When my husband and I moved to New York’s Hudson Valley, we weren’t really prepared for the deer. Our yard slopes steeply down to a creek on one end, and ends at a busy curve in the county road at the other. What deer in their right mind would want to deal with that? Well a somewhat hungry one, it turns out.
We’re fortunate that the established travel routes for our neighborhood herd is through the neighbor’s yard, not ours. But early encounters—a doe staring at me across the badminton net—and the sudden disappearance that first summer of every recently-opened Hosta flower—helped us understand that we needed to take matters seriously.
A large part of coping with deer in the garden is luck, and we were lucky not to be situated along their established routes.
The rest of it requires using your head. If you’re growing anything deer might eat, you must create a serious deterrent, or it will be consumed. A greenhouse is one excellent option—I’ve never heard of deer entering them. For our vegetable garden, we erected an 8-foot high deer fence made of 4×4 posts and polypropylene netting; it has worked beautifully.
Outside the netting, we carefully consider before introducing new plants. They have to be smelly, prickly, or otherwise not on the deer-favorite list. Just keep in mind that when deer become really hungry, they will eat nearly anything. I’ve recently developed a tremendous enthusiasm for Alliums—an entire group shunned by both rabbits and deer. I’ve always planted a substantial garlic crop; now it grows in the front yard as our first line of defense, with leeks and scallions growing outside the fence too. Last fall I invested in five new ornamental alliums, and they have provided us with continuous, lovely entertainment. Herbs don’t appeal to deer either.
When in doubt, take the precaution of protecting any new plant with one of the widely available deer-repellant products– I particularly recommend Oh No Dear!, which has the advantage of not smelling repellant to humans. With other sprays, I suggest you pick a still day, and shower immediately afterwards. I’ve hung sachets of chopped up Irish Spring soap around the perimeters of the yard, and they don’t hurt–it’s best to have several lines of defense going at once. My mother keeps suggesting the water cannon with strobe lights concept that she sees advertised on late night TV. We’re not there yet, but you never know.