Outsmarting deer, groundhogs and other wildlife

Here in Bedford, in addition to making sure your edible plants receive plentiful sun and sufficient water, successful gardening requires outsmarting deer, groundhogs and other critters. Depending on how close you are to the center of town or the edge of the woods, deer might occasionally visit or be a constant presence.

My first few years gardening in Katonah were met with mixed success. Not used to living in deer-country, I was dismayed to find the tomatoes I planted were eaten just as the fruit ripened. Over the years, my family tried various strategies such as surrounding our garden with snow fencing, which proved cumbersome and not terribly effective.

Just how many deer are there? Nearby parks and nature preserves, such as Muscoot Farm, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Mountain Lakes Park, and Mianus River Gorge actively monitor the deer population. Surveys conducted estimate the deer populations on their lands to be in the range of 15-50 deer per square mile. Unless predators like coyotes, foxes and bobcats make a strong resurgence, deer will likely continue to venture further and further from the woods.

So what to do if you are new to edible gardening or if you are looking to expand your garden?

1. Grow plants that deer and groundhogs leave alone. I’ve had luck growing onions, chives, scallions, garlic and asparagus without fencing of any kind for over a decade, and I’ve seen no sign of nibbling. For more about growing asparagus, see Ten reasons why you should grow asparagus and All about growing asparagus.

Asparagus spears growing

In the spring, asparagus spears pop right out of the soil. The deer and groundhogs leave mine alone.


2. Grow a few edibles in pots on your front porch, or other locations that deer are less likely to approach. Read more about making the most of microenvironments that are inaccessible to deer and groundhogs here.

Basil growing in pot

Basil growing in a container on the porch

3. Cage-in individual beds or plants. This works especially well with low-growing plants like strawberries, lettuce, kale, chard, beets and spinach, and keeps out birds in addition to deer, groundhogs and rabbits. Read more about the cage I found most effective here.

strawberries overhanging in cage

A cage of strawberries!


4. For the ultimate in animal proofing, fence in your entire property or a large portion of it.   Keep in mind that deer can jump high, and they can jump far, but they do not do both at the same time. This means that eight foot high deer fencing will work, but so will a double fence consisting of two four foot high fences spaced about five feet apart from each other. Depending on your layout, a shorter, double fence might be more visually appealing than a taller, single fence. Deer, in general, avoid entering small, enclosed areas where there is not enough room for them to take a running leap to get out. To provide protection against groundhogs, which also burrow, the fence should extend a foot underground. Bending the top of the fence outwards is also recommended to deter groundhogs from climbing over. Some folks find that three rows of fishing line attached to corner posts is sufficient to keep the deer out of an area. However, if groundhogs are also an issue, this might not be effective. For more on fencing, take a look at just saying no to deer, with fencing.

5. Spook the wildlife.   A variety of tactics may be used to spook the deer and send them on their way. Anything that moves or makes a loud noise has the potential to deter deer. These include motion-activated sprinklers, noisemakers, scarecrows, and high-energy dogs. The tricky part is that these “deer spooks” must continually be novel. Once deer become habituated to noises or motions, they no longer run away from them.

6. I have not tried approaches such as using natural, organic sprays or odors (urine, hair, pepper). Have you?

Have critters beat you to your harvest? What’s your best tip for outsmarting the critters?