How to Keep Deer from Eating Plants and Out of Your Yard

These large mammals will do anything to get their hands (or hooves) on your flowers and vegetables. Keep them away 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 chew 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's available (deer in different regions have different palates). There are plenty of methods for how to keep deer from eating plants and away from your garden 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.

deer walking through clearing
Karla Conrad

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 that deer are visiting your garden include nibbled produce, roughly clipped leaves, buds, and blossoms vanishing overnight, hoof prints in soil, and small piles of round black droppings. In the winter, scrapes on tree trunks and woody shrub branches are often from deer antlers. Deer can reach leaves as high as six feet, so scoring on trees that tall eliminates smaller animals as the culprit.

Odor Deterrents

Many deer deterrents 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:

deterring deer with aluminum foil pie pans

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
  • Floodlights
  • Hidden fishing lines
  • Sprinklers ($20, The Home Depot)
  • Reflective surfaces (aluminum pie pans, streamers)
  • Fences
  • Netting
enclosed garden with open door
Rob Cardillo Photography

Garden-Protecting Fences

The most effective technique for deterring deer is a fence around the garden. A fence to keep deer out should extend partly underground and not have gaps bigger than 6x6 inches where deer can squeeze through or crawl under to get into your yard. 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.

securing chicken wire with zip tie
Dean Schoeppner

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 to fence 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. Like 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:

  • Noisemakers
  • Flags
  • Radios
  • Whistles
  • Electric wires

Deer Deterrent Sprays

There are DIY deer-defying sprays for plants, such as rotten egg and water, soap spray, and 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. Unfortunately, applying a deer repellent spray once or twice a year is not enough. Deer learn from experience, so repetitive applications will give them the message that they're not welcome in your rose garden. Although you should keep using deterrents every season, there are different methods to use that are appropriate for where the damage is worst 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

Mating season starts in the fall for the deer population, which means larger groups of deer will gather 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 about the most. Fall is also when bucks start to scrape their antlers against trees to remove the velvety layer that grows 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 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 following spring. Bobbex, a natural deer repellent brand, recommends spraying repellent every two weeks or when one to two inches of new growth appears.

Buy It: Bobbex Deer Repellent Ready-to-Use Spray ($14, The Home Depot)

Deterring Deer in Summer

Lower growing plants are at most risk in the summer, while trees and shrubs are of concern during 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 poisonous, fuzzy, coarse, spiny, bitter, or very aromatic plants. 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. It's a good idea to start the design of your garden with known deer-resistant plants.

‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple Acer palmatum
Adam Albright

Deer-Deterring Trees

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:

white Spirea Spiraea
Peter Krumhardt

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:

Mountain bluet Centaurea montana
Peter Krumhardt

Perennials That Deter Deer

If you 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:

Because deer are so adaptable and resourceful, there's no way to 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.

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