Yes, deer are beautiful creatures, but the hushed reverence many folks express when they see deer in their back yards quickly evaporates when the first few expensive shrubs are chewed to bits! And when a lot of deer are hanging around, protecting your garden is a lot like trying to protect a sand castle against a tsunami.

Deer fence

The right deer fence will keep four-legged feasters out of your garden year-round.

Photo Credit: ©Pennystone Gardens

Deer eating moss

Hungry deer will eat almost everything down to their roots if they’re hungry enough!

Photo Credit: ©Pennystone Gardens

Plants deer love

This mixed bed of native plants – a veritable deer salad bar – can flourish as it’s supposed to thanks to our tough deer fence.

Photo Credit: ©Pennystone Gardens

Eyebolt hinge

This is a simple, dirt-cheap hinge for a gate: two eyebolts – one in a post and the other in the gate’s wood frame.

Photo Credit: ©Pennystone Gardens

Like just about everyone who’s ever encountered “The Deer Problem,” I started with long lists of “deer resistant” plants, graduated to “deer repellant” concoctions, then briefly considered paving the entire yard with asphalt. Instead of reaching that final point, I bought a bunch of 8-foot metal posts and a lot of fencing.

Our first fence was “deer netting” or a “deer barrier.” It was a very thin, netlike material that was inexpensive and somewhat tricky to handle because it tangled so easily on itself. Unfortunately, the deer didn’t have as much difficulty with it as we did – they broke right through.

Next came a heavier polypropylene deer fence: 2- by 4-inch black mesh that reached 7 feet high and easily attached to fence posts and trees. Unfortunately, the mesh got a bit limp at the top, and when it drooped, the deer could easily jump over it. So we laced the top with plastic-coated steel wire to keep it taut. Then we discovered deer were literally chewing holes in the fencing – “unzipping” it to sneak right in. In fact, they were so smart, that they did their dirty work in spots that had brush cover. So we got rid of the brush and small trees, but with no real improvement. (It wasn’t much deterrence to groundhogs, rabbits or bears either.)

Finally, we turned to plastic-coated, welded-wire fencing, available at any hardware store or home center. It comes in 4- and 5-foot heights in easy-to-handle 50-foot rolls. Our first priority was the bottom half of the fence, where the chewing took place, and this time we were successful! A second tier along the top of the posts will eventually replace all the polypropylene. Connecting the two should be fairly simple with hog clips and aluminum twists usually used for chain-link fencing.

While a bit pricey ($2 per foot to reach 7 feet tall), this fencing is completely effective. Since we’ve installed it, we’ve only had two brief incursions, both a result of a gate left open. The first was a very young and confused fawn, who had to be captured and released. The second was an adult doe, who responded by running blindly at the fence and crashing into it rather than trying to leap over it. (Because the mesh is only slightly taught, the fence took the full impact of the doe and she bounced right off. Eventually we managed to herd her to an open gate.)

When it comes to installing wire fencing, it helps to remember one thing: Be sure to leave a foot or so at the bottom folded to the outside and slightly underground, preferably covered with rock. This discourages burrowing animals like groundhogs.

And gates are easy: Just use 7- and 10-foot pieces of 1-by-3 lumber to form a rectangle, and staple fencing to it. I used a pair of eyebolts to create hinges and double-spring clips to lock it. The swing end of the frame is a few inches longer than the height of the frame to keep the bottom of it off the ground. The fencing here should extend from the gate to the ground to discourage groundhogs and rabbits.

Be sure to make your gates at least 10 feet wide to accommodate all your equipment, and don’t forget to locate them where they’re convenient for you. I’ve got gates near my “materials yard” (where I store mulch), near the composting and dumping area, and in a third spot to support a garden in a difficult area.

And if you’re worried about a deer fence marring the overall beauty of your garden, don’t. The fence is really only visible when you’re up close to it. In fact, we installed a decorative picket fence in the front of our house, but with 8-foot posts and deer fencing to fill in the gaps. One thing’s for sure – we wouldn’t have much of a garden without it! So take some advice from this deer-fence pro who’s been through it all with fencing: If you’re going to put up a fence, do it right the first time. Not only will it save you time and money in the long run – it’ll save your garden!