Like most people who raise fruits and vegetables, you have a certain sense of pride beginning the moment you sow the seeds. You nurture the plants by adding compost to the soil, fertilizing the young plants, and watering at regular intervals so the plants do not become stressed. As the fruits and vegetables ripen, you begin to plan on what you will have for dinner, how many quarts you will can, or how many pounds you will be taking to market. But even in an urban setting, your crops can be at risk. In our neighborhood, that means long-legged ungulates….deer!
Our urban homestead is near the city center and just blocks from the hospital, but at least weekly, we have deer in our backyard. While some may see this as a bucolic experience or a ‘Kodak Moment’, I see red. These doe-eyed vermin are eating my crops! Case in point, the photo to the right shows a tender young branch with the end of it (and fruiting spur with apple) bitten cleanly off. Let me tell you, this did happen on just one branch. Every single branch that was in reach had this ‘pruning’ take place. In one evening, I lost 3/4 of my apple crop to one hungry deer.
The feeding doesn’t stop with apple trees. The deer also help themselves to tomato plants, corn, and ripe berries. While I have more vegetables and herbs, the deer satisfy themselves by cherry-picking their favorites from the yard. It is as though they are going through a buffet and only taking only the desserts.
Since we are in an urban setting with city ordinances, we cannot reach for the first thing that comes to mind had we chosen to live in the country; a gun. In our city, you cannot discharge a firearm within city limits and that includes: rifles, shotguns, handguns, and pellet guns. This leaves us with non-lethal options for protecting our produce.
Your choice of fencing can be a deterrent to deer. We have a 3 feet high, chain link fence (installed by previous owners) on the west side of our property where they always enter the yard. Yes, the deer can easily leap over a fence of this height. However we could install a privacy fence, meaning something that the deer can’t see through, such as a wooden fence (pickets must be very close together). Deer are reluctant to go into an area they can’t see. The east side of our property has a cedar privacy fence (installed by previous owners) and the deer do not enter from that side of the yard.
The height of the fence is also very important. An effective height is 8 feet. Most deer cannot clear a fence this tall. With a fence of this height, it does not have to be a privacy fence, woven wire will work. Just be sure the fence is sturdy enough that a deer is unable to knock it down.
If you are unable to find fencing that tall in your region, you still have options. You can go the ‘double fence’ route. A double fence is where you install two fences, about 4 feet apart. They can be shorter, such as 4 to 6 feet tall. Here height isn’t the deterrent, but the distance between the fencing is. A deer is unlikely to risk getting caught between the two fences.
Another option is commercial heavy-weight deer netting, which is a plastic mesh. This netting can be strung around or draped over your plants. You can also string it up as a vertical fence. This netting is also more attractive than using something like chicken wire. This type of netting is available online, just search for ‘deer netting’ and typically comes in 7′ x 100′ panels.
So gardeners, take heart, You can protect your garden crops from deer by using fencing and leaving the fire power for the shooting range.