Gardening

Dad’s Trick: How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden Or Yard (with video!)

Dad's Trick: How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden Or Yard (with video!) thumbnail
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Trying to figure out how to keep deer out of your garden? Thankfully, my clever dad figured out an incredibly simple trick that only costs a few dollars and has been 100% effective at keeping the deer out.


We’ve never quite figured out why, but deer do not come into our garden to graze despite the fact that:

  1. Our property backs up to the woods and we see deer walking through the woods frequently;
  2. Our yard is an edible landscape chock full of tasty greens and other goodies that deer love.

Maybe it’s because of the steep slope and terraced, rock walls. Maybe it’s because I, like any self-respecting man, regularly “scent” the area along the back of our property where the deer would enter.

More likely still is that there are other abundant food sources all around us that make an easier, safer target.

We’re the lucky ones.

So many people we know – even in urban areas – have “deer problems.” If you’ve spent a lot of time growing and tending a garden or landscape only to have it become another critter’s free salad bar, the resulting sentiments will likely be equal parts rage and heartbreak.

It’s enough to make a vegetarian crave venison.

Vegetable, venison stew anyone? Photo CC license credit Heath A on flickr. / dad's trick: how to keep deer out of your garden or yard

Vegetable venison stew anyone? – Photo CC BY 2.0 license credit Heath A on flickr.

What to do?

Lucky for you, I’m going to tell you exactly how to keep deer out of your garden – inexpensive and permanently. But I can’t take any credit for the discovery…

Dad And Deer War I

It just so happens that my father lives on the edge of a forested golf course.

Deer, as you may not know, are “edge animals.” They’re specifically adapted to occupy the edges of forests and grasslands/meadows. From evening to morning, they’ll forage in the open, plant-rich boundary zones, then settle back into the forest or thickets to rest during the day.

This means two things:

  1. a lush suburban yard with a nearby patch of forest is PERFECT deer habitat; and
  2. if you live in such a place, you’d better learn how to keep deer out of your garden or yard if you don’t want your plants to be eaten.

My dad’s landscape beds have long been full of gorgeous rose bushes and lilies. Much to his dismay, these plants were frequently being mowed down by deer at night.

Determined not to yield to defeat, he went to Lowes and Home Depot to find a fix.

Deer Night.jpg

“Yes, I’d like to order more of the day lilies please.” Image by Iwctoys at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The salespeople were quite happy to sell him products that claimed to be the cure-all for deer… Scented sprays, motion-triggered ultrasonic noise and light devices, etc.

He also tried putting fur from his dog on his most prized plants, hoping the smell of a ferocious predator (a frequently-groomed 20 pound King Charles spaniel) would scare away the pestiferous ruminants.

All these remedies had one thing in common: none of them worked.

Victory: Deer War II – How to keep deer out of your garden using “dad’s trick” 

Lesser men would have given in to despair, but dad invoked his inner-Winston Churchill and soldiered on.

He used the magic of the internet, he consulted farmers, golf course maintenance professionals, and anyone else who could possibly offer solutions to defeat the enemy.

It’s unclear who ultimately provided the idea for the secret weapon that would lead to victory (there was a lot of incoming intel to sort through), but whoever you are, you deserve a medal.

Whoever and wherever you are... thank you.

Whoever and wherever you are… thank you.

The secret weapon: fishing line. Yes, fishing line. 15-30 pound test, invisible fishing line to be exact which you may already have at home or you can buy now via Amazon.  

How Does Fishing Line Keep Deer Out Of Your Garden?

No, you’re not trying to hook and reel in a deer with the fishing line. You simply string the fishing line about 3 feet above the ground attached to stakes. The lines should be hung a few feet outside of the beds you want to protect, not right up against the plants. 

You can use metal or plastic stakes that blend into your garden, making the whole setup virtually invisible to the human eye. Start by inserting 48″ tall stakes about 8-12″ deep into the ground around the area you want to protect. Then tie your fishing line between the stakes about 3′ high. (Here are the 48″ garden stakes we use — they’re long-lasting and equally useful for other garden tasks as well.)

How the heck does fishing line keep a deer out of your garden or yard? You have to know a bit about how deer “work.”

Deer have better night vision than we do, but their eyes don’t operate quite the same as a human eye.

You have “predator eyes” on the front of your head. Your eyes give you a 120-degree view of what’s in front of you. They zoom in on a specific point and everything else around that point blurs.

Deer have “prey eyes” on the side of their heads that give them a 300-degree view, but they can only relatively clearly see (at the equivalent of 20/40 vision) the 60-degree view that overlaps between the input from both eyes.

EASTERN WHITETAIL DEER - DOE AND THREE FAWNS AT BACKYARD APPLE TREE.jpg

Image by TeaberryeagleOwn work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Simply put, deer are really good at spotting movement from relatively far away and from a very wide field of vision. However, when it comes to having clear, focused vision on something right in front of them, their eyes don’t cut it.

A deer’s eyes works great if a wolf or mountain lion is after them.

Unlike their eyesight, a deer’s sense of smell and hearing is far better than yours.

Now, back to the fishing line trick…

Basically, deer can not see the fishing line that’s right in front of them. They can smell your delicious garden/landscape plants and see a blurry version of that lush, green goodness.

They start to approach the meal you grew for them. There’s no sound, smell, or sight of danger anywhere around. They move in for the feast.

Then suddenly, something right in front of them that they hadn’t detected brushes against their fur. What the heck – run Bambi, run!

And that’s it.

Your garden plants have been saved and the memory of the frightening encounter is etched into the deer’s memory. You emerge from your house in the morning to a clear and glorious view of victory.

Now you know how to keep deer out of your garden or yard.

Be sure to thank my dad, and those brave men and women that came before him. Without their service, you might never have learned how to keep deer out of your garden.

Now go forth and conquer! 

Latest update: Does Irish Spring soap keep deer out of your garden? 

Another common claim we’ve heard is that Irish Spring (the popular soap) will keep deer out of a garden or yard. Supposedly, deer don’t like the smell so it keeps them away. Is this true or not? 

Our good friends who live down the street from us put Irish Spring soap to the test in their garden this year out of curiosity. When we say “put to the test” we mean they probably put out at least one bar of soap for every 3 square feet. It was certainly smelly enough to keep us out of their garden! 

The results? Deer ate every plant to the ground, repeatedly – even plants sitting inches from the soap.

The sweet potato vines in the background have been mowed to the ground by deer multiple times despite being surrounded by Irish Spring soap. Irish Spring was not an effective deer deterrent in this case.

The sweet potato vines in the background have been eaten to the ground by deer multiple times despite being surrounded by Irish Spring soap. Irish Spring was not an effective deer deterrent in this case.

So it would appear that Irish Spring soap was not effective at keeping deer out of their garden. However, they now have quite a bit of soap in their soil.  

Dad's trick to keep deer out of your yard and garden. #deer #diy #gardening #tyrantfarms

If you found Dad’s trick for controlling deer in your yard or garden helpful, please pin this image on Pinterest!

KIGI,

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34 Comments

  • Reply
    Frances L Gizzi
    September 30, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    I want to order the fishing line and I believe you stated it can be ordered from Amazon – is there a certain weight that is needed – I can’t wait to try this because my fingers are numb from spraying deer deterrent to no avail. thanks

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      September 30, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Frances! Sorry for any confusion. We provide the test/weight of the fishing line and a purchase link in the article. “15-30 pound test, invisible fishing line to be exact which you may already have at home or you can buy now via Amazon.” Purchase link to the Amazon product we recommended is here: https://amzn.to/3tnS1yZ. Sure hope this helps you with your deer problem!

  • Reply
    ann
    September 19, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    Some deer are smarter than others. We tried the fishing line and our deer figured it out after a while, going over or under it. (It might work if it was just in front of the bush or around the bush.) We installed deer netting, but 12 inches off the ground so our ducks could get thru….the deer belly crawled under and we caught them on camera! If I put a square of deer netting over a rose bush. they only eat what is above the netting, as eating plastic bugs them. (Me too!)

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      September 20, 2021 at 12:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Ann! Yes, for some deer, fishing line seems to work great. Others, not so much (or not for long), as your experience shows. Perhaps the success comes down to how many other easier food sources the deer have in the area + how many other deer there are competing for the same food sources. Anecdotally, in the case of the people we know who have had success with fishing line as a deer deterrent, there’s a lot of other food sources around + hunters and coyotes in the area that likely keep their populations in check.

      Another interesting tidbit: a neighbor down the street from us that we’re good friends with loaded her garden up with bars of Irish Spring soap because someone told her that would keep deer away. Well, the deer didn’t care a bit and have eaten every plant in her garden they like – even plants right next to bars of soap. Now, she’s got piles of half melted Irish Spring soap in her soil, and who knows what’s in that stuff.

  • Reply
    Shannon Gibson
    July 31, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    We are off to get fishing line! Our 3 acre yard has woods on 2 sides and we have deer coming and going, sometimes 7-8 at a time. To protect our very large blueberry/blackberry/grape/apple orchard, there is a 4 foot field fence (useless, I’ve seen them jump it from a standstill). My husband took bailing twine, attached dead 10 ft tree branches every 6 feet all around the orchard attached to the fence, then strung the twine to the sticks every foot above the fence height for 2 rows. Unless we forget to close the gate no deer go in there (or if the twine gets loose they can jump through the lines). Hubby actually DID forget to close the gate at apple blossom season and we lost all but one of the gravenstein apple flowers overnight, so instead of the 30 apples we had last year we have 1. I had learned some years back that anything that touches a deer’s chest is a barrier, and this is true. I cut down huge dead fur branches and stake them (sometimes sidewise through a fence, sometimes in the ground) and this also works very well, the pointed sticks they don’t like. This has saved the clematis. The wind is the problem there, it can blow the sticks down. We have roses all over the place and lilies too, our problem is Tall Phlox, which they decimate when it blooms. Right now I’m draping them with old sheets at night which seems to deter them too, but we are going to try the fishing line! Our neighbors can’t figure out what we see in doing all the WORK (gardening). Ha! THANKS FOR THIS ARTICLE AND THE BALD FACED HORNET/WASP information, we have those back in the woods and will wait until their season is done, then remove it. We did have to remove the hummingbird feeder from the deck, where we also sit with our kitties.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      August 1, 2021 at 12:23 pm

      Deer can drive a person who grows food a bit crazy. That single apple is going to taste amazing. Fingers crossed for your orchard in future years!

  • Reply
    Janet
    July 15, 2021 at 12:28 am

    I have the most beautiful Annabelle Hydrangeas on either side of my front porch. They get white dinner plate blossoms on them that are as much as 14 inches across. They have been there over 20 years and the deer never bothered them until the last 5 years. I have made my own deer stink to sprinkle on them and it works but you have to replenish it every time it rains. I found your post about 6 weeks ago and immediately wanted to try it. I put posts in up to 5ft because the plants get big. Then I ran fishing line between the 3 posts about every foot going up the stakes and I even ran one line of fishing line across the top between the posts. About a week later I could tell the deer had nibbled at the leaves sticking out past the fishing line but they have not come back since, so it must have spooked them. Hurray!!! Thank you so much for this post – I am telling all my gardening friends.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 16, 2021 at 12:52 pm

      Awesome! So glad to hear this trick worked to keep deer off your hydrangea. Fingers crossed for future years.

  • Reply
    Carleen
    July 8, 2021 at 8:27 am

    Do you have a trick for keeping rabbits away from plants?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 8, 2021 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Carleen! No tricks per se, but fencing is pretty much the only thing you can use to keep rabbits out of a garden bed. Predators tend to keep their populations in check. In urban areas, outdoor cats really decimate their populations by killing/eating the kits.

  • Reply
    Mark Knuth
    June 5, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    My grandma, Iowa farmgirl, taught me the monofilament line trick 45-50 years ago! I use it around my garden and around my arborvitaes! Works great

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 6, 2021 at 10:40 am

      Glad to hear that, thanks Mark! It seems like the fishing/monofilament line trick keeps deer away for some people and not for others. Worked like a charm for our next door neighbors, worked for my dad, works for many other people we’ve talked to. However, a few people still have deer problem despite using this trick. Not sure exactly why – maybe it’s specific to the exact environmental conditions, species of deer, or some combination. Since it’s so cheap and easy to do, it’s certainly worth a try for most people before they invest in more expensive solutions like electric fencing. Interesting that your grandma knew about this deer deterrent trick so long ago!

      • Reply
        Valora
        November 2, 2021 at 11:45 pm

        Interesting. Your statement about environmental conditions makes me wonder … does this work better in areas where farmers use hot wire fences? Maybe the deer who are ‘repelled’ by the fishing wire trick are deer who’ve experienced a hot wire zap, and when they brush against the fishing line they think it might be similar. Don’t know. Just hypothesizing!

        • Aaron von Frank
          November 3, 2021 at 7:48 am

          Certainly possible. Deer in our area probably don’t have a very large home range since there’s plenty of high quality forage around. As best as we know, there aren’t any live wires within a one mile range of our place, but there might be some we don’t know about that the deer have bumped into. Wish we had a better idea of why/when the fishing line trick works to keep deer out (or any other tricks that work), so it could be deployed as effectively as possible.

  • Reply
    Brooke
    April 19, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Greetings from your neighbor in Anderson SC. So excited to find this trick, here’s to hoping this will work to keep the stinkers off my hostas!

  • Reply
    Georgia
    March 14, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Can you put up a pic of how it looks please?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 15, 2021 at 7:36 am

      Hi Georgia! We’ll put up photos this week, but the design is very simple: 4′ tall standard garden stakes firmly put into the ground around the perimeter of whatever garden beds you’re trying to protect with fishing line tied about 3′ off the ground between each stake. In photos you pretty much won’t even be able to see them since the fishing line is basically invisible and the green garden stakes blend into the background, so we’ll probably have to use photoshop to add effects to clearly show the different elements.

  • Reply
    Suz
    March 14, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    I want to try this idea because I had deer totally destroy last years garden right when our fruit started coming in. SO sad! Anyway, I am really unsure how we are using the fishing line…is it used from stake to stake horizontally or another way. Is it possible to share some visuals? I see other people asking the same thing and I think that would be very helpful.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 15, 2021 at 7:33 am

      Sure, we’ll put up photos this week. It’s super simple: 4′ tall standard garden stakes firmly put into the ground around the perimeter of whatever garden beds you’re trying to protect with fishing line tied about 3′ off the ground between each stake.

  • Reply
    Lynette Hargrave
    March 9, 2021 at 11:18 am

    We have a large deer population in our neighborhood as well. We have tried the fishing line approach for the past 2 summers with our straw bale garden. We have 18 bales of straw. We used bamboo stakes that are at least 5 feet long, and we put them in the ground around the outside of the garden about 3 feet away from the bales. We then wrap the fishing line around the bamboo stakes at three different levels of height. We also attach some of those tiny wind chimes that you can find at the Dollar Store to each side of the garden fishing line. (4 for a square shaped garden) You could use empty cans that you connect with fishing line, etc. it just needs to be something that makes a sound when they bump into the fishing line while trying to reach your yummy garden plants! We do not make a door, we just have an area that it is easy for us to manipulate the fishing wire so that we can get in to take care of the garden. This method worked great the first summer that we tried it. The second summer the smaller deer figured out how to go under the fishing wire and get into the garden a couple of times. Make sure that your bottom row of fishing line is not too high. We are trying again this season with a fence and bamboo/fishing line combination.

  • Reply
    Sandi
    February 6, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Aaron. I too am not certain how to arrange the fishing line. I have a hay bale garden so my plants are 14″ off the ground to begin with. How would you suggest arranging the fishing line in this scenario. I have 16 bales, two lines of 8 bales each running parallel to each other. I appreciate your help. I just planted today and I don’t want the few deer we have to come munch on all the goodness not meant for them!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 6, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      Hi Sandi! Not sure how much space you have around your hay bale garden or what your exact setup is. If you have plenty of space, you might want to hang your deer deterring fishing line on stakes 5-10′ outside of the garden. Hang it 3′ above the ground with pretty good tension on the line between each stake. If you don’t have much space and you need to hang the line atop your hay bales, I’d still hang it 3′ above ground or 2′ above your hay bales as far to the exterior of your bales as space allows for. Option 3: combine the first two setups so as to have two lines of defense (pun somewhat intended). Hope this helps and best of luck keeping deer out of your garden!

  • Reply
    carey
    June 12, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Please forgive the basic-ness of this question, but how exactly do you “install” the fishing line? Run it between stakes like a clear fishing line fence? tie them like a tassel so they blow in the wind? I’m at my wits end with the deer again this year. We have a 36′ picket fence they jump over to get to our vegetable garden and last night not only did they eat plentifully out of the garden, but they broke the fence on the way out!

  • Reply
    JLP
    May 30, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Interesting. Do you have to keep the line up all the time?

  • Reply
    wjhib
    March 21, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    I tried the fishing line and it didn’t work for me, but may try again. I try to plant only things they will not eat. Perriwinkles (Vinca) trailing vinca, lambs hear, dusty miller and marigolds. I’ve found a smelly spray that I use and it somewhat helps. I have about 30 that come through my yard everyday.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 22, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      30 deer come through your yard per day?! Wow, that’s a lot of deer; more of an infestation. Not sure anything would work given the degree of overpopulation there. Just out of curiosity: can you describe how you set up your fishing line protection? Height? Multiple levels? Single level? All the way around your yard or just on specific beds? Thanks!

      • Reply
        Gail Gardner
        May 23, 2019 at 4:59 pm

        On another site I read that you need multiple strings. They recommended the first one 2-3″ above the ground and then a foot apart up to 4-6 feet tall. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect you can run fishing line a longer distance between t-posts (50 feet perhaps) as long as you can keep the posts tight in the ground.

        • Aaron von Frank
          May 24, 2019 at 6:41 pm

          Could be, Gail! There may be more than one way to string a deer. 😛 The method described in this article is simply the one used by my dad after years and years of trying everything else without success. We also know farmers who do it. I don’t suppose it would hurt to hang the string at different levels. Regardless, good luck!

    • Reply
      dc gal
      March 17, 2020 at 2:46 pm

      I realize this is an old post, but we suffer the same…easily 30 a day from dusk to dawn. It is an infestation that the county is working to cull now with archery, something people still are fighting but there are more deer than food at this point and you can see some of them are starving. Anyway, the politics of it all aside…they even eat my azaleas! I have found very very little a ravenously hungry deer won’t eat! I’m up for trying to fishing line but worry about injuries…our 10 and 12 year old boys go tearing down our hill toward the wooded area where this line would be. :/ Maybe I won’t put it up…it’s just plants and certainly a far cry from a botanists oasis at this point.

      • Reply
        Aaron von Frank
        March 18, 2020 at 5:29 pm

        Yikes! Sorry to hear that. With that amount of deer population pressure, fishing line may not work to keep them away. Electric fencing might be the only option there, but not certain. (Obviously, that’s a pretty expensive approach.) Either way, if you want to try the fishing line approach, you’d hang it between small stakes that are quite visible to children and adults alike. Best of luck with whatever approach you take!

  • Reply
    Dina
    July 22, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you for this! I read about the fishing line but wasn’t sure exactly how to execute it. Stakes,duh!! The deer have been feasting on nearly every plant in my yard on a nightly basis. They clearly have no aversions to anything in my yard. Crotons, agapanthus, Japanese blueberry….Their hooves have torn up the mulch. On my way to get the fishing line and stakes….the buck stops here!

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