Sometimes we don’t realize we have a deer problem until we plant something they really love to eat. Other times, we know we have a deer problem, but we aren’t willing to give up the plants we (and the deer) love, so we put up a fight. And it is a tough battle we wage with deer – the largest of the garden pests out there.

Deer fence

Tall deer fencing keeps the four-legged pests from getting into your garden.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Spraying foliage with deer repellant

Make sure to coat the top and bottom of leaves with any deer-repellent spray.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Water sensor sprayer

Motion-detecting water sprayers may scare deer away.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning


At least one deer enjoyed this hydrangea for a midnight snack.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

To win this war, the ideal strategy is to change our gardens by using deer-resistant plantings. In some cases, a plant’s taste or fragrance is displeasing to the animals, while in other cases, it’s a selection’s thorny stems that are the deterrent. In any case, there are many common, beautiful garden plants out there that deer simply avoid.

If you’re looking for deer-resistant perennials, think Astilbe, foxglove, sage, Lenten rose and Veronica. Shrubs to choose from include barberry, forsythia, nandina, juniper, mountain laurel and viburnum. Trees that deer steer clear of include bald cypress, flowering dogwoods and ginkgo. Deer don’t care for daffodil bulbs either.

Of course, any gardener living in a “deer zone” can probably tell you about additional plants that have worked for them. Truthfully though, if deer are hungry enough, they’ll eat just about anything.

On the opposite end of the plant spectrum are those plants that actually seem to attract deer. Hostas, hydrangeas, roses and tulips are just a few of the prized selections many gardeners will go to battle over just to keep them in their gardens! If you can’t live without these beauties, here are a few ideas to keep your plantings off a deer’s menu.

First off, the hand’s-down best defense is a deer fence. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most expensive methods, so most people use this as a last resort. Deer fencing can be professionally installed, or you can do it yourself. Check with your local Cooperative Extension office for detailed construction plans. You also may be able to get away with putting up temporary fencing when only a few plants need protection. Try black plastic netting as a barrier to cover susceptible plants, and consider wire cages to enclose any plant during its tender new-growth phase – when deer are most likely to eat them.

There are also numerous deer repellents on the market. People report different degrees of success (or no success) with these different products, so the best way to determine what works in your garden is to just try them out. A lot of repellents are based on natural ingredients, which makes them safe to use on most plants. Another bonus is that you don’t have to worry about your kids or pets being exposed to toxins. Just remember: Even though the label reads “natural,” you still need to read and follow all labeled directions carefully!

Another different kind of deer repellent on the market is in tablet-form. You bury it by a plant’s roots. The idea is that the root system will absorb the nontoxic repellent and deter deer from eating the now bitter-tasting plant. These tablets reportedly can work for up to three years in the soil.

Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with spraying or burying any kind of taste-based deterrent, you can always try a motion-detector water sprayer. The battery-operated unit hooks up to your water hose. When it senses motion, it sprays water up to a 180-degree angle. The idea is to startle deer and keep them from entering your unpredictable garden. (Just be sure to turn the units off when you’re working in your garden to avoid the unexpected squirt!)

Determining what works best for your garden (or perhaps, on your visiting deer), is really based on trying different methods. Personally, I like to use more than one deterrent at a time. For example, I use the tablet and spray repellents together, just in case what works for one deer doesn’t work for another. Plus, using just one method may be risky, depending on how smart your deer are. If your four-legged invaders get used to one type of deterrent, it might become ineffective. Then, in the span of one evening meal, the deer can graze through your entire yard! So go ahead and experiment. Protect your garden. And here’s hoping for a deer-free landscape!