Critters in the Garden: Deer and Bunnies

If you have a garden, there’s a 100 percent chance that it will attract critters. Over the years Phil (my husband) and I have discovered everything from snapping turtles to slugs; even a mama turkey and her chicks.

Most of these animals do relatively little damage. Deer and rabbits are the BIG exception. Our garden seems to have a neon sign inviting them over, in part because the garden borders a brook and faces a large swath of woodland.

Over the years we’ve tried just about everything to keep the bunnies and deer away. Following are our approaches and the results:

  • Liquid repellents. These seem to work a little bit, but they’re not perfect. They must be reapplied regularly--certainly after every rainstorm—and if you have a big garden like ours, that becomes onerous. And expensive. 
  • Granular repellents. See above. 
  • Human hair. Once upon a time I read that human hair can repel deer. So after giving Phil a trim, I saved the clippings, put them in the toes of old nylon stockings, attached the stockings to poles, and arranged the poles at intervals around the garden. It didn’t work. And Phil thought it was disgusting.
  • Wireless deer fence. This consisted of individual three-foot-high posts placed around the garden that were “spiked” with a sweet artificial food scent to attract the deer. If the critters nuzzled the post, they’d get a zap on the nose from electrodes powered by two AA batteries. The idea is that the deer would quickly learn to stay away from the Plageman buffet. We tried this for three months. It didn’t work. Fortunately, it came with a money-back guarantee that the company was quick to honor.
  • Plant plants that deer and rabbits don’t like, such as onions and potatoes. This does indeed work. However, it’s obviously quite limiting. Plus, it’s not foolproof. I thought tomatoes—at least, their leaves-- were akin to liver on a deer’s palate. Then, by the time the fruit was ripe, the fruit would be protected by a cover of leaves. One year, however, an especially hungry animal mowed off the tops of our tomato plants and “harvested” most of the ripe fruit.
  • Fences. THESE REALLY WORK. But they must meet certain requirements. We ultimately went with a two-pronged approach. A few years ago we enclosed the entire garden with a black vinyl-coated deer fence that’s 6 feet tall. That does indeed keep the deer out. The bunnies, however, still crept in around openings near the gates, and babies were quite capable of squeezing through the chain links of the fence itself. This year we supplemented the deer fence with a three-foot-high rabbit fence attached to the deer fence. The rabbit fence features horizontal openings that are graduated in size from bottom to top, preventing even baby bunnies from entering. So far, so good.
Do you have any suggestions for keeping bunnies and deer away? If so, please share in the comments section below.
garden, lettuce, fence
A close-up of the deer fence with an added rabbit fence. Note the happy, un-nibbled lettuce in the background.
garden, fence
A jury-rigged solution for keeping bunnies from slipping into the garden between the gate and the fence.

garden, fence, stream, brook
The brook that our garden (see fence at right) abuts.

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