Q: Last week you mentioned that your cousin is using an electric fence to control deer. We live out in the country and the deer eat our hydrangeas, roses and althea like they are candy. No repellents seem to work. How does one install a fence?
A: The first thing to understand is that an electric fence doesn’t kill an animal. The electricity carried by the wire is high voltage but low wattage. That means an animal will be startled by the zap but not harmed. The purpose of an electric fence is to train an animal to expect something unpleasant when they come near it. Wild deer are quite difficult to capture and train but you can instruct them on proper behavior near your garden by installing a “Peanut Butter” electric fence.
You probably already know that an electric fence consists of a small wire supported above the ground on insulated stakes. A special electric charger is attached to the wire and to a ground rod which has been driven into the ground. You can buy the materials from a hardware store or home improvement center. After you string the wire around your garden, it’s time to train the deer.
Turn off the charger and grab a jar of peanut butter and some aluminum foil. Take a tablespoon-sized wad of peanut butter in your fingers and mold it around the wire at some point. Tear off a strip of aluminum foil three inches wide and twelve inches long and center it over the gob of goober-butter. Drape the foil strip on both sides of the wire, then, where the foil touches the peanut butter, crumple the foil around it. You should now have a wad of aluminum foil protecting the peanut butter from rain and a narrow flag of shiny foil hanging beneath it. Repeat this procedure at five foot intervals along the entire circumference of your fence.
At night, when a hungry deer approaches your garden, they will smell the peanut butter and investigate with their nose. KA-ZAAAP!!! Those roses don’t look quite as inviting when they are accompanied by a side dish of electricity! When the deer wanders by the next night, they will be reluctant to come close to any shiny, dangling objects no matter how good they smell and no matter how inviting the hydrangeas inside the wire seem.
Electric fences aren’t maintenance-free. If the wire touches a nearby limb or grassy undergrowth, electricity will go there – not to the deer. When you install your fence, clear a strip of ground three feet wide on either side of the fence so you can walk along it every week to keep the wire clear.
CAUTION: Do not use an electric fence where children could come in contact with it. Post signs identifying your fence at intervals around it. Check with your governing municipality to make sure electric fences are allowed in your area – they are not legal in some areas.