Empowered by a deer fence, and one sad mistake

Living in a deer paradise, I have struggled for years to have a garden while the adorable ruminants think I’ve been growing their fresh salad bar. Honestly, I garden for the joy of it, and the idea that it needs to be constant warfare is disheartening. Last fall I gave myself a present and had had a fence professionally installed. It was expensive, but the benefit was wonderful.

Fence after installation.


The fence is 7 feet tall, and encloses an area 35 feet by 40 feet. Local code requirements are such that I can’t have a taller fence built without a permit and an engineer (!). The clerk at the county permit office said, if that is not enough, I can attach little extensions on top, but I did not.

The plan has been to have about 1/2 vegetable garden and 1/2 miniature fruit tree garden. I started espalier and columnar trees along the sides and corners, and grafted some of my favorite apple varieties onto Bud-9 and Geneva-222, and bought a few miniatures too (genetic dwarf peaches that I can cover during the winter, and a Cosmic Crisp on M27).

This turned out to be very empowering for me. This year my vegetable garden was the best that I ever had. While converting to this area, some things that don’t need deer protection took up some space (mainly potatoes), but I also grew things that I never had enough room for in my make-shift fenced garden (snowpeas, beans) and some plants did far better than they did outside the garden, despite reading that deer and rabbits wouldn’t eat them (squash, garlic and onions).

This garden was total joy. it is the best, most diverse, most productive garden that I have grown. The fence is much less hassle than the make-shift fences that I used before. It also looks better for the neighbors. The freshly grafted fruit trees grew very nicely. now that it’s fall, I have started planting them in the ground.

This week I made one big mistake. After a year of being highly vigilant about closing the garden gates, I left them open for ONE NIGHT. I had opened it to work on new raised beds, and was tired and a bit ill, and just forgot. If anyone else uses it, I nag (and get pushback) and check and recheck, but this time I just forgot. Overnight, deer entered my garden and completely defoliated every apple tree - all of the columnar, all of the miniatures, all of the espalier. They also removed a few raspberry leaves.

It is an interesting test of some other plants. They did not touch the miniature peach trees or the peach tree planted with plans to have a fan style along the back fence. They did not touch the Jalapeno plants, even though they have eaten those completely in the past. Cucumbers were left alone. They ate those too. Maybe it’s that these are end-of-year leaves and not so tender and fresh. Strangely, they did not eat the fresh volunteer show-pea plants that sprouted all over after recent rains.

It’s difficult to photograph something that’s no longer there - the leaves of these apple plants.

I feel very disheartened. Like I said, gardening should not have to be warfare. I’m contented to let the deer have occasional leaves and plant the rest of the garden with their habits in mind. They are part of the climate, so to speak. But these were something that I nurtured for a year, and are my hope for a future fruit garden. I suppose that this being mid October, they were about to head into dormancy and will be OK next year. A few years I bought some bare root nursery stock that had obviously not been dormant yet when dug and shipped (Chinese Haw), and that did fine. However, it’s a sobering lessen - never ever leave those gates open!

I suppose I could install some sort of spring on the gates so they close automatically. It would make it less convenient and more awkward for me.

My main worry is those little defoliated fruit trees. They all look like the photos. Many trees around here are changing color and dropping leaves any way. As long as they go dormant, they should be OK. We’ll find out in about 5 months.


That’s a bummer. Deer seem to find the exact plants we don’t want them to find. I’m betting your little trees will be just fine next year though…as long as you keep the garden gate closed anyway :slight_smile:


Bummer indeed. Maybe try setting a daily alarm in the evening. It’ll remind you to at least think if you closed the gates.


@bleedingdirt, That’s a really good idea. I will do that. And look for a pair of padlocks - I’ve caught people in my yard who apparently drive by and think they can wander in since no one is looking. Like it’s a public park or something. It could be that and not that I left it open, although I’m about 95% sure the problem was me :upside_down_face:

@smsmith, you are right about the perversity of deer tastes. Thanks for the reassurance - that helps a lot.

I feel your pain. For us the constant battle is with our own livestock, our garden and orchard, and the children whose gate opening abilities seem to be a couple years ahead of their gate closing abilities without exception.

It’s a rough time for a tree to lose leaves. I have a cherry that survived being stripped twice the first season in the ground. There is hope.

May next year be better! :slight_smile:


My trees are within a deer fence and I’ve had the same munching happen, both from an open gate and when a storm has taken down part of the fence. For one munching the trees have always bounced back, two munchings before the tree gets reestablished is usually OK; three munchings before the tree gets reestablished has usually ended badly.

My deer may be dense (or maybe better fed elsewhere) but I would also consider putting some simple barrier at the entrance that will hang in place even when your gate is open, e.g., just some of the plastic deer fencing that you can brush away as you walk through the gate. For my deer, if they learn there is “something” there, they no longer test it.


My uneducated guess is that your trees will be fine. I keep bonsai trees and it is a standard practice to strip the leaves off some types because the replacement leaves grow back smaller and are more fitting of the miniature look. These trees are kept in nearly barren soil to stunt their growth. We all have caterpillars or Japanese beetles nearly defoliate a tree occasionally. If the tree was otherwise healthy, it’ll probably spring back.


My apples are already dropping some leaves in some cases.

If I had to guess, they’ll just go ahead and go dormant early.

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I also hate that feeling of warfare. The deer here are so overpopulated, and I think actually undernourished, but all the soccer moms around here raise a fit if you dare shoot one of the little bastards.


Thanks all for the encouraging comments.

I’m thinking maybe it will be like watching a bud graft. If the petioles fall off, then it went dormant. If they just stay on and turn brown, that wont be a good sign.

I have a similar set-up for my veggie garden. I was sloppy about the gate closure and the deer mowed the whole thing to nubs a couple months ago. All the peaches and apples I had there came back fine though.

Now the really stupid thing was I still didn’t do a good enough job of reinforcing the fence and there was one spot where it was a bit sloppy and they got in again a few weeks ago. I think now it is close enough to leaf fall that it should not matter much. Next year I do a better job on building the fence. The deer here have gotten progressively more aggressive, in the past any sloppy fence would work.



I am sure your trees will be fine…

… and do you remember Ivan Pavlov? The pain you just experienced has produced the Pavlovian Response that will make it extremely unlikely that you will forget to secure that gate in the future.:blush:



Some people in this area have gates set on motion or key fob that automatically open and close. You never forget because it automatically closes. My garden is fenced as well but rarely rabbits are still a problem. Love how you built that and it’s enough. An idea that came to my mind the second i saw it is you could build a second one directly beside the first one and install a gate. I have 5 sections in my yard and my house is enclosed in one section. The overall fenced in area is shorter only 5’ in height but it allows me to move things around. I learned the technique from the really old farmers when i was a kid. They would raise field corn in a fenced in area but they were poor and scrictly smaller farmers unable to buy combines, tractors, etc. They still they made themselves a way to survive. The name dirt poor literally could come from these people but they were smart. Once the corn was ripe they added a sow and her piglets to the pen that would pull the corn from the stocks and eat it and the momma pig taught the babies. Once the corn was gone it was time to eat the pigs and take them to market and with everything rooted up they found plowing with the horse was easy work. What i did is grew a large garden then turned my chickens into that area in the fall where they ate large amounts of grubs and other insects or leftover tomatoes or cucumbers and they would fatten for winter. If you use two garden areas you can rest your land more in the summer but not let insects and voles build up. I kept my chickens in a fenced orchard where they could eat fallen pears etc.part of the time. so i would close the chicken yard off from one area and open up another rotating the chickens around from orchard to garden to smaller area where i grew them wheat or rye greens they could eat in the winter. At my property i even opened the yard to the chickens. When i built my house there was no grass here only dirt and no grass grew here for years. I fed my chickens weeds for there gree ns the fitst summer and i had to go up to a 1/4 mile daily to find them enough. The mice moved in from the grains fields and the chicks ate the mice in large amounts. Snakes followed the mice and the chickens ate them to. I currently have a vole imbalance because i no longer raise chickens so this year my traps must remain set because there are no chickens to balance the voles, insects increase because chickens no longer eat grubs which is why i try to let my mole population increase. Moles are hunted heavily in this area and there is a shortage. The reason i bring this up is voles will move into that penned in area over time and establish colonies which are very large here. To counter that now i rely on hawks and owls in addition to traps. Barred rock chickens or other hook beaked chickens would wipe out the colonies of voles in a year and harmful insects like grasshoppers.


i guess I’m blessed with not having a deer population in this part of the state. i do get a occasional moose come by but they only take a bite or 2 before moving on.


@MES111You’re right about that!

Plus I at least ordered locks for the gates. I can’t promise that it was me who left it open. Sometimes there are unwanted, uninvited human visitors. I wouldn’t leave money laying around unsecured. Why do I not secure my garden?

@scottfsmith, coming up with a good fence system is hard. I remember reading on the WA State wildlife page, they recommended leaving a foot open under the fence so the fence would be taller. I thought good, plus I can manage the grass better that way with the mower. Yup, deer crawled under that fence and ate several apple trees.

@clarkinks, thanks for your experience. I do think about having our chickens in there. At the moment, I have several areas mulched, which they would ruin. I might, anyway.

@BG1977, there are tons of deer hunters in my county. However, this area is populated. Parcels are one to ten acres. And kids. I don’t think they can hunt here.

@moose71, I would trade you a dozen deer for one moose :slight_smile:

I can’t believe I posted on this without one cuss word. I know I cant use them here but… :smiling_imp:

Everyone else too, thanks for the comments. Those are really helpful.


Leaving the bottom open won’t work for me,
either. I also have groundhogs to contend with.


I often stick items I do not want to forget inside my workboots. For your gate you could do the “string around the finger trick” with a simple bracelet. Hook it on the fence when closed. Around YOUR wrist when it is open.
If you feel uncomfortable wearing a bracelet you can substitute the bracelet for a clothes-pin and clip it to your earlobe.
If you must go to a key only system you can wear the key attached to a bracelet. Hanging a key from your ear is just silly.


if i was closer to you, id gladly go take care of your problem! :wink:

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@munalos, thank you for the suggestion. I got padlocks and put the keys on a small carabiner. I don’t think my ear is an option. I’ve done crazier things. When younger. My cargo workpants have a side pocket with zipper. The zipper handle might be a good place. That is my cellphone pocket.

@moose71 it would be kind of entertaining go have elks here. Give the neighbors something to talk about, other than the clothspin attached to my earlobe haha. And the cursing.

Deer around here are not deterred by a mere seven feet, so I’ll worry for you even if you never forget to close the gate again. Our fencing is very unprofessional, but above it we have three strands of non-electrified electric wire strung out to extend the height of barrier up to ten feet.