Deer Proofing the Garden

Reiman Gardens buck rose collection in the fall behind wood and wire fencing and evergreens and fall trees behind it

Deer and rabbits can wreak havoc on small trees and shrubs in winter, but taking precautionary measures now can save you from heartache later. Deer and rabbit repellant is commonly sold in stores, and individual fencing provides a physical barrier that doesn’t break the bank.

Deer and rabbits will browse any plant they can reach to see if they like the taste. Repellents use taste and smell to prevent or punish this browsing behavior. However, if an animal is hungry enough, they will eat whatever is available. This means that repellants work better if there are other plants nearby that the animals can eat instead. Additionally, repellant should be reapplied every 3 weeks (plus after every snow/rain event) to keep the taste and smell strong enough to repeal the target animals.

If you don’t have plants nearby that you (or your neighbors) are willing to sacrifice, individually fencing plants or beds is the best way to protect your plants. Chicken wire or plastic snow fence mesh can be used along with rebar or t-stakes to create a temporary fence. Rabbits can burrow under fencing and deer can reach over short fences. Burying 2-3” of fencing below the soil line can discourage rabbits from trying to burrow. Deer can be trickier to discourage – a seven foot temporary fence could be unwieldy – but stringing fishing line between tall fence posts will confuse the deer and protect your plant. It is important to give each plant 1-2’ of buffer space on each side when fencing, as rabbits and deer will push against the fence trying to reach the protected plant. This buffer zone also ensures that you aren’t cutting up large, important roots when burying the fencing.

However you decide to protect your plants from hungry critters, you may experience some trials and tribulations. Animals can be persistent, particularly where food is concerned, and there is no guaranteed way to keep them away from a plant they want to eat. Regardless, we wish you luck in this task this winter!

Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Collections Curator