Oh Deer, Oh Deer

Posted by on Apr 5, 2010 in Farm Blog, Garden, Orchard | 32 comments

This weekend we had plans to finish up the construction of some of the raised vegetable garden boxes so that we could transplant out our seedlings.  However, our plans for working on that project were thwarted on two fronts.

Raised redwood boxes under construction

The first issue was the weather, which seems to have reverted to a soggy winter pattern, the other situation was much more sinister.  We had a very nasty surprise in the orchard on Saturday morning, causing us to immediately halt the other projects we were working on.

We’ve been invaded.  Those dastardly devouring deer have found a way into our orchard.  Despite installing a 7 ft high perimeter deer fence around the entire orchard and vegetable garden area this winter, there was no denying we’ve had a breach.

Somehow, the deer managed to get into the orchard

The damage was first noted on a large swath of agapanthus recently given to us by a friend.  These plants looked like someone had attacked them with hedge shears.  It’s a tough plant, and barring further damage will no doubt grow back.

Recently transplanted, someone decided the agapanthus needed to be trimmed...but it wasn't us

Our attention though quickly turned to the fruit trees.  The Satsuma plum…nooooooo, not the plum!

This Satsuma plum branch tip was stripped

This branch on the Satsuma plum tree fared better

Closer inspection of the other fruit trees revealed that the Santa Rosa plum, the Flavor King pluot, and the Frost peach had all been gnawed on too.  The big questions were, how did the deer get into the orchard in the first place, and what will it take to keep them out!?

No great surprise, deer like peach trees too

Thankfully, none of the damage was catastrophic, and was mostly limited to the stripping of some leaves, newly forming fruits, and a few branches were ‘pruned’.  However, as the trees are young, it won’t take many more night-time raids to damage a tree beyond the point of no return.

Torn and damaged branches will need to be pruned

A walk around the perimeter of the fence showed the fence was intact.  No deer had managed to break through.  That left the option of jumping over. The severity of slope makes it impossible for them to jump into the orchard from the bottom of the hill.  However, uphill, we found some evidence to suggest where they may have been able to get a running jump from the slope above the orchard to gain access.

Recent rains helped us identify an area just inside the fence where the soil was disturbed, uphill of the gardens, where the deer were likely gaining entry

Downhill, the erosion control blanket was displaced, suggesting where they were exiting the orchard, just above the road.


A section at the base of the hill, below the gardens, where the deer seemed to have found a way out of the orchard once inside

We knew our slopes, especially the uphill section, could become a weak-point in our deer fence installation when we first erected the fence.  Fortunately, the remedy (we hope) is relatively straightforward.

Deer can jump up to tremendous height, but they have more difficulty jumping upward and outward at the same time.  As such, on uphill sections of slope it is usually possible to screen deer out by installing a second line of fence 4-6 ft back from the main fence.  This is far enough back to create a divide too wide for them to jump, but not so far back that they can still get a running jump in toward the fence.


A second 100' run of fence was installed uphill (left) of the main perimeter fence (right)

So, instead of working on the raised beds for the gardens this weekend, we spent all of Saturday, our only fair-weather day this weekend, installing a 100 foot run of secondary fence uphill of the main perimeter fence.

A walk around the orchard this morning shows no additional damage, at least not yet.  We’ll continue to scrutinize the fruit trees this week, watching for any additional damage that would suggest a second entry point into the orchard.  In the meantime, before transplanting out all of our vegetables that we’ve started from seed, we’re going to place some ‘sacrificial tasty greens’ in the gardens to see if anything absconds with them.  Let’s hope this time the deer get the message, and go around the gardens, rather than THROUGH them!


  1. Hope your new tactic keeps them out for good. Our peas were hit last week, they ate a 7 foot(20%) row of them.

    Noticed it is 55 degrees there now, so nice! We have 88 degrees right now and green pollen clouds in the air.
    .-= Randy´s last blog ..Whoa, it was a hot spring day! =-.

  2. Oh crud~~the dear deer are anything but dear! How frustrating to have to spend gardening time with them….gail

  3. Oh my! I agree, sometimes coexisting is tough. Funny, the “You might also like” featured Curbstone Grilled Pizza and Zucchini Orange Bread. Was that a hint at deer with cranberry sauce for the next post?

  4. Wow, I am becoming educated about the measures people have to take to keep out deer. Our property is in the middle of a small town, surrounded by other houses, so we have never been bothered by them. I am hoping your new fencing works, and I hope you have better weather by now. Today we skipped from early spring to summer with bright sun and temps in the mid 80s. I want spring back!
    .-= debsgarden´s last blog ..Seven Steps to a Woodland Garden =-.

  5. The larger mammals love you!
    .-= lisa´s last blog ..A Handmade Easter =-.

  6. Oh, deer, CV! I feel your pain, and I’m crossing my fingers this tactic works (and it’s great information now stored in my memory bank for whenever we get a permanent address with a wee bit of land). I had no idea deer could jump that high. We’ve loved glimpsing them in the surrounding woods, and even coming quite close occasionally — but we have *not* enjoyed the results in the garden. 🙁
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..by the way =-.

  7. Yikes, what a heart-breaking find! It does sound kind of fun, though to play deer detective and solve the caper! I’m hoping you won’t have more trouble (and more sunny days for us to all get work done!)
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..SF Garden Show: Papillon Pad =-.

  8. It’s heart-breaking! I know they were here before us, but….. why don’t they eat just grass?
    .-= Tatyana´s last blog ..Are You Afraid Of Heights? =-.

  9. Oh Nooo! And you guys were so thorough with your deer prevention preparations. Plus, I know you were really looking forward to getting those raised beds in for those rapidly growing sprouts! Hopefully the new measures will work, and that you are able to get yoru seedlings in the beds soon.

  10. Oh no! I remember reading about you putting up the first deer fence. I hope the new fence works. They are pretty, but not when they are eating your trees and plants. I hope your trees all will be okay and that you get some fruit this year.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Painting and raining. =-.

  11. Dear CV, I am really distressed for you. This is such bad news and I know that I should be beside myself with frustration and not a little bit of anger. The picture of the Agapanthus is, as you say, just as if the tops had been sheared off. This is all so dreadful.

    However, I am pleased to read of your fairly philosophical approach to the problem and to learn that you have erected additional fencing. I earnestly hope that this will keep the deer at bay.
    .-= Edith Hope´s last blog ..Get Ahead – Wear a Hat =-.

  12. The utter destruction that can be caused by deer is amazing. If your new tactic doesn’t work I have seen use of another type of fence. Apparently Penn State U has worked with farmers etc to develop a couple of options, both work off similar principles as to those you are already applying. The first is to set up two rows of post’s and run fence wire along the inner row of post’s about every 12-16″ then the outer row of post’s the wire goes at 2′ and 4′. Most of these applications I’ve seen use the electric fence like for cattle but I think a non electric application would work. The other style has a hard fence that is approx 7′ tall and at the top it has a “roof” that stick out toward the outside of the fence line, this “roof” is around 3′ and also made of fence material. Also serves the same purpose of not letting the deer get a running start to jump over the fence. Just some alternatives if you need them…….

  13. It is amazing what lengths deer will go to for a few nibbles! I hope your changes keep them out for good!
    .-= Joseph´s last blog ..Macro Monday =-.

  14. You might dismay over the damage, but those creatures are so majestic, and I love that photo! Thanks for sharing it. I’ve yet to see a deer in my garden, though I have witnessed many a turkey, raccoon, and possum.

  15. So good that you found where they were getting in. The second fence is what is recommended. I am to do 2 programs for the Home Show this weekend. One on Roses and the other on Deer. Your story came so timely and if you don’t mind, I will be telling it and your brilliant solution. G

    • You’re welcome to tell our tale Gloria. Although, it’s still up to the deer to determine whether our solution is ‘brilliant’ or not. I hope it works…we really need to get our vegetable transplants outside!

  16. Oh, I am sorry they breached your defenses….

    I do hope the new fencing holds and that you can enjoy fruit in a few months. I do hope you are able to get your seedlings started soon 🙂
    .-= Noelle/azplantlady´s last blog ..Eggs, Gardens, Cake & Chocolate…. =-.

  17. How sad, how discouraging. Deer are browsers, and can’t resist tasty spring new tree buds. I hope your second fence keeps them out.
    .-= Lou Murray’s Green World´s last blog ..Harvest Monday–April 5, 2010 =-.

  18. Sadly, our second fence hasn’t solved the problem. Last night they found their way back over the fence. Just not sure where. They knocked over plants in pots that were waiting to be planted. They’ve decimated most of what remained of the Frost peach. Last night they discovered the Blenheim apricot, and have stripped it of almost every leaf that was in reach. Clearly it’s time to resort to plan B, or risk permanent damage to our young fruit trees.

  19. Oh no! I hope you supplementary fence works.
    .-= melanie´s last blog ..Elusive Spring =-.

  20. I can’t really tell how the fences are constructed from the photos but are you sure the deer aren’t getting under the fence? I wouldn’t have thought it was possible but I have seen it with my own eyes.

    • I’m seriously considering getting a critter-cam, but I don’t think they’re getting under. We have large J-stakes every few feet that anchor the bottom of the fence to the ground (the fence toes out 6 inches all the way around from the orchard). We did this primarily to stop bunnies from sneaking under, but also to prevent the deer from getting any bright ideas about going under the fence. I walked the perimeter again today, and the stakes are in place. I suspect they’re jumping over the fence on the east and west flanks of the orchard. The slope on the hill, at least on the west flank, may give them just enough advantage to clear the fence.

  21. Well know how devastating deer can be to a tempting garden … it’s a shame they are so lovely! Now, if only they only had good manners and could read ‘keep away’ signs …

  22. Oh CV, when I come here it sure puts the occassional katydid or harlequin bug into perspective! I’ve been telling my family about the great lengths you need to go to to create and protect your garden and I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had to divert attention to reinforcing what was already a major well constructed barrier! Only to be thwarted again! I know you will come up with a solution, I just hope you get some time to do the other jobs you want to do.
    .-= Heidi´s last blog ..Rose Diary – Meet More Survivors and Stragglers =-.

  23. Darn those deer, (even if I fell hard for Bambi as a kid), go eat something else!
    Like your raised beds, is the screening at the bottom to guard against something?
    .-= Deborah at Kilbourne Grove´s last blog ..Toronto Botanical Gardens-Spring =-.

    • The screening is half-inch hardware cloth, because in addition to deer, we also have gophers!

  24. Makes me happy to have the raiders that I have – rabbits and squirrels are far easier to deal with 🙂
    .-= Sylvana´s last blog ..This Is No Joke =-.

  25. The double fence will work – I have to do it around my veg garden. I don’t want to put up a permanent fence so we do a temporary double 6 ft. fence using plastic mesh and steel stakes. I’d rather use a baseball bat but I can’t be out standing in my yard all the time.
    .-= wiseace´s last blog ..Orange Jelly Mushroom =-.

  26. Hi Clare, your deer saga is getting to be quite a mystery. I just did a post about my program I am doing for the Home Show this weekend on Roses and deer resistance. I linked your blog on my post for those who want to see the battle between the determined gardener and the deer. I am rooting for the determined gardener. Gloria

  27. Wow, who’d have thought you’d need so much just to keep Deer out…

    I hope you manage to win the battle, I’ve been battling with Foxes digging the garden up for a while now, but haven’t yet resorted to such measures – I’m sure it’s coming soon though!

  28. wow Clare that was some weekend of work but I suppose you needed to act quickly to resolve the situation. I never realised that they could jump so high. I hope this 2nd barrier does the trick.
    .-= Rosie´s last blog ..We’re on flood watch =-.

  29. I can certainly empathize. We have been fortunate that the deer haven’t (yet) breached our 7 ft fencing around the vegetable garden. The fruit trees are another story, since they are outside. We had to put wire fencing around every young tree, and even then the deer nibbled on anything that poked through the fencing. It was enough to keep them alive though, and after about two years of growing it was safe to remove the trees. I still use rotten egg spray to deter them. It seems to work until it wears off.
    .-= villager´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesdays for Gardeners =-.