Nothing can be more picturesque than the sight of a deer loping through a field – unless it’s on its way to the garden and chews your plants to the ground. That’s when Bambi, the beautiful beast, turns into a destructive pest that you don’t want around.
It’s happening more and more as deer populations grow and humans build homes in what was once rural deer habitat.
What do deer eat? Anything vegetative, although they become less picky the hungrier they get (just like humans). They also eat a lot. The average adult male can consume more than five pounds of food each day.
How do you keep deer out of the garden? No matter what method you choose, early intervention is best. It’s much easier to deter deer before the herd has decided that your backyard is the best dining spot in town.
There are five broad categories of ways you can keep deer out of your garden. Let’s look at each of them in more detail:
1. Use Plants to Keep Deer Out
The easiest way to keep deer out of your garden is to utilize the plants you have in your garden strategically! Smart garden plant management is going to make all the difference and keep them away.
Here’s what you can do:
The sense of smell is extremely important to deer. They will avoid anything that smells unpleasant to them. Deer, like humans, acquire preferences for plants and trees that taste good to them.
A deer will probably go for food elsewhere if you can make your trees unpleasant to the deer’s senses of smell and taste. Some people plant strong-smelling herbs and other plants around trees and shrubs they want to keep pests away from.
Lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, catmint, garlic, and chives are just a few of the aromatic plants that deer avoid because of their powerful smells.
Deer dislike the feel of fuzzy or hairy materials against their tongues.
So before you buy a plant for your garden, consider rubbing its foliage against your cheek. If you notice little hairs on the leaves, whether bristly or soft, it’s a good plant for deer-proof gardening.
Some good deer-resistant garden plants include lambs ear (Stachys), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla), Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), tuberous begonias, heliotrope, yarrow (Achillea), Ageratum, poppies, and purple top vervain (Verbena bonariensis).
Most deer also don’t like plants that have spines on their leaves. Deer normally avoid plants with spines on the leaves themselves, yet some deer learn to graze around the thorns of rose canes to nibble off the leaves.
This group includes plants like bear’s breeches (Acanthus), globe thistle (Echinops), Cardoon, and sea hollies (Eryngium).
Plant Deer-Attracting Plants Closer
This is especially crucial in the spring when mother deer are feeding their fawns. They enter yards in quest of tasty plants rich in protein and minerals.
During this time of year, deer enjoy eating English ivy and a range of vegetable plants such as peas and lettuce. Any trees or vines that have fruit on them will also be attacked.
Deer like the sweet taste of berries such as strawberries or other sweet fruits like peaches, and many flowers, like pansies and impatiens.
You should bring these plants closer to your house and place them where they can be seen from the windows. Even when they are starving, deer are wary of approaching a human dwelling at such a close distance.
2. Use Physical Barriers
The next category includes any physical barriers you can use to keep these beautiful, but annoying, deer away:
Generally considered the best remedy but can be unsightly and expensive. The conventional deer-proof fence is eight feet high and features woven wire.
You may be able to get away with a shorter fence as deer are opportunistic nibblers and any barrier may be enough to dissuade them if there is alternative food in the area. Sometimes something as simple as a plastic fence is enough to keep them out of your yard.
A notch up from regular fencing since it adds an electrical shock has the same general advantages and disadvantages.
Strange, but true fact about electric fencing: people smear peanut butter on aluminum foil attached to the fence. The peanut butter is a powerful lure and once the deer’s nose makes contact it won’t want to repeat the experience.
For another, less expensive electric alternative, check out our Havahart Electronic Deer Repellent that we carry.
Create a border and barrier with hedges. Keep deer out by using boxwoods and other dense hedges. These plants line the perimeter of the yard, acting as a border or a wall to keep deer out.
Since deer can’t see through the hedges into the yard, they may decide it’s too dangerous to go there and go somewhere else instead. It is important to maintain hedges in such a way that they remain full and continue to obscure the view into your yard.
Tree wraps are also frequently used to keep deer from nibbling and rubbing their antlers against trees. Wraps, on the other hand, lack aesthetic appeal, and occasionally intelligent deer may knock them off the tree.
If you choose to use antler covers to stop rubbing, apply them in the fall when deer begin to mark their territory. You can also use netting to keep deer from eating your plants.
To protect plants, fruit trees, and bulbs from deer, drape the net over them. The nets allow your plants to receive water and light while also protecting them.
Young plants should especially be wrapped or covered because this is when they are most vulnerable.
3. Utilize Scare Tactics
Some harmless scare tactics here and there can make a bigger difference than you think! Here are some of our favorite methods to keep deer out:
Even deer don’t like the unexpected. The sudden noise, movement, and spray scare the animals away, teaching them to avoid the area in the future.
Ultrasonic devices are another great way to keep deer out of your garden. They don’t play music for deers’ ears but, instead, emit noise that they can’t stand. Kind of like playing “Heavy Metal” for your grandmother who loves Lawrence Welk!
Having a dog as a pet is a great way to deal with deer. Regardless of their size, their scent and bark are natural deer repellents.
So give your dog lots of time to play in the yard. If your dog sees a deer, it will most likely bark. The deer will likely run away and believe your yard isn’t a safe location to graze.
4. Use Deer Repellents
Deer repellents are anything that is sprayed, dusted, or left around plants to ward off deer.
The scent of humans or dogs used to be enough to drive away the hungriest of deer, but now deer are used to having us around, so hanging pantyhose stuffed with human hair – an old-time remedy – no longer does the trick.
More and more gardeners are turning to repellents. Deer repellents smell bad and taste worse, which is why they work. Their effectiveness depends on how much feeding pressure the deer face – how hungry they are – or how attractive your plants are to them.
It’s hard to sort out which repellent to buy. Some studies recommend one thing while another one says something completely different. The best thing to do is experiment yourself and find out what deer in your area dislike.
Keep in mind that what works can vary from year to year. Deer can become used to repellents, which means what first was a powerful deterrent could become less so over time. That’s why it can be a good idea to rotate their use.
Repellents can range from a 99-cent bar of soap (Dial or Lifebuoy, which you hang near your plants by drilling a hole in the soap and attaching string.) to spray on applications that feature coyote urine.
You can even make your own homemade repellent. Blend two eggs and a cup or two of cold water at high speed. Add this mixture to a gallon of water. Let stand for 24 hours. Re-apply as needed.
How Often to Use Deer Repellents
How often you have to apply repellents depends on the time of year, the amount of rain you’re receiving (the more rain, the less effective the repellent is as it washes off), how anxious the deer are for food, as well as what type of deer are foraging on your property.
Depending on the repellent used, you may have to apply it every couple of weeks or just every couple of months.
Some repellents are inappropriate for food crops. Repellents won’t just repel the deer, but you too by making the plants and their fruits or vegetables taste bad. (If you can avoid the fruit or the vegetable, you can spray the rest of the plant and not damage the food.)
How to Apply Deer Repellents
When applying deer repellents, always read the product label. Usually, you’ll need to apply when it’s 40˚F or warmer and your plants are dry. Avoid spraying when it is windy as you’ll get more on you than on your plants.
If treating young trees, apply the repellent to the entire tree. Older trees may only need treatment on new growth. Treat all trees up to six feet above the maximum expected snow depth. You may also need to reapply frequently, especially after rain or irrigation.
5. Maintain Your Landscape
And last, but not least, it’s important to maintain your yard!
Don’t make your yard a comfy spot for visiting deer. You do not want to entice them to spend the night or relax there throughout the day. Trim areas with a lot of plants to make them look less appealing as places to hide.
Deer favor locations that provide rapid cover from predators. Therefore, removing this cover will deter deer from visiting your yard
Other deer control methods include harvesting crops as early as possible, which gives deer less of an opportunity to dine on your vegetables and fruit.
At Planet Natural we offer a large selection of natural and organic pest control solutions. From barriers & repellents to botanical sprays, we only carry the best. Also, visit our Pest Problem Solver for pest pictures, descriptions and a complete list of earth-friendly remedies.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.
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