(News article for March 25, 2023; edited)
Commercial vegetable and fruit growers often experience deer damage to crops. Home gardeners sometimes face losses, as well. Some of you may be interested in deer deterrence, as you plan your spring garden.
At our 2023 Watermelon Education Meeting, LSU AgCenter’s wildlife extension specialist Dr. Ashley Long spoke about wildlife damage management. One piece of advice that Dr. Long provided was to maximize the distance between the plants and where deer have shelter. If they must travel farther to reach the crop while feeling unprotected, they will be less likely to venture into the garden.
One of the most effective ways to prevent deer damage is by using a fence, but not every fence will do the job. Deer can jump both high and far, so the fence must either be quite tall (at least 6 to 8 feet) while still covering the area close to the ground, or deter deer in another way. Deer have poor depth perception, and some fence designs take advantage of that.
When growers have deer damage issues, I usually share a Clemson University publication with a design for an electrified fence – similar to what people use when rotationally grazing cattle – that can be moved to another location or stored after the end of the season. This design can be used for a home garden, too.
The design actually involves two fences, five feet apart, arranged parallel to one another. The outer fence has one strand of polytape 1.5 to 2 feet above the ground. This strand on the outer fence is electrified. The inner fence has non-electrified strands 2 to 4 feet and 5 to 10 feet from the ground.
The estimate for fencing one acre was just under $1000 when the cost was calculated several years ago. Over half of that total is due to fiberglass poles spaced every 15 feet between corner poles to support the polytape. If you’re fencing a smaller area, you’d need fewer of these poles. Other costs, like the solar-powered energizer, would not change when fencing a smaller area.
It’s important to have the fence in place before or shortly after planting. Once deer get a taste of the crop, it will be harder to discourage them.
To emphasize to deer that they do not want to mess with your fence, you can put peanut butter on small pieces of aluminum, spaced approximately every 30 feet along the polytape, so that they will experience a shock when they try to eat it.
Be sure to keep vegetation low along the electrified fence. If grass or other vegetation touches the polytape, it can reduce or eliminate its ability to provide a shock.
You can find more detail about this design in the publication Managing Deer Damage Using a Two Tiered Fence System on the Clemson University website.
I’ve seen other variations of double fences, with at least one electrified strand, suggested. They vary with respect to the distance between the inner and outer fences, the numbers of strands on each fence, and the heights of the strands. You might find another design that works for you.
There are also designs that involve a single fence slanted at a 45-degree angle (with the top part of the fence farther from the crop), with three or more strands. Like the double fences, these take advantage of poor depth perception.
Polywire can be used instead of polytape, though polytape is more visible.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.