Your vegetable garden is an eco-friendly, economical way to bring healthy food to your table. Unfortunately, local pests, like deer, may be thinking along the same lines. And if you’re not careful, you could end up feeding more deer than family members.

Learn more about how to spot a deer invasion and the different ways you can keep deer out of your yard.

Signs of Deer in Your Garden

young deer eating flowersIf parts of your garden are disappearing overnight, you may have a deer problem without even knowing it. Deer are most likely to feed during the early morning, dusk, and at night, so unless you’re outside, you’re unlikely to catch them in the act.

If you’re finding damage in your garden, look out for these signs of deer activity:

  • Hoof prints. Deer prints look like upside-down hearts.
  • Droppings. Look for pebble-sized deer droppings.
  • Trampled plants. Deer are unlikely to stick to your paths in their search for dinner.
  • Torn leaves or stripped branches. Ragged, torn edges and stripped branches are signs of deer.

Plants Deer Love

Your beautiful garden may be the ultimate deer buffet. That’s not to say you need to completely redo your garden, but you may need to take extra precautions to ensure that these plants make it through the year in one piece.

Be aware that these plants and trees are deer favorites:

  • In general, deer will eat any available grass, nuts, twigs, alfalfa, corn, fruit, fungi, buds, bark, and shoots.
  • Favorite nuts include pecans, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and acorns.
  • Favored fruits include apples, blueberries, blackberries, and persimmons.
  • Other choice selections include roses, hydrangeas, azaleas, holly, daisies, hostas, daylilies, pansies, yew, English ivy, rhododendrons, tulips, arborvitae, and fir.

8 Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

Deer deterrents fall into three major categories: physical barriers, odor and taste repellents, and scare tactics.

While it’s tempting to search out the perfect solution, using a combination of methods is your best bet. You might also find that rotating methods is an effective strategy.

1. Fencing & Netting

closeup of magnolia flower protected by a deer fenceBuilding a fence or cultivating high hedges will block deer from your property. Deer can jump high, so make sure the fence is at least eight feet tall. If you’re looking for something less permanent, plastic mesh deer fencing may be an option for you.

Depending on where you live, fencing may not be an option. If that’s the case, you can also use netting to protect your plants and crops. There’s specific plant netting out there, but you might also be able to trick deer by draping fishing line around plants or trees.

2. Animal Repellent

A human or canine presence is usually enough to scare away deer unless they’re used to searching for food in heavily populated areas. Outside of fencing, a watchful dog is the best deterrent.

Unfortunately, many of our dogs have become accustomed to the indoor life, so you may have to settle for letting your pet mark their territory. If your dog is anything like mine, the last thing she’d want to do is leave her soft bed, even if there were deer to chase away.

3. Commercial Repellents

A common way to repel deer and protect plants is to use bottled deer repellent. These repellents come in many forms, so do your research before bringing one of these home.

Some commercial repellents are meant to create barriers, while others are sprayed directly on plants to make them taste bad. These repellents must be reapplied on a regular basis to maintain their effectiveness.

4. Eco-friendly Solutions

a sock containing bar soap tied to a peach treeAnother home remedy for keeping deer at bay is to use strong odors. I remember visiting someone’s garden as a child and immediately regretting asking what the bucket was for. It turned out the garden was a good ten minutes from the house—and the restroom—so the bucket doubled as restroom and eco-friendly deer deterrent.

Disclaimer: She lives in a secluded area miles from the nearest road, so unless you’re in a similar situation, I’d avoid terrifying your neighbors and take the bucket inside.

If you’re looking for eco-friendly deer repellent, consider these options:

  • Hang bar soap from trees or shrubs by itself or in hose or socks.
  • Spread out human hair or hang it in a sock.
  • Deer can’t stand the smell of rotten eggs, can you?
  • Use predator urine to mark the garden territory, including fox, coyote, wolf, dog, and human.

5. Deer-resistant Plants

Plant smart, and create a natural barrier with deer-resistant plants. Surround your garden with strong-scented perennials like lavender or mint to hide the vegetable smell and ward off those hungry visitors.

Depending on your design scheme, you could consider using thorny and prickly plants as a physical barrier that’s much more aesthetically pleasing than a fence or dangling bars of soap around the yard. Or plant pungent herbs like sage or lavender in your garden to get a yield that’s multifunctional.

Remember that no plants are deer-proof, but these are their least favorites.

Textures:

  • Ferns
  • Mosses
  • Ornamental Grasses

Fuzzy Leaves:

  • Gray Yarrow
  • Jerusalem Sage
  • Lavender
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Blanket Flower

Waxy Leaves:

  • Bearded Iris
  • California Poppy
  • Blue Hostas

Culinary Herbs:

  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Parsley
  • Fennel
  • Rosemary
  • Bay Tree
  • Thyme
  • Alliums (garlic, chives, onions)

close up of lavender in a fieldMedicinal Herbs:

  • Peony
  • Foxglove
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Monkshood
  • Echinacea

Irritating Sap:

  • Euphorbia
  • Helleborus
  • Rue
  • Bluestar

6. Close Proximity

Plant your favorite crops closer to your house. Simple proximity can help keep the critters away for a time.

7. Level Up

Deer don’t like steep inclines, so if your yard is steep, you finally have a reason to be glad it’s not level. If you know you live in an area frequented by deer, you might want to take some preventative measures from the start. Create a garden with different levels by building terraces and sunken beds.

8. Make Some Noise

If you want to keep your views or just don’t want to put up fencing, old-fashioned scare tactics may do the same work. Motion-activated lights or sprinklers are super low-maintenance solutions. Also, think about hanging some wind chimes in your garden.

Finding the Perfect Deer Repellent

Chances are deer love what you have growing in your garden. Remember that if a deer is hungry enough, many of these deterrents won’t work, and while fencing is the only way to ensure a deer-free yard, it’s expensive and not always an option for everyone.

Try one or a combination of these remedies to keep your harvest all to yourself.

Physical Barriers

Physical barriers, like fences, are probably the most effective (but also most expensive) way to keep deer off your crops.

Odors and Tastes

Deer are largely guided by their sense of smell, so try a few natural tactics to keep them at bay. Use strong-smelling plants and predator smells as a natural barrier. It’s one of the most popular methods of repelling deer.

Scare Tactics

Another way to keep deer away is by scaring them with sounds and lights.

Don’t get complacent. Deer fear new things, and you’ve got the element of surprise on your side. Find a few things that work for your yard and rotate them throughout the year.