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7 Ways to Keep Deer From Eating Plants

Looking for ways to keep deer from eating your plants? Here are 7 ways to deer-proof your garden. (Post updated June 2022).

As an avid gardener, I’m often asked how to maintain curb appeal and keep deer from eating plants and flowers in my gardens.

While no method is foolproof, there are a few precautions to take to minimize the damage.

I implement a few strategies that work well for me and have given the same advice to family, friends, and clients who have had similar success.

Because I live in deer country New Jersey, I design gardens with deer-resistant plantings and spray high-risk plants with repellents.

Planting smart and diligently following a spray schedule keeps damage to a minimum in my gardens.

Here’s what you need to know.

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spring cleaning in the garden
Deer have no interest in alliums, which are members of the onion family. Alliums are striking in a garden border when planted in mass. Bulbs are planted in fall and bloom for a few weeks in spring.

7 Quick Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

While not foolproof, play around with these different strategies to see what works for you and your garden.

What works for me may not work for you, but a combination of these tips and tricks will help keep deer from eating garden plants.

Keep Deer From Eating Plants By Learning What Garden Plants They Do Not Eat

Plant smart and learn what garden plants deer do not eat.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension graded plants by deer-resistance.

I refer to this list all the time when I am designing and planting a garden.

There are many beautiful plant options that deer will avoid or rarely damage.

If deer are a problem in your neighborhood, start with this rated list.

how my cottage garden flowers grew in 2021 creeping phlox
Creeping Phlox is another great deer-resistant plant that blooms in early spring.

Quick Tips: Deer dislike sharp, prickly, rough, heavily scented plantings. They love glossy, soft green leaves and flowers (tulips, hostas, pansies, or mums anyone?).

While this is not an exhaustive list of deer-resistant plantings in my beds, I have had luck with the following:

  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Catmint
  • Salvia
  • Russian sage
  • Bee balm
  • Herbs
  • Poppies
  • Anything from the onion family
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Prickly evergreens like juniper.
Butterfly weed and catmint in my jersey garden

It is also worth noting that deer tend to follow the same path when they forage for food.

Once they learn they are not fans of plants in your garden, they will seek a different path.

This is why repellents are helpful. Because they teach deer that they don’t like what’s available so they move on.

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This does not mean they won’t ever return, but rather, may temporarily find better options in another location.

Therefore, it is best to keep your plantings as unpalatable as possible.

And NEVER get complacent with deer repelling strategies because as soon as you get a little lazy, they’ll eat your garden.

Been there done that – be diligent!

happy gardening
Catmint is a great deer-resistant planting that smells incredible and has a long bloom time. It also attracts lots of hummingbirds.

Design a Deer Proof Garden With Combination Plantings

While I typically lean towards deer-resistant plantings, I also plant things that require more protection.

When planting higher-risk plants, I group them together with plants that are less risky.

For example, I’ll use less risky plants in the front of the border and plant higher-risk plants towards the back.

Planting high and low-risk plants together helps protect plants that are more susceptible to deer damage.

Early Spring in the Garden
Salvia and Forget-Me-Nots are among some of the deer-resistant plantings in my mixed border.

Apply Deer Repellent to Keep Deer From Eating Plants

In addition to following the deer-resistant plant list, I spray high-risk plants with deer repellent.

There are several products on the market, but I’ve been using this product for several years.

It smells minty and the nozzle does not clog.

Plus it works really well.

leucanthemum in my jersey garden

While the bottle has application directions, I am more aggressive with the spray schedule for higher-risk plants.

I start spraying high-risk plants when they emerge from the ground, then again about one-two weeks later, depending on the growth.

And then spray every three-four weeks after.

This method has worked for me for many years.

daylillies and smoketree in my jersey garden

And if you try it, I hope it works for you too.

Lately, I added a granular around the perimeter of my property and that seemed to keep the deer away as well.

THIS is the granular I started using.

Watch this video to learn more!

YouTube video

What do other experts say?

Many experts recommend switching spray products so deer do not work through a particular repellent.

This method did not work for me because other deer repellent products clogged and prevented me from using the product without a struggle.

That said, try the ‘switch it up method’ if one repellent does not work for you.

Or try using both the repellent and granular method I mentioned above.

early summer in my jersey garden

Deer browse on the sedum (front row) on occasion. I spray them a few times from early spring through fall which seems to protect them.

They tend to leave ornamental grasses and hops alone so they have not bothered my roses, variegated dogwood or joe pye weed that is directly next to it.

Since it’s not economical for me to spray every plant in my gardens, I don’t spray most of this garden.

Tulips in my cottage garden

I only spray a few plants in the front row and that strategy seems to work for me.

If I notice other plants getting damaged, I will spray them too.

Note: do what’s right and works for you – every garden and gardener is different. You’ll learn through trial and error.

Double flowering daffodils

How Do You Build a Deer Proof Garden?

Install fencing. But there’s a catch!

If you really want to keep deer from eating plants and flowers in your garden, the best way is to install fencing.

They are known to jump 6′ fences, so an 8′ fence or higher would be ideal (check your local zoning laws before installing).

If you want a lower fence, you could also install a double fence about a foot apart.

I’ve also seen gardeners install tall polls or wood stakes and run fishing line to get the height out of lower fencing.

raised bed garden

Deer lack depth perception and generally will not jump a fence if they see another fence behind it because they can’t judge the distance between the two.

Before making the above raised garden beds, my vegetable garden was enclosed with smaller fencing within a few feet of our split rail fence.

Deer never jumped that fence or went inside the garden.

Vegetable garden in raised beds

As an aside, deer did not bother with my new raised garden beds either.

Was it the granular repellent method I ran around the perimeter of my property or did they lack the depth perception to jump in?

Either way, it worked.

I saw deer in the backyard but they never bothered those raised beds.

Bricks 'n Blooms Weekly

Use Scare Tactics to Keep Deer From Eating Plants

There are devices you can use to scare deer out of your yard.

Motion-activated sprinklers, lights, and radios have been known to help.

The problem with using them is that they may only be a temporary solution to the problem.

Deer can quickly figure out how to work around them.

I’ve tried using some of these before but don’t use them anymore. It is worth mentioning though in case you want to try it.

dividing perennials

Here’s a mixed border of plantings that bloom late spring through the summer: echinacea, black-eyed susan, tall phlox, and balloon flower.

I spray most of these in the early stages of growth and have had luck with deer leaving them alone.

They are also mixed in with less risky plants like globe thistle, bee balm, salvia, lavender, russian sage, and catmint.

dividing perennials

Dogs in the Garden

Dogs are great deterrents for scaring off deer when they are outside.

The problem with solely relying on dogs alone is that deer tend to do most of their damage during late hours when your dog may not be outside.

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My dogs may not be the scariest of dogs, but they do keep the deer at bay in my yard when they are outside.

Walk Around Your Gardens Every Day

One of the best ways to keep deer from eating plants is to walk around your gardens every day or as often as possible to check on your plants.

You can prevent major damage to plantings if you notice deer are starting to browse.

When I see some damage, I grab the deer repellent spray and heavily douse high-risk plants.

A little extra vigilance can go a long way.

My Early Spring in the Garden Tour

Prepare for Spring Early

If deer are a problem in your area, familiarize yourself with the deer-resistant list during the winter so you know what you want before heading to the local garden nursery in spring.

I also highly recommend purchasing deer repellent well before the growing season so you are ready to go when the plants emerge from the ground.

When we procrastinate, we forget until it’s too late, so I would get what you need early and store it until spring.

My mailbox garden is mixed with both perennials and annuals that are risky plants. I spray this garden a few times during the season and the deer tend to leave them alone.

What Smells Repel Deer?

Since deer have a heightened sense of smell, there are certain scents that help keep them away.

Again, not a foolproof list, but can be helpful.

And when you are trying to keep deer from eating your outdoor plants, anything is worth a shot!

  • Wolf urine
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Garlic
  • Sage
  • Rotten eggs
  • Onion

Final Thoughts

I hope this post inspires you to implement some strategies for maintaining a beautiful deer-resistant, happy, and healthy garden.

No method is foolproof but there are things that we can do to protect our gardens.

Every garden and gardener is different, so while one method might work for me, another method might work better for you in your landscape.

We learn how to garden through trial and error so play around with these tips and let me know how it works for you!

Daffodils are deer resistant flowers

Looking for More Garden Inspiration?

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Here are my best tips and tricks for growing a cut flower or cottage garden.

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How to Keep Deer From Eating Your Plants

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  4. Love this post! We always spray and I look for deer resistant plants. I love your suggestions for adding in plants in layers with deer resistant in front…on it!