Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Deer Fencing With a View, building one.

The old way to keep deer at bay was ugly.

Deer fence barriers have usually been made with woven wire mesh up to six feet and several horizontal strands of wire above that, creating a prison-perimeter that looks like Stalag 13 and that's not acceptable for most suburban or rural yards.

It's spring and the fawns will soon be looking to stake out new territory. Testing every fence.

I learned of a special fence that had a 20-year track record of keeping deer out. Because no part of the fence is taller than four feet, the home owner's view remains mostly unobstructed; the double placement avoids the looming ugliness of the tall eight-foot agricultural version while being, in my area, just as effective. There have been at least five replications of this type of fence after I built this model. They all work.

The fence are both only four-feet high. The two four-foot high fences are built five feet apart. (See the photo in the upper right above.) Since deer can’t talk, I’m left to guess why this seemingly uncomplicated design is so effective. The most common theory is that the deer can’t see enough room between the two fences to land and then rebound over the inner fence. For whatever reason, this configuration seems to work on both flat and sloped sites. The fences must be in the open"meadow" as a neighbor built one in the forest and it didn't work. (I was the first to take the bold leap to build one on a gradual slope.)

Both four-foot fences can be made with 2"X4" inch wire-mesh fencing attached to six-foot metal stakes pounded two feet into the ground. Or, for a more aesthetic look, the most visible areas of fencing can be made of wooden boards, pickets, or grape stakes. Because it requires additional posts and hardware, the cost of the double fence will be somewhat higher than that of an eight-foot barrier, but the unencumbered view is often worth the expense And working at four feet or less is much easier for the weekend fence builder.

I staggered the top of these grape stakes by six inches and left a gap as wide as a grape stake to give the fence a lighter feel. The inner wire fence was planted with honeysuckle, that rapidly obscured the wire and continued to be effective.

With two fences, two gates must be built at each opening. One attractive solution is to incorporate two four-foot gates into a five-foot-square eight-foot-tall arbor, which can also serve as support for climbing roses planted inside the inner fence. (I learned from the client that five feet was bit to tight to easily pass through with a wheelbarrow —it worked but is a tight, knuckle-scrapping width. So, all future designs will have a six-foot wide arbor.)

I decided to have the grape stakes on the gates reflect the curve of the arbor. I used cardboard to sketch the curve, flip it, and use it as a template for the stake. (See the illustration on the lower left.) The finished arbor, as seen above is attractive. However I felt I was taking a chance as the deer might use the hole to jump through. Luckily, after over 20 years no grazing ungulates have traversed the gate.

The client planted deer-resistant English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) grown from seed on the outside of the fence. Because the plants were grown from seed, there is a wonderful array of blossom colors—from typical lavender blue to royal blue to pastel blue and even almost pure white.

The combination of the lavender on the outside (the fourth photo) combined with the inner fence covered with honeysuckle and the fence nearly invisible. A pleasant, and fragrant, way to deter these beautiful, yet destructive-eating machines.

For the plantings outside the fence, it's important to realize that deer, their habits, and their appetites are always changing. However, in my garden, lavender has been untouched for 25 years. What deer eat and what will fence them out, varies throughout the country. Try each new strategy in moderation until you find out if it works. The answers to deer browsing will always remain as diverse as our local environments.

I built this fence nearly 20 years ago and no deer have crossed it. Once a mighty buck got trapped between the two fences. Luckily, he jumped out the way he came, away from the prized roses, strawberry plants, fruit trees and countless other delectables. If you don’t move to fast you can often slowly walk an animal back to where it breached the perimeter to see how it got in.

I rent my home and the layout of the house to the road and the garden would make it very difficult to construct a double four-foot fence. And the cost would be prohibitive. So I’ve settled upon planting deer-resistant exotics.

I wonder if this double fence will work in cold-weather areas where winters are snowy and harsh and deer become desperate. For one thing, snow drifts might make it easy for the deer to simply walk up to and over the four foot height. If you know of such a fence in your area, please let me know. For much of the west, it’s a solution worth experimenting with.

Electrical fencing, which provides a safe but deterring shock, is a common solution the snow parts of the country. A popular electric fence for parts of New England is a low-profile, five-foot-tall electric fence made of high-tensile wire.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

All rights reserved, Copyright 2008

Visit my web site to learn about my gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert


Anonymous said...

This is the most beautiful deer fence I've ever seen! Thanks so much for the inspiration. Most fences are designed to be utilitarian, but there's no reason they can't be both useful and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

How much would a project like this cost?

Robert Kourik said...

I did this fence in 1984! Don't remember the cost, but very expensive to have someone do. Cost for materials is much higher than 8'wire fence. Could use 4' metal fencing on both sides to save a lot of money.

Nels Bredahl said...

Thanks for your generous article, Robert. I am now using your ideas and building a double deer fence to protect my new orchard here in Kanab, Utah.
Nels Bredahl