Deer are an inevitable pest for Maine gardeners. To deer, gardens are basically a bottomless salad bar. Keeping deer out of the garden is a balance of preventative measures along with, potentially, physical and chemical deterrents.
“Deer really prefer edge habitat, habitat where forest meets open space or where two habitats meet,” said Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “A lot of time in Maine, houses are plopped in the middle of the woods. Once the sun is down, the deer are not going to feel inhibited and they will travel through your lawn to your garden regardless of how big it is. ”
An estimated 94 percent of Maine is considered habitat for deer, but some areas of Maine are even more susceptible than others to deer. Bieber said that the wildlife department receives many reports of deer in areas of southern coastal Maine, where high deer densities intersect with large estates with nice gardens and a less prevalent hunting culture.
Regardless of where you are, though, once deer find your garden, they tend to be voracious.
“A lot of the stuff that people like to plant are usually things to eat are also things that deer want to eat,” Bieber said.
Aside from the loss of vegetation, there may be other reasons that you want to keep deer out of your garden — for example, the fact that deer can host the ticks that carry Lyme disease
“You also don’t want to habituate deer or other wildlife to people,” Bieber said. “If they lose the natural fear of humans, they can become even bigger pests.”
Remove things that attract deer
The first step to keep deer away from your garden is to remove things in your yard that attract deer.
“Prevention is step one,” Bieber said. “There are certain things drawing deer into your yard like bird feeders.”
If you have livestock, their feed may attract deer. Bieber recommended keeping grain and feed behind a fenced area of your yard.
“Deer are going to be a little more wary around your house,” he added. “If you put feed for livestock close to your house that might help as well but you may encounter other pest issues.”
Fruit trees also tend to attract deer. Make sure you keep your property clear of fallen
“Apple trees are very common in Maine and have gone feral in many areas,” Bieber said. “If you have apple trees making lots of fruit that will attract deer.”
Choose plants that deer don’t like
In general, deer will eat anything growing in your garden.
“Deer are very generalist browsers,” Bieber said. “They’ll eat anything that is nutritious and palatable. There are very few plants that are completely residenant.”
However, deer prefer certain plants over others. Among vegetables, Bieber said that deer are less attracted to things like onions, garlic, rhubarb and “fuzzy, spiky” plants like squash and cucumbers.
“Stuff like onions and garlic, rhubarb, fuzzy spiky plants like squash cucumbers,” Bieber said.
“Tomatoes can do well, but once they start fruiting, you need to protect those fruits,” he added.
For ornamental plants, perennials like black-eyed susan, foxglove, cardinal flower and bergamot — which Bieber said “pollinators love and deers don’t mess with” — are more resistant to deer. For additional information, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has a list of plants that are deer resistant.
Fence deer out
Once you have taken preventative measures, physical barriers will help deter deer from entering your yard, as long as they are tall and sturdy enough.
“Don’t underestimate how athletic deer are,” Bieber said. “They can jump eight feet [starting from] standing still. If you have something really precious, you want a really tall fence.”
On his land, Bieber said he uses a six-foot-tall fence to protect his strawberries and blueberries.
“That’s sufficient for a small area but deer could clear that if they wanted to,” he said.
Use other repellents
Aside from physical barriers, are a variety of other repellents that will keep deer away, including chemical repellents, noisemakers and motion-triggered sprinklers and the like.
Bieber said that you can add shiny or noisy elements to your fence — for example, old CDs or tinsel — in order to spook deer.
“They might be used to it after a while but if the growing season is only a few months that might be enough time to grow your veggies,” Bieber said.
Strategically placing these elements will further enhance their effectiveness.
“If you’re able to locate the trails coming out of the forest into your yard and place deterrents there like noisemakers or shiny objects [to] deter deer from entering the yard at those locations [so they] go elsewhere instead,” Bieber said.