Deer will do anything and everything to get their hands (or hooves) on your flowers and vegetables. Keep them from eating their way through your garden with these solutions.
Once deer discover your yard as a delectable deli, they'll 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 were safe on an arbor. And hungry deer will eat almost anything, depending on what else is available (deer in different regions have different palates). There are plenty of methods to keep deer away that you can try, but it might take some experimenting to see what works best in your yard. One of the best ways to keep your garden safe is to fill it with deer-resistant plants that they'll avoid on their own.
Plants That Deer Like to Eat
Deer often go for tender greens such as lettuce, pansy, ivy, hosta, and most young plants. Spring and early-summer plants, including tulips, lilies, and roses, seem especially appealing to deer, even if they're planted in containers. They feast on fruits of all kinds, from strawberries to fruit trees and fallen fruit. Deer will eat bark, twigs, and leaves of most trees and shrubs. They can also damage woody plants, especially during winter when food is scarce.
How To Identify Deer Damage
Clues of deer visiting your garden include nibbled produce, roughly clipped leaves, buds and blossoms vanished overnight, hoof prints in soil, and small piles of round black droppings. Scrapes on tree trunks and woody shrub branches in the winter are often from deer antlers. Deer can reach leaves as high as six feet, so scoring on trees that high eliminates smaller animals as the culprit.
There are many deer deterrents that rely on odor, and effectiveness varies on how quickly the deer visiting your yard adjust to them. It's typical for many techniques to only work for a few days. Some common deterrents to spread around your plants include:
- Decaying fishheads
- Blood meal
- Fabric softener
- Processed sewage
- Repellent plants
Physical Deer Deterrents
Certain obstacles and items will keep deer far away from your gardens. Fencing is the most obvious barrier, but reflective surfaces and thorny branches can be just as effective. More physical deterrent options include:
- Thorny branches
- Hidden fishing lines
- Reflective surfaces (aluminum pie pans, streamers)
The most effective technique for deterring deer is 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 they'll go around the fence. A fence should also 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.
Netting For Plant Protection
Drape shrubs and small trees with garden netting, the same material used to keep birds off edible plants. You can also use netting and metal stakes to create a temporary fence around a small section of a garden. Black deer netting, also known as "invisible netting," won't block the view of your garden, but will keep deer out if it's 8 feet or taller. If you don't want fencing that high but still want to keep deer out of an area, practice double fencing. Set up two lower net fences a few feet apart. Similar to hanging pie pans to trees and shrubs, you can attach shiny streamers to netting to scare deer away.
Noise Deterrents for Deer
Deer are easily spooked and can be kept away using noise deterrents like whistles and windchimes. They also avoid electric wires because of the humming sound they make. The full list of noise deterrents includes:
- Electric wires
Deer Deterrent Sprays
There are DIY deer-defying sprays for plants, such as rotten-egg and water, soap spray, hot pepper spray, and there are also many types of commercial repellent sprays. Be sure to keep your deer repellent sprays as organic as possible. Some people even try to lure deer away by planting the animal's favorite foods in a remote part of the property, far from gardens and flower beds.
Deterring Deer by Season
Deer (and their less common relatives, moose and elk) usually leave a path of destruction in the landscape and can destroy plants and trees in every season. It's not enough to apply a deer repellent spray once or twice a year. Deer learn from experience, so repetitive applications will give them the message that they are not welcome in your rose garden. Although you should keep using deterrents in every season, there are different methods to use in each that is appropriate for where the damage is worse and how the deer behave.
Deterring Deer in Fall
Mating season starts in the fall for the deer population, which means there will be larger groups of deer in one area (does and bucks are seeking each other out). Most flowers will be winding down from their blooming season, but it's the trees you need to worry most about. Fall is also when bucks start to scrape their antlers against trees to remove the velvety layer grown over the summer. The repetitive scraping can damage, and even kill, trees. Make sure to use deterrents to protect trees of any size.
Deterring Deer in Winter
It seems like winter should be your downtime when it comes to deer, but they can be just as destructive in the dead of winter as they are in other seasons. When the grass and plants are covered in snow, deer look upwards for a food source and start chewing off twigs and leaves. Their eating habits can leave your branchy plants looking misshapen, can kill limbs, or even kill the whole plant.
Deterring Deer in Spring
After a winter of searching for accessible food, deer have huge appetites in the spring, and new shoots and buds are especially enticing. If you've had deer problems in the past years, they will probably return in the next spring. The folks at Bobbex, a natural deer repellent brand, recommend spraying repellent every two weeks or when one to two inches of new growth appears.
Deterring Deer in Summer
Lower growing plants are in the most danger in the summer, while trees and shrubs are the concern in the cooler seasons. Natural food choices are easier to find. But, when the weather turns hot and dry, natural vegetation in forests and fields can get scorched and die off, forcing deer to look for well-groomed landscaping for green.
Deer-Resistant Plants for Your Yard
Deer 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 to plant. Start the design of your garden with known deer-resistant plants.
Deer may not completely avoid these trees, but they're less likely to munch on them than other options. If you've had problems with pests in the past, consider planting some of these trees:
- Black locust
- False cypress
- Japanese maple
- Palm trees
- Spruce (usually)
Shrubs That Deer Avoid
One of the best ways to prevent deer from eating your plants is to choose shrubs that they won't enjoy. Here are a few options that should be safe from nibbling deer:
- Golden bamboo
- Heavenly bamboo
- Barberry (usually)
- Burning bush (some varieties)
- Butterfly bush
- Flowering quince
- Mountain laurel
- Smoke tree
- St. John's Wort
- Tamarisk tree
Perennials That Deter Deer
If plant a few perennials to keep deer away, they'll come back each year with minimal effort on your part. Here are some of the best perennials for discouraging hungry deer:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Lamb's ears
- Ornamental onion
- Tuberous begonia
Because deer are so adaptable and resourceful, there's no way to completely guarantee that they'll leave your garden alone. But by choosing plants that deer avoid, putting up a fence, and using deer repellent or other deterrents, you've got a much better chance of keeping them at bay.