How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

By Kealia Reynolds

Knowing how to keep deer out of your garden can be challenging, especially since they can adapt their behavior based on the deterrent method you use. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions that can deter them from coming back to your garden or lawn.

We’ll help you identify signs that signal a deer problem and offer 17 ways to get rid of these animals, including completely humane and harmless ways to keep deer from damaging your plants.

Signs you’re dealing with deer in your garden

Since deer prefer to feed early in the morning and late at night, times when we’re usually sleeping, you may have a difficult time determining if they’re actually responsible for causing damage to your garden. Check for these signs to confirm that a deer is the one wreaking havoc on your foliage.

  • Upside-down heart hoof prints
  • Piles of round, pebble-like droppings
  • Trampled plants
  • Ragged, torn edges on leaves and stems

Left Lavender can confuse a deer's olfactory system and discourage feeding

Right Deer tend to stay away from prickly rose bushes and other thorny plants

How to keep deer out of your garden

After confirming that deer are responsible for damage to your garden and lawn, take a look at the following deterrent methods. Since each deer herd eats differently, patience and experimentation may be required when determining which method works best.

1. Grow deer-resistant plants

Deer tend to seek out plants rich in protein that are smooth, tender, and flavorful. Because of this, it’s a good idea to stay away from fruit trees, lettuce, beans, peas, hostas, impatiens, and pansies. Instead, choose deer-resistant plants that have one or more of these four qualities:

  1. Fuzzy foliage
  2. Prickly foliage
  3. Pungent foliage
  4. Leathery or fibrous foliage

If you don’t want to get rid of your existing plants and vegetables, consider fencing individual plants with a layer of deer netting or chicken wire to prevent deer from eating them.

Fuzzy foliage

Deer don’t like the feeling of fuzzy textures on their tongues. You can determine if a plant is fuzzy by rubbing the foliage between your fingers. If you feel small hairs on the leaves, the plant is probably a safe choice for your deer-proof garden. Opt for plants like barberries, fuzzy lamb’s ear, cleome, yarrow, or poppies.

Prickly foliage

Similar to fuzzy foliage, deer tend to stay away from thorny and prickly plants. Though some deer learn to eat around thorns, they generally avoid plants with spines on the leaves. Consider thorny rose bushes, globe thistle, and sea hollies.

Pungent foliage

Plants with strong aromas confuse a deer’s olfactory system and discourage feeding, making them a perfect way to keep deer out of your garden. Plant garlic, chives, mint, marigolds, and lavender, or flowering herbs like sage, thyme, and oregano. You could also try including catmint, dill, and bee balm in your garden.

Leathery or fibrous foliage

Deer typically avoid plants with leaves that are tough to digest. Irises, peonies, and some viburnums are great leathery choices to keep deer out of your garden.

2. Invest in physical barriers

Now that you know how to keep deer out of your garden with deer-resistant plants, your second line of defense should be investing in physical barriers. Any fence or barrier should be at least eight feet tall since deer can clear anything shorter than this. We recommend the following physical barriers to keep deer out of your garden.

  • Deer nettingBlack mesh deer netting installed on 4×4 foot metal T-posts is one of the most effective ways to keep deer out of your garden. Posts must be at least eight feet tall to keep deer from jumping over the netting.
  • Stockade fencesStockade fences typically come with panels that are pre-built and ready to install. Since they completely block a deer’s line of sight, they don’t have to be as tall as eight feet. You can buy stockade fences at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or other home improvement stores.
  • Electric fences—Though these are an effective way at keeping deer out of your garden, not all municipalities allow them. Check your local zoning laws before installing an electric fence. The two most common types of electric fences are solar-powered or plug-in; whichever one you choose, know that regular maintenance is necessary to prevent weeds and other plants from coming into contact with it and rendering it ineffective. Since electric fences deliver quite a shock, use caution when working around them and avoid using them if you have children or pets. Note that this is not the most humane choice when it comes to keeping deer out of your garden.
  • Clear fishing line—If you don’t want to compromise the beauty of your garden, use clear fishing line to keep deer out of your garden. Stake the corners of your garden with posts (six to eight feet high) and string a row of fishing line around the posts about two to three inches from the ground. Repeat this a few more times and work your way up the posts, placing the rows of fishing wire about a foot apart.

3. Employ deer repellents

There are a variety of commercial repellents and deterrents on the market, but their effectiveness is based on how frequently they’re used. At minimum, you should apply deer repellents weekly for them to have any effect. Here are some additional tips on how to keep deer out of your garden with deer repellents:

  • Deterrents that have a spreader-sticker additive help the deterrent stick to leaves longer. They work best on trees and shrubs.
  • Repellents that emit sulfur odors provide the best control.
  • Shake spray bottles before use to stir up the active ingredients that settle to the bottom.
Deer repellents we recommend

Most deer repellents can be bought from a garden store or hardware department. Follow all directions carefully and use caution when applying repellents to vegetables and herbs that you’ll eat—you don’t want to make your garden inedible.

  • Deer OffThis spray is the only deer repellent with a patented Dual Deterrent System that repels deer, rabbits, and squirrels by messing with their sense of smell and taste. The weather-resistant formula gives you two layers of powerful protection and lasts up to 90 days with one application.
  • HinderThis repellent can be used on vegetables, fruits, flowers, vines, nursery plants, and shrubs. It protects plants by forming a mild odor barrier that’s inoffensive to humans.
  • Bobbex spray—This deer repellent is the most effective long-lasting spray on the market. It’s environmentally friendly, using only natural ingredients to stop deer in their tracks. Apply the spray directly to your foliage to repel deer.
  • Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Ready-To-Use2This spray is harmless to plants and repels animals from landscaped ornamental gardens, flowers, shrubs, trees, and vines. It’s rain resistant and can be applied year-round.
  • I Must Garden—This deer repellent offers superior year-round protection against deer damage when applied directly to plants and smells like mint and spice (unlike other sprays that can smell like rotten eggs).
How to make a homemade deer repellent spray

If you want to learn how to keep deer out of your garden without chemicals, consider making a natural, homemade deer repellent spray.

This is not harmful to plants and it keeps other garden pests aside from deer out of your garden.

Materials

  • Spray bottle
  • One cup of milk
  • One egg
  • One tablespoon of dish soap
  • Water
  • Hot peppers (optional)
  1. Mix one cup of milk, one egg, and one tablespoon of dish soap and pour the solution into a spray bottle.
  2. Slice some hot peppers and add them into the solution for extra deer-deterring power.
  3. Fill the rest of the bottle with water and let it sit in the shade (this will get the aroma flowing).
  4. Spray before dusk and let the deterrent soak overnight.

4. Use scare tactics

If you want to know how to keep deer out of your garden without putting in too much work, employ a few scare tactics. By simulating unexpected sights and sounds, you’ll trigger a deer’s main defense against prey and keep them out of your garden. Here are a few scare tactics worth trying:

  • Motion-sensor sprinklers—Whenever deer move, these sprinklers will deliver a sharp burst of water in the direction of the motion, scaring the deer off. One sprinkler can protect small- to medium-sized vegetable gardens, but you’ll need more than one for a larger garden. Look for brands with an infrared sensor (these work best at night).
  • Aluminum cans or CDs—Though not visually appealing, hanging aluminum cans and CDs on your trees and bushes can create unusual visual and sound effects that cause deer to run away. My dad ties a clear fishing line around CDs and hangs them from the trees in our front yard. The reflecting light from the sun deters deer during the day and night.
  • Let your dog out whenever possible—Since deer will run away if they sense motion or danger, letting your dog out whenever you see a deer in your yard can prove to be effective.

Remember: Deer are quick learners and can adapt their behavior based on the type of deer repellent you use. Change products and strategies every so often if you find that one stops working—this will keep deer off balance and out of your garden.

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