Deer can be the most damaging pests in any garden.  In the spring they can devour the green shoots of most any new plant, even plants they would avoid later in the season.  In the summer, one visit from wandering deer can destroy a vegetable garden overnight. During fall and winter, evergreens such as Arborvitae, Cedars or even evergreen Azaleas are at risk of being raised by hungry deer.   It is also true that gardens with frequent deer visits will have an increased population of ticks leaving your family at greater risk of Lyme’s Disease or other tick borne illnesses.

How to Keep Deer Out of a Garden

So what can be done? There are many ways to deter hungry deer from your gardens.

Three Steps to Keep Deer Out of a Garden

  1. Choose Deer Resistant Plants
    Consider solutions specific to your types of plantings. Keeping deer away from your flower garden requires different strategies that keeping them out of your vegetable patch!
  2. Plan for the Seasons – Deer Repellants
    all new green shoots are at risk early in spring when later in the summer your focus should be on protecting your vegetables and fruits.  And don’t forget that in the winter deer will eat most anything- plan to protect your winter greens.
  3. Update Your Deer Deterrents
    Vary your tactic over time to keep them at bay- deer are smart and can become more bold if you don’t continue to startle them.

1. Deer Resistant Plants

Start with a smart choice of plants.  In many cases this means choosing native plants, species that are native to your region. There’s a reason why plants found in your local forest and grassland survive deers. If your region has a high deer population does it make sense to plant a field of tulips and then spend your spring chasing them off?

You can still have your tulips but don’t plant only tulips, try choosing some native plants that are deer resistant as well. This is called Companion Planting. Choose plants that are less interesting to deer. Ring your garden with the least tasty and strongest scented plants and if you plant something that’s a favorite to deer, plant deer deterrent companion plants right next to it.

A few considerations when choosing deer deterrent plants:

  1. Some plants have compounds that have a toxicity to deer and they avoid them. These include; daffodils, snowdrops (and all members of the Amaryllis family) foxglove, bleeding hearts, poppies and spurges.
  2. Deer do not like strongly scented plants including most herbs; lavender, sage, mint, thyme, rosemary and oregano.
  3. In vegetable gardens, deer do not eat rhubarb, asparagus or all members of the allium family; garlic, shallots, onions or chives. Plant these along the edges!
  4. Deer are sensitive to the texture of plants and leaves. They do not like plants with fuzzy leaves such as lamb’s ear, yarrow or lady’s mantle.   They also avoid woody, prickly or fibrous plants such as ornamental grasses (great to create a tall barrier), peonies, iris and thistles.

Deer Repellants

Homemade deer repellents can be effective and also inexpensive.  Mix and match the following options:

  1.  Deer do not like strong odors- try sprinkling soap flakes or leaving small soap bars around the garden perimeter, the smellier the better!
  2. Deer also do not like scents that remind them humans or dogs are near- dog hair and human hair (really- stop in your local salon for a bag!) can be hung near plants. Try making small sacks using old nylons.
  3. Homemade sprays can be sprayed directly on shoots and leaves to prevent nibbling. This is hard to keep up with later in the season but is particularly effective early spring as shoots are coming up and spring grazing habits are forming.  Using a blender, mix and match ingredients including hot peppers, garlic, rotten eggs and souring milk or yogurt.  Apply every few days and always after a rain.

Predator Scents to Keep Deer Away
Commercial deer deterrent sprays are also readily available at garden shops. These sprays often have real or synthetic “predator urine” the scent of a coyote, wolf or fox will dissuade deer from coming near. As with any homemade spray you must reapply frequently and they can become less effective over time. Be sure to vary the brands you use and alternate with your home made blends to be most effective.

How to Humanely Scare Deer
Inexpensive scare tactics can be used to startle your hungry deer.  Consider bright lights on motion sensors and radios left on.  You can hang noisemakers such as aluminum pie plates or cans on strings can be hung throughout your garden.  A light cotton string can serve as a “tripwire” to set your rattles in motion.

Deer Fence
A deer fence is an effective way to keep deer out of a garden.  For the hungriest and most persistent deer, especially for vegetable patches, fencing is the best option to create an effective deer barrier.  Full yard fencing also has the benefit of reducing general deer traffic and ultimately reduce your potentially harmful tick population.  Effective deer fencing should be 8 or even 10’ high to deter the best jumpers.  Be sure that deer fencing has small openings, 1-2 inches to prevent injury to deer or other animals.  It helps if your fence is “invisible” and has no top rail because the less visible a fence is to a deer, the less able they are to spot the top and be able jump over it.

Vary Your Deer Deterrents

It’s a good idea to not rely on a single solution year after year. Deer can learn to overcome barriers to a garden. For persistent deer you may have to use more than one kind of deer deterrent to keep them out. When the next season comes around you might want to give a different deterrent a try if there are an abundance of deer in your area.