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Of all the garden pests, deer can be some of the most frustrating. They don’t care if you’re sprinkling coffee grounds between your rows of tomatoes, or hanging shiny strips of tape around the perimeter. They will hop right in, eat all your beans, and hop right back out. I live in a place where roaming herds of deer are just a fact of life, and veteran gardeners laugh at newbies’ cute, low-effort attempts of repelling them. Folks, you need a fence.

How to build a fence to keep deer out

A simple fence to keep deer out of a vegetable garden needs to be eight feet or taller, according to the Cornell cooperative extension (and common sense, if you’ve ever seen how high deer can jump). Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a particularly sturdy fence. The netting used for snow fences works just fine. You can also find deer netting, which is perplexingly sold in 7-foot rolls, but you can make it work with creative solutions like using 8-foot posts and running string around the top.

How to make a shorter fence work

If you only need to protect a small garden bed, you can keep the deer out by giving your fence a ceiling. Run a three-foot fence around the bed (or whatever height is convenient for you), and then secure netting on top.

You can also deter deer with an open-top fence that is 5 feet or higher. They will jump in if they’re motivated, but the smaller the garden, the less likely they are to want to leap a fence just to be in a cramped space that will be hard to jump out of.

And finally, as rural gardeners have long known, there is also the option of installing an electric fence. Here’s how the Cornell extension writer describes one of their favorite setups:

The polytape live–stock electrical fencing coated with peanut butter can be effective for home gardens and small nurseries or truck crops up to 40 [acres]. This simple, temporary fence works best under light deer pressure during summer and fall. The poly–tape fence apparently attracts deer with its bright color and peanut butter odor. Deer make nose–to–fence contact when they approach, receiving a substantial shock and quickly learn to avoid such fenced areas. Polytape fences are portable, have a life expectancy of more than 15 years, and can be installed for $0.10 to $0.25 per foot.

Use repellents

Deer repellents are a thing, but they’re not magic, and you probably don’t want to use them on edible plants like your garden vegetables. Repellents like Liquid Fence work by tasting and smelling awful to deer. They don’t really keep the deer away so much as making your plants unappetizing.

These repellents can work well for deterring deer from eating ornamental flowers, though, especially ones that aren’t in an area you want to fence off. And if you’re looking for more ways to keep deer from eating your plants, check out these flowers that aren’t exactly deer-proof—nothing is—but that deer seem to be less interested in eating.

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