With deer populations at 30 million and growing each year, the foraging pressure needed to sustain those numbers is ever-increasing. A healthy, packed vegetable garden full of juicy scents is a beacon to hungry deer when their usual forage is low. But there are ways to help a vegetable garden resist deer damage.
For very small vegetable gardens or orchards, applying a scent-based repellent may help deter deer for a while. Garlic and cayenne pepper oils can be applied on and around the base of gardens, while predator marking scents nearby will warn deer away. These will only work if deer can find food elsewhere. If they're hungry or desperate, they'll eat it no matter how bad it tastes.
Not many vegetables are un-appetizing to deer, especially when they're well-cultivated and smell so delicious. Garlic is an exception, as are chili pods. But the foliage of chili peppers is still edible to deer. Planting garlic toward the outside of the garden, as a barrier, can make deer look elsewhere for food. But again, this doesn't stop them when they're truly hungry.
Deer startle easy, at least the first few times they're startled. Fireworks, sounds of gunshots, unpredictable strobe lights and barking dogs will all frighten deer at first. But if the deer keep coming, back they will eventually learn that there is no danger. Scare tactics are best used before deer figure out that you have delicious vegetables in your garden. This way, they go find food elsewhere and don't come back.
Deer fences are often the only reliable way to keep deer out of the vegetable garden. Deer can jump up to eight feet, and many deer fences are this tall and very sturdy. A hungry deer will jump, squeeze or shove its way through or over smaller, weaker fences. A six-foot fence built at a 45 degree angle outwards will also deter deer, because they can't jump far when they have to jump high.
Hunting deer for food helps reduce the overall population and prevents deer from starving themselves into the kind of desperation that makes them jump fences blindly or face down dogs. Trophy hunting deer, on the other hand, rarely helps because does have no trophy racks and they keep the population growing. Deer are, however, protected in all 50 states and Canadian territories, so all regulations regarding deer hunting must be followed when implementing this method.
A combination of strategies is the generally the best way to grow a deer-resistant vegetable garden. If there is a loud dog behind a high fence guarding a garden that reeks of garlic, there's little chance that deer will want to fool with it. Some sustainable agriculturalists take a different view, and interplant food trees and vegetables with plants that deer prefer. The deer will graze their favorites, often ignoring food crops. This method works best in conjunction with culling the herd, so that overpopulation doesn't force deer to eat everything in sight.