Trying to figure out how to keep deer out of your garden or yard? 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.
Got deer problems? So did we. But we now know how to keep deer out of our garden and yard…
We grow lots of edible plants in our yard. Many of these plants also happen to be edible to deer.
Also, our property backs up to a forest and we regularly see deer walking through the woods during the day just waiting for nighttime so they can come graze in yards throughout our neighborhood.
Like any self-respecting man, I regularly “scent” the area along the back of our property where the deer enter. Unfortunately, this effort seems to have minimal impact on deer invasions, especially in the spring when deer are ravenous or when rain is frequent.
Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about my ineffective scenting for warding of deer, since we now have other solutions that help — and we’ll share them in detail in this article.
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!
What to do?
Lucky for you, I’m going to tell you exactly how to keep deer out of your garden.
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:
- a lush suburban yard with a nearby patch of forest is PERFECT deer habitat; and
- 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.
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.
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. Important note: the lines should be hung a few feet OUTSIDE of the bed(s) 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 see, smell, and hear the world very differently from humans…
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.
However, deer have “prey eyes” on the side of their heads that give them a 300-degree view. But they can’t clearly see the 60-degree view that overlaps between the input from both eyes.
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 work very well.
Deer vision 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 the main trick we use to keep deer out of your garden or yard. (There are more tips and tricks below!)
Be sure to thank my dad, and those brave men and women who came before him. Without their service, you might never have learned how to keep deer out of your garden…
Video: Fishing line trick to keep deer out
Other than fishing line, are there other ways to keep deer out of your garden? Yes!
Maybe you have so many hungry deer around that the fishing line trick isn’t proving effective. Or maybe you only have a few isolated plants that you need to protect, so the fishing line trick is overkill.
What to do?
Here are four other proven ways to keep deer from eating your plants:
1. Bobbex all-natural deer repellent spray.
We can thank our neighbor for this one… He has a ton of grandkids who kept tearing down his fishing line, so deer were ravaging his roses and other plants.
He heard about and tried Bobbex, an all-natural deer deterrent spray. Bobbex contains smell and taste deterrents that keep deer away – and it’s very long-lasting even in wet climates like ours.
According to our neighbor, he’s been able to save his plants from deer with Bobbex. Since our neighbor is only one person’s opinion, we looked Bobbex up on Amazon, and it has nearly 5-star rating across thousands of reviews.
Should you spray Bobbex directly on your edible plants? No. But you could spray it around them as depicted in the image above.
2. Row cover for garden beds
If you have edible garden beds you’re trying to protect and you’re not worried about aesthetics, you can use fabric row cover to protect your plants from deer.
In cool months, you can use heavier weight row cover, which also provides temperature protection. In the summer, you can use lightweight or “summer weight” fabric which also provides protection from pest insects.
3. DIY tomato cages
We protect certain deer favorites like hostas, Solomon’s seal, and asparagus shoots that are stand-alone plants in our yard using our DIY tomato cages made from concrete reinforcing wire. (*That link goes to a how to make sturdy tomato cages article on our sister site, GrowJourney.)
The cages are rusty brown in color so they blend right in, meaning they’re not an eyesore. They also last virtually forever. Most of our cages are over a decade old and still in perfect shape.
4. Electric fencing
The only 100% effective method we know of for keeping deer completely out of an area is electric fencing. Small farms often have to utilize electric fencing to protect their cash crops. If you live in a more rural area, this is a solution you should seriously consider for keeping deer permanently off your property.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to keep deer out of your garden or yard
1. 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 recently put Irish Spring soap to the test in their summer garden after having deer problems. 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.
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, and who knows what’s in it.
2. Does Milorganite work for repelling deer?
Some people use Milorganite to deter deer. In case you’ve never heard of it, Milorganite is a fertilizer made from heat-treated, pelletized sewage from Milwaukee. Yes, seriously.
While the high heat used in treating it kills pathogens, Milorganite, like other products made from human sewage, most certainly contains countless other unsavory contaminants such as heavy metals, microplastics, pharmaceutical drugs, dioxins, etc. Personally, we don’t want these substances anywhere near our yard or garden where we and our toddler live and eat.
Will the smell of Milorganite repel deer? Perhaps so, but we’d rather have deer in our yard than Milorganite.
Also, pretty much any scent-based deer repellent is only good so long as it doesn’t get wet and/or degrade.
3. Are deer worse during certain times of year?
For us and our neighbors, deer seem to be more difficult to deal with in late winter-early spring as plants start to break dormancy. At this point in the year, they’re recovering from winter’s scarcity of high quality food.
At this point, the bucks also need all the food they can eat to rebuild muscle and form antlers. The does are about to fawn and have to eat all they can as they enter the third trimester and prepare for nursing.
We don’t experience much deer pressure from late spring through mid-summer since there is so much food around at that point. We notice an uptick in deer activity in late summer-fall as deer try to put on fat for the cold months ahead.
4. Will a perimeter border of thorny plants keep deer out?
In the back portion of our property, we have a thick border of thorny native black raspberries. We intentionally planted them in the spot because it was a deer path, and we wanted to block it without using a fence.
The result? The deer love eating the raspberry leaves and even some of the thorny stems. And they plowed a path right through the thorny canes. Our verdict? No, thorny plants do not keep deer out of your yard or garden, especially when those thorny plants are edible to deer.
5. Are there more deer today than there used to be?
Over the past 100 years, populations of white-tailed deer have exploded in the U.S., which is one reason why more people are having trouble with deer eating their plants. However, it’s also important to put white-tailed deer populations into historical perspective.
One recent study tried to do just that, estimating that white-tailed deer populations are currently at about the same level as they were prior to European colonization.
Similar articles you’ll find helpful:
- How to control Japanese beetles organically
- How to prevent or stop voles from eating your plants
- How to safely kill mosquitos in your yard
You might also want to check out our deer-deterring Google web story!