Once deer discover your yard as a delectable deli, they will hop fences, ignore scare tactics, and show up like clockwork to devour plant after plant. They'll trot right up on a porch to chomp off the roses or stretch high to nibble the clematis you thought was safe on an arbor.
Hungry deer will eat almost anything -- including occasional forays into the foods listed on our "won't eat" list. It partly depends on what else is available and how hungry the deer are. Deer in different regions have different palates. And the deer in your backyard might be the only one in the neighborhood that enjoys gobbling morning glories.
See top deer-resistant plants for your specific region.
There are many deer deterrents, and effectiveness varies largely on how quickly your particular deer adjust to them. It's typical for many techniques to work for only a few days. Some common deterrents that are spread around the plants include:
- thorny branches
- decaying fishheads
- blood meal
- fabric softener
- processed sewage
- repellent plants
The most effective technique may be a fence around the garden. To keep deer out, a fence should extend partly underground and not have gaps bigger than 6x6 inches where deer can squeeze through or crawl under. Enclose the entire garden or deer will go around the fence. And a fence should be at least 8 feet high. Some deer can clear an 8-foot fence unless obstacles -- such as angled netting, tree branches, or thorny shrubs -- prevent a clear take-off or landing place. Or try two 4- or 5-foot-high fences placed 3 feet apart.
You don't have to fight to keep deer out of your yard. Use an effective fence around your prized plants, wherever possible feature plants low on the list on the deer menu, and maybe try a deterrent tactic or two. Your yard may become so much work or of so little interest that the deer won't bother trying.
Plant the Right Plant
Deer often steer clear of plants that are poisonous, fuzzy, coarse, spiny, bitter, or very aromatic. But if deer are unclear about liking something, they'll try it, so even things they don't like aren't always safe for you to plant!
For starters, design your garden with plants like these:
- Golden bamboo
- Heavenly bamboo
- Barberry (usually)
- Butterfly bush
- Burning bush (some varieties)
- Flowering quince
- Mountain laurel
- Smoke tree
- St. John's Wort
- Tamerisk tree
- Ornamental onion
- Tuberous begonia