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The Elusive Deer-Proof Garden

  • May 06, 2021

After employing everything short of fencing, only to suffer recurring losses, many gardeners wish they had built a barrier from the start.

“If the deer really want to get to your food source,” Ms. Titchenell said, “aside from a very tall exclusionary fence, all bets at protecting it are off.”

Fences can be of varying heights and materials, electrified (where local code allows) or not, and permanent or seasonal — to protect a vegetable garden, for instance. Some electric fences are less obtrusive and cheaper, as they don’t require heavy-duty fence posts. But they are not as effective as physical barriers like an eight-foot or higher woven-wire fence, or even heavy-duty polypropylene mesh reinforced with wire and flagged at intervals with streamers to alert the deer not to bound into it.

What if you don’t like a completely caged-in look but you want the height? A hybrid could be fashioned from a picket fence with eight-foot posts supporting each panel. Above the pickets, stretch heavy polypropylene (like that sold at Benner’s Gardens), reinforced with wire and flagged.

Around smaller garden areas, a solid stockade or mesh fence of perhaps five feet may suffice. Deer hesitate to jump into areas they cannot see into, or into confined areas where they fear they may be trapped.

Electric fences do not exclude animals, although they can modify behavior with negative reinforcement. But with any electric fence, the wires must be kept clear of vegetation or the current will be interrupted.

One electric fence that Ms. Titchenell recommends for low to moderate deer pressure is the peanut-butter fence, a simple design of one or two strands of 17-gauge wire — one at about 30 inches, or wires at about 10 to 12 and 30 to 36 — with the added enticement of a lure, plus flagging. Strips of aluminum foil dabbed with tempting peanut butter are crimped and strung or taped on the upper line. Some gardeners bait prefabricated rolls of electrified rope or net fencing this way (from sources like Premier 1). In either case, the deer get the message when contact is made with a nose or tongue.

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