching strategy is to plant vegetables deer are either repelled by or at least not interested in so I won’t have to fence in my entire yard (at least not yet). Garlic (and others in the Allium family like onions, leeks, and chives) are avoided by deer to the point that garlic is recommended as a repellent. At the old house, I placed “Deer Rabbit Repellent Garlic Clips” (this is the name you can look them up by) at the top of the five-foot galvanized welded wire fence which surrounded my garden. Any “smelly” plants, like herbs (such as mint, dill, oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, thyme, or cilantro), will also be bypassed by deer and other varmints, though I have read that deer will munch on basil or parsley. Deer will also stay away from veggies that are poisonous to them, like members of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants), rhubarb, cucumber leaves, and pawpaw trees (which I planted several of already). For the record, every part of the rhubarb plant is also poisonous to humans except for the stalks, and I wouldn’t recommend eating tomato or pepper leaves either. From my personal experience, the garlic, onions, leeks, chives, herbs, turnips, and rhubarb which have lived outside my fence’s protection have never been disturbed by critters. And I know I had deer munching at my fencing as the sugar maple saplings I let grow would get hit every year while the tomatoes that lived right next to them were rarely touched except by tomato hornworms.
I guess my point here is that while people complain they can’t garden because of deer pressure, it’s really just a matter of looking at what you can do instead of what you can’t. I do expect to have losses, as I would in any season, but my expectations for the coming spring, summer, and fall will be lowered. To stretch this point even farther, I am going to plant vegetables deer do like better (beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, carrots, and radishes) to see what, if anything, gets devoured. I’ll try to grow these close to the house including inside my newly established herb garden (hoping the herbs’ smell will keep the deer away). I know deer have no problem coming right up to a human abode as anyone with hostas knows, but I would like to see how brazen the deer in this neck of the woods are. Gardening, like everything else in life, is all about experimentation.
All this being said, I will establish another fenced garden like the one I had, which was built from.five-foot steel fencing with the aforementioned garlic clips clipped at the top of the fence about three feet apart. Conventional wisdom says that fencing needs to be at least eight foot tall (and/or electrified) as that’s how high deer can jump. I’m not using shorter fencing because it will necessarily be effective like before, but because I moved the fencing to the new place so that’s what I have for now. One fencing system I’ve seen work first hand is to use two fences running side-by-side with several feet between them (a double fence, if you would). The reason this works is that deer, being prey animals instead of predators like humans and dogs, have eyes on the sides of their heads, and thus, no depth-perception. No depth-perception means they don’t know how far to jump over two fences and so they won’t jump at all. Pretty sneaky, huh? My plan would be to have the outside fence removable so I could plant garlic in the no man’s land between the fences. Fencing (which I’ll grow tomatoes up like I have for ten seasons), garlic and/or chives, then more fencing with garlic clips. What’s not to like?
Obviously I’m not writing all this just for my sake, though it does help me keep my thoughts in one place (I’m nothing if not self-serving). If you are a beginning gardener or have tried vegetable gardening with little or no success because of deer, here’s my advice. Start slow and small. Plant garlic, herbs, turnips (if you are so inclined), and then maybe tomatoes and cucumbers, in that order. For the record, garlic can be planted anytime between mid-October and spring as long as the ground is not frozen. Herbs and turnips are fall or spring planted. Potatoes and onions can be planted as early as March while tomatoes and cucumbers are better planted in mid-to-late May or even June, so this order also makes sense from a seasonal point-of-view. So what if you want to grow other veggies then these I’ve listed? Go ahead and do what you want. It’s their funeral unless you want to listen to my “slow and small” advice. Losing one or two plants is WAY better than losing several rows.
It’s also quite possible I’m being delusional about growing veggies with more deer pressure than I’m used to. I’ve seen few gardens of any sort in my neighborhood plus the deer hunting platform left by my home’s previous owners tells me I’m up for quite the challenge. I will be documenting and publishing my efforts to see what works and what doesn’t so you can read later in the year instead of going through the same losses I will inevitably suffer.
By the way, if you are not familiar with veggie growing, here are some links to my blog to assist your vegetable growing efforts:
I also wrote a book - The Snarky Gardener’s Veggie Growing Guide:
Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, and permaculture practitioner from Portage County, Ohio. Professionally he’s a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his 1.6 acre farm. Don’s blog – thesnarkygardener.com – assists others with growing food in Northeastern Ohio and beyond. He is a regular contributor for aroundKent Magazine, a local, regional magazine highlighting the greatness of Kent, Ohio and the surrounding area. Don is the author of “The Snarky Gardener’s Veggie Growing Guide: Create Organic Abundance By Embracing Your Garden’s Wild Side“. He’s made multiple TV appearances on Fox 8’s New Day Cleveland. In 2015, Don received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland Ohio based Green Triangle.Please like him on Facebook as he likes to be liked. https://www.facebook.com/thesnarkygardener/Please contact the Snarky Gardener at email@example.com