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How to Keep Deer From Eating Plants

Looking for ways to keep deer from eating plants? Here are 7 easy ways to deer-proof your garden plants and flowers.

It’s that time of year again.

With the gardens bursting from the ground, deer are coming out in full force ready to eat garden plants. And they’ll continue to drop by straight through fall if you don’t take measures to deter them.

Are they a problem where you live too?

I’m often asked how to maintain curb appeal and how to keep deer from eating plants and flowers in the garden.

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

Here’s what you need to know to protect your garden from deer damage.

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

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:

Close up of daffodils in a garden that - I cut some for afor a centerpiece idea

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

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!

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.

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.

Thus, creating a mixed border can help protect more susceptible plants from deer damage.

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.

If you want to use a deer repellent that is systemic and not just topical only. You’ve got to try this spray repellent. It is very effective and helps protect plants from other types of critters too.

There are several products on the market, but I’ve been using this deer repellent for several years with great success.

It smells minty and the nozzle does not clog. Plus it works really well.

close up of tulip 'creme upstar'
Tulip ‘Creme Upstar’

How to Use Deer Repellent More Effectively

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 to two weeks later, depending on the growth. And then spray every three to four weeks after.

This method has worked for me for many years. And if you try it, I hope it works for you too.

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

For a time, I also used this granular deer repellent in conjunction with the spray repellent and found that it also worked really well.

Watch this video to learn more about it!

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.

Sometimes, I’ll spray a few plants in a garden but not the others around it if they are less susceptible to damage.

rudbeckia, sedum autumn joy, and gomphrena by the front porch in early fall

For example, deer sometimes browse on my sedum autumn joy that is in the front row of one of the beds. So I spray them a few times from early spring through fall which seems to protect them.

They have not bothered my roses, variegated dogwood, or Joe Pye weed that I grew in the same bed and did not spray with repellent.

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.

At the end of the day, you have to test things out and do what works for you – every garden and gardener is different. You’ll learn through trial and error.

Butterfly weed and catmint in my jersey garden
Butterfly weed and nepeta are both deer repellent plants

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.

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.

raised bed garden

Before making the 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. 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.

Vegetable garden in raised beds

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Home and garden blogger stacy ling walking in the formal garden during spring with daffodils

What Naturally Keeps Deer Away From Plants

Dealing with deer can be a challenging issue for many gardeners. Because deer are not fans of plants with a strong aroma or spikey foliage, there are lots of plants that naturally repel deer that will help keep your garden safe from damage.

One of the best plants for keeping deer away is echinops. It has spikey bluish lavender flower heads with sharp foliage that deer tend to leave alone.

Another plant that deer tend to avoid is the Russian sage plant. Russian sage is a hardy perennial with silvery-gray leaves and spikes of lavender-blue flowers.

It has a strong scent that deer find unappealing, and it’s also drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, making it an excellent choice for gardeners who want a beautiful, deer-resistant plant that requires little care.

dividing perennials
Close up of echinops in my cottage garden

In addition to echinops and Russian sage, here are some other plants that can help keep deer away.

  • Lavender: This fragrant herb has a strong scent that deer don’t like, making it an excellent choice for garden borders or as a container plant.
  • Catmint: This hardy perennial has small, lavender-blue flowers that bloom all summer long and a strong scent that repels deer.
  • Daffodils: Deer tend to avoid daffodils because they contain toxic compounds that make them unpalatable. Planting daffodils around the edges of your garden can help keep deer away from your other plants.
  • Hyacinths: A beautiful spring flowering bulb with an incredible aroma that deer tend to leave alone.
  • Alliums: Allium plants are from the onion family that deer tend to leave alone.
  • Bleeding Heart: Dicentra is a beautiful spring flowering perennial that produces clusters of heart-shaped blooms and thrives in shade.
  • Bugleweed: A beautiful groundcover that produces pretty purple flowers in spring deer tend to leave alone.
  • Snapdragons: An annual flower that is great for cutting that deer tend to avoid.
  • Hellebores: A perennial that blooms in late winter/early spring and has an extended flowering time.

For more deer-resistant flower garden planting ideas, check out my favorite list here.

Remember, no plant is entirely deer-proof, and hungry deer may eat anything when food is scarce.

However, planting a mix of these deer-resistant plants can help deter deer from your garden and make it a more enjoyable place to spend time.

close up of bugleweed (ajuga) with purple flowers

What is a Good Homemade Deer Repellent?

I don’t really recommend making them yourself as I have not found a recipe that works and stays on the plant better than what you can purchase commercially.

But if you want to try making some, you can try mixing hot sauce, garlic powder, and liquid dish soap with water to keep deer at bay. Keep in mind that this will wash off with the first rain, so you’ll need to re-apply as often as it rains.

If you prefer not to use a deer repellent, I’d focus more on planting herbs and flowers they don’t like or fencing in the garden with an 8′ garden fence.

lenten rose in my backyard garden
Lenten Rose (Hellebores)

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 to keep deer from eating plants.

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

It’s worth noting that while these smells can be effective in deterring deer, they are not foolproof.

Hungry deer may still enter your garden if food is scarce. So it’s important to use a combination of methods, such as planting deer-resistant plants and using deterrents like fencing and repellents, to protect your garden from deer damage.

tulips, daffodils and pansies in the front porch garden

Will Irish Spring Keep Deer Away?

Some gardeners swear by hanging bars or using shavings of heavily scented soaps like Irish Spring in the garden.

This has never worked for me.

I garden in an area that sees herds of deer. This is not an effective method.

Feel free to try it if you want, but I don’t recommend it.

Do Coffee Grinds Keep Deer Away?

While deer have a heightened sense of smell, some believe the bitter scent of coffee grinds can help keep deer away from plants.

However, there is no scientific evidence to back up the claim that coffee grounds deter deer or keep them away from garden plants.

Spring Flowers like lenten rose, virginia bluebells and bleeding hearts in the Zen Garden that are deer resistant shade tolerant flowers

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.

Final Thoughts

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

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.

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!

two black labs in the spring garden with daffodils and flowering crabapple trees

More About Keeping Deer Away From Plants

Do you have a problem with deer too or have tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.

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how my cottage garden flowers grew in 2021 creeping phlox
Creeping Phlox is another great deer-resistant plant that blooms in early spring.
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Double flowering daffodils
dividing perennials
early summer in my jersey garden
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Salvia and Forget-Me-Nots are among some of the deer-resistant plantings in my mixed border.
daylillies and smoketree in my jersey garden
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.
My Early Spring in the Garden Tour
Tulips in my cottage garden
leucanthemum in my jersey garden
My Early Spring in the Garden Tour
Daffodils are deer resistant flowers
happy gardening
Catmint is a great deer-resistant planting that smells incredible and has a long bloom time. It also attracts lots of hummingbirds.

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  1. Pingback: The ULTIMATE Guide to Having an Everblooming Colorful Garden - Stacy Ling
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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!

  5. An excellent article about dealing with deer! I have about a dozen deer go through my yard every day. I have found that applying Milorganite as a barrier around plants helps repel them, and is an excellent organic fertilizer as well.

  6. Do you have any solutions for squirrels and chipmunks? I have a terrible time with both, digging flowers out of my pots. I don’t have a deer problem, but squirrels drive me nuts! Any help you have would be appreciated. Thanks, Nancee

    1. Hey Nancee! I would give this repellent a try. https://urlgeni.us/amzn/plantskyyd It’s made from blood so will stain the plants initially – might want to protect anything around it or move the pots off the deck temporarily as you cover it in case there is any overspray.