Dad’s Trick: How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden Or Yard

Dad's Trick: How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden Or Yard thumbnail

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 said 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.

Vegetable venison stew anyone? Photo CC 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 the forest or thickets to rest during the day.

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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.

“Yes, I’d like to order more of the day lilies please.”

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: they didn’t work.

Victory: Deer War II

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.

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Whoever and wherever you are... thank you.

Whoever and wherever you are… thank you.

The secret weapon: fishing line… For $6 dollars. Yes, fishing line. 10-15 pound test, invisible fishing line to be exact.  

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. (You can use metal or plastic stakes that blend into your garden, making the whole setup virtually invisible to the human eye – here’s a 24 pack for protecting a smaller area and a 48 pack for protecting a larger area).

“Oh, man this is good! Could you plant some more lettuce and kale here again?”

How the heck does that keep a deer out? 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 that give you a 120-degree view of what’s in front of you; your eyes 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. Simply put, they’re really good at spotting movement from relatively far away and from a very wide field of vision, but that’s about it. This type of eyesight works great if a wolf or mountain lion is after you.

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

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Now, back to the fishing line trick. Deer essentially can not see the fishing line. They can smell your delicious garden/landscape plants and see a blurry version of that lush, green goodness. They start to approach it. There’s no sound, smell, or sight of danger anywhere around. Now 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. 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.


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