how to keep deer out of your garden
Illustration: Zohar Lazar
A few years ago, marketing executive and green thumb David Jensen of Clare, Michigan, moved outside the city limits so he could grow a bigger, better garden—only to watch it get devoured by deer that seemed to fear nothing. "You could go out and clap at them, and they would just look at you," says Jensen today. He was so inspired to control the critters that he quit his job and opened Deer Resistant Landscape Nursery, which specializes in plants and products that limit the extent of the damage.

Jensen's business is booming, thanks to the proliferation of hungry deer in American towns and suburbs. Their population is at an all-time high—"more now than when the Pilgrims landed," says Michael Conover, a professor of wildlife at Utah State University. He cites the decline of hunting as a major reason that deer are encroaching onto residential lots: "Deer have lost their fear of man, basically."

Handsome as they are, deer really don't belong around your house. Besides destroying expensive plantings, deer carry ticks that spread Lyme disease and cause more than a half-million auto collisions each year. Unfortunately, some of their favorite snacks are common landscape plants, including roses, tulips, hostas, many ornamental shrubs such as rhododendron and yew, to say nothing of leafy vegetable gardens.

But trying to fend off the interlopers can be just as frustrating as having Bambi and friends devour your hard-earned landscaping. Deer are intelligent and highly adaptable creatures; when they get hungry enough, they'll test the limits of just about any preventive measure. That's why experts recommend an "integrated management plan"—that is, using a variety of techniques.

"You have to keep them guessing," says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook, a veteran of the deer wars. "Eventually deer will get used to anything, so I always recommend rotating repellents and combining them with other tools like scare tactics and fencing."

Here is a look at the options.

Put in a barrier fence.
Among the most foolproof deterrents are physical barriers like fences. Deer are agile jumpers, so fences need to be high—typically about 8 feet. Black propylene deer fencing in a 2-inch net ($2 to $4 per foot) is virtually invisible in a wooded setting and relatively easy to install; metal sleeves are pounded into the ground every 15 feet, and thin metal posts are inserted in the sleeves. The netting is clipped to the posts, then stretched tight.

Of course, fencing your whole lot is not always feasible—or desirable—and motivated deer will find any opening, such as the driveway. But a fence can effectively enclose a vegetable or cutting garden near the house.

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