One of my favorite movies is the “Secret Garden.” I love the part where young Mary asks her reclusive uncle for “a bit of earth.” Mary has found her aunt’s once beautiful garden untouched since her death years before. Young Mary plants bulbs and seeds to bring the garden back to life.
Mary’s garden has beautiful flowers and cute little animals that frolic here and there. What they don’t show you is what those cute little animals are eating. If you have ever had a garden you know what the “cute” deer and rabbits are eating. And believe me, those “cute” deer and rabbits have been well-fed in my backyard in the past.
Sometimes, it’s a struggle to grow a beautiful garden with all of the “cute” animals around. Here are a few “green” and simple ways to deter deer and rabbits from your garden.
Deterring Deer with Containers
Deer have a large appetite and will eat just about anything. After losing many just-ripened tomatoes to deer, I tried container gardening on my deck. Finally, I was able to get fresh tomatoes.
To do this you will need large containers. They will need full sun to get a good crop. Remember, deer have been known to climb up on decks. If your deer are persistent you may need gates. Second story decks are ideal for this type of deer deterrent.
Next be sure to give the tomatoes sufficient water. If it’s hot and little rain they will need watering every day. A good deep watering at the roots is best.
What type of container do you need?
There are many kinds of containers to choose from. Large plastic pots work well. You can also try hanging bags for tomatoes. These are sold at garden supply stores. Again, be sure the tomatoes get plenty of sunshine and water. Since hanging bags can get very heavy, be sure you have enough support to hang your bag. Hanging bags on an open deck might be problematic.
Many garden retailers also sell patio tomatoes. These tomatoes are grown to do well in pots. If you can’t find this type of tomato you can choose a fairly bushy tomato variety. Be sure it won’t need a lot of staking to hold it up.
I have tried commercial deer repellent. The repellent has the scent of a predator’s urine such as a fox or coyote. This is supposed to cause deer to avoid the area (thus your plants.) Unfortunately, the repellent odor is so strong it also repels humans!
Although this spray may be effective, after it rains you will have to reapply it. Depending on the size of your garden you could be investing in a lot of repellent. Other homemade repellents include soap on a rope. Although I have not tried this I have heard it’s effective. You should hang pieces of soap from tree branches that deer frequent. They don’t like the smell and will move on.
Other repellents such as moth balls can be toxic to the soil. I don’t recommend their use. Their effectiveness wears off after a rain as well.
If your garden area is home to a large deer population you could invest in plants that deer find distasteful. The tag on the plant from the nursery tells you if deer avoid that variety. However, a warning – it has been my experience deer will eat just about anything. Deer have devoured entire trees after a long winter with a lot of snowpack in our area. Deer definitely like arborvitae. However, if you had a mild winter and the deer were fed they will favor some plants over others.
The best defense against deer is fencing around a vegetable garden. If tall enough (6-8 feet tall), deer (probably) won’t jump the fence. My fence is wooden with no gaps for animals to squeeze through. One side is only four feet tall to allow enough sunlight in the garden for the vegetables. The rest of the fence is six feet tall. Deer could jump the four foot section, but have not so far.
Keeping deer away from perennials, shrubs, and trees has been most difficult in late winter or spring in the Northeast, USA. If food is scarce, the deer will help themselves to some of the nicest flowering plants. Some plants have to be surrounded by wire tall enough to keep deer out. Some deer will stand on hind legs to reach the branches.
Building a wooden structure wrapped in chicken wire can keep out rabbits as well. This wire can be purchased at a garden center or home improvement store. The structure should be anchored so the wind doesn’t blow it over. I saved a young Japanese maple from animals and then had a strong wind come through and tip the cage over. It snapped the tree in half.
You can also create an enclosure with metal stakes and wire. Position three or four stakes around the plant and wrap wire around the stakes. Be sure the wire is buried into the ground to keep both deer and rabbits from getting underneath.
You can also buy special netting to keep deer out. This allows sunshine in. It is tall to keep deer from jumping over also. This is fairly labor intensive to put up but worth the effort especially in a suburban setting. Measure the length you will need for your yard or garden and purchase accordingly. Again, check your garden center or home improvement store for supplies.
While we humans try to control every facet of our environment sometimes Mother Nature’s animals need to eat too. Generally speaking, one or a combination of these deterrents usually does the trick. Now we can live in (relative) harmony.