EFFECTIVE DEER FENCES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont
If you've tried various forms of sight, sound, taste, and touch repellents for deer, yet still have them feeding on your choice garden plants, perhaps it's time to consider a fence. Just because you have a fence doesn't mean it will be effective at keeping out deer. There are several facts you need to keep in mind when installing such a fence.
Height, or width, is probably the most important factor with deer
fences, especially if high deer pressure. White-tailed deer can
jump almost eight feet high, so effective upright fences against
them should be this high. Deer may be able to jump high, but not
both high and over a distance. So a fence may not be as high,
perhaps six feet, but slanted outward. The deer will try walking
under the fence and meet resistance. Such a slanted fence should
be at a 45-degree angle, and may consist of fencing with a few
strands of additional wire on top for extra height.
A variation can be used to convert a shorter upright fence.
Merely add additional height to posts, and string more fencing or
additional strands of wire between them. If the fence is about
five feet high, you also may add additions to the posts parallel
to the ground and on the outside of the fence. Add strands of
wire between these to achieve the same effect as a slanted fence.
If you have a standard fence about four or five feet high, you
can add a similar and additional one about four feet away. While
not high, with this width deer usually won’t like to try and clear
both and perhaps get caught between or on them.
Out of sight, out of mind, applies to deer with solid wooden
fences, or ones with overlapping slats they can't see through.
Such privacy fences are quite effective, as deer can't tell what
is on the other side. Even if they can smell what is on the other
side, and it's attractive to them, they can't be sure that danger
isn't lurking there as well.
One less expensive variation on the high fence is to use a
commercial heavy-weight deer netting if the deer pressure is low
to moderate. These products are quite popular for home gardens as
they are easier to work with than wire mesh, are less expensive,
and blend into the landscape. Another inexpensive solution is
stringing single strands of monofilament twine (such as deep sea
fishing twine) between posts, about six inches apart. If deer
pressure is really low, you might even get by with a single strand
about two feet off the ground. Deer bump into this, are surprised
at something they didn't or can't see, so may flee.
Keep in mind deer can't see well (poor depth perception), so many
advocate hanging streamers on the lower strands or netting so deer
can see them and don't just try running through. Some recommend
not putting such ribbon streamers on the top as this tells the
deer the fence height. Some have even suggested adding streamers
on extensions above the fence, to make deer think it is even
taller and so even harder to jump. Some advocate using white
streamers to mimic the white tail signal that deer use to warn of
There are many variations of electric fences. You may begin with
a single strand, about 30 inches off the ground. Some make this
more visible to deer by using bright flagging tape, or conductive
polytape. This also helps people avoid these fences by mistake.
Make this single strand even more effective and attractive to deer
by smearing peanut butter on aluminum foil. One taste won’t kill
deer, but it will surely discourage them from returning. Studies
have shown, though, that using odor repellents in combination with
an electric wire may be more effective than using the peanut
Single strands of electric wire may work if low populations, but
if more deer pressure you may need to add multiple strands. You
may add these in various configurations as for mesh and strand
fences, with the electric wires about a foot apart along the post
supports. With any electric fence, use them only if children
won’t have a chance of getting injured. Some residential areas
may even prohibit them, so check local ordinances first.
If you have just an isolated tree or few plants to protect,
consider building a cage around them. You may drive stakes into
the ground, stretching wire mesh or deer netting between them. Or
you can make a portable frame of scrap lumber or PVC pipe,
attaching netting to these. If portable, make sure such frames
are anchored so deer wont push them over. Make sure such mesh has
small openings, or is far enough from the plants, to keep deer
from reaching the plants through the mesh.
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