Guide to Deer-Resistant Landscaping

Young deer grazing

Bambi might have stolen your heart at the movies, but you might not feel the same way when you catch him munching on your prize-winning vegetables. 

Deer are much larger than other garden grazers — such as rabbits and moles — so they will cause more damage at a faster rate. This is why it’s important to take preventative measures and act fast when you notice deer-related damage.

Deer also carry ticks that can spread Lyme disease to humans and dogs, making them a bigger threat to your health than to your garden. 

Read on to learn how to make your landscape deer-resistant and deter Bambi from grazing in your garden. 

How to deer-proof your backyard

Protect your plants

Fruits and vegetables aren’t the only plants deer find delectable — you’ll also find deer nibbling on your decorative flowers, shrubs, and trees. That’s why it’s important to protect all of your plants, especially those proven to attract deer.

Build a fence.

Barricade your garden or your entire yard from deer by installing a fence high enough to keep them out. Deer can jump very high — about 8 feet — so you’ll need to install a fence that’s at least 8 feet high. 

You also can install a shorter fence (around 6 feet high) at an angle slanting outward to deter deer from trying to jump over it. An electric fence also would be effective for keeping deer out of the garden. 

One proven trick is to use rows of fishing line to form a barrier around the plants you want to protect. This will confuse and frustrate deer enough to keep them from eating them.

At night, use floating row covers to keep your plants safe from midnight snacking. 

Grow your garden close to home.

Growing your garden close to home will help you have easier access to ingredients while you’re cooking, and also will help you keep guard against pesky deer. If you grow a lot of deer-attracting plants, this will help you keep watch over your precious garden and make it easier to scare deer away. 

Add levels to your landscape.

Deer are lazy, so they won’t scale a slope to get to your flower beds. Grow plants in pots on your porch or add piles of wood around the border of your yard to keep them from venturing into your backyard in the first place. They’ll be afraid to climb over stairs and will search elsewhere for easy-access grub. 

Try gardening in terraces or installing sunken beds in your landscape to keep them out. You also can put stakes in the ground to trip them up and confuse them.

Use a plant cage.

Don’t let deer decimate your freshly-planted fruits, vegetables, shrubs, or trees. When your plants are beginning to sprout, they are most vulnerable to pests like deer and rabbits.

Plant cages and wire baskets can help cover young plants and keep deer from ripping them out of the ground. Keep plant cages or baskets over the plants until they’ve outgrown the size of the cage, or until they’re big enough to withstand a few deer nibbles. 

Not only will deer eat the same plants you’re hoping to eat, but they’ll also snack on decorative shrubs and trees available in your yard. If your trees and shrubs are stripped of bark, it may be likely that a deer has visited. 

Put trunk protectors on trees.

In the fall, male deer also will rub their antlers on trees to help them shed or mark their territory, which can be fatal to your trees. 

To protect your larger plants from deer damage, install trunk protectors, or wrap them in foil or burlap. You also can barricade them with chicken wire or other fencing material, or put stakes in the ground a few inches from the tree to prevent deer from getting too close. 

To protect the leaves and fruit of trees, install tree wraps or plant nets.

Scare deer with sights and sounds

While deer might be bold enough to sneak into your garden, they are shy and tend to bolt away when startled. Keep deer out by strategically placing visual and aural deterrents throughout your yard, in trees, and around your garden.

Visual deterrents

  • Pinwheels
  • Mirrors
  • Flags
  • Ribbons

Aural deterrents

  • Windchimes
  • Ultrasonic sensors
  • Cans tied to a string

Motion-activated sprinklers also can startle deer and send them running. If you have a problem with deer at night, motion-sensor lights will scare them away for a bit, but the deer will likely get used to them unless there are other deterrents. 

Pro Tip: Deer are smarter than we give them credit for, and will get used to seeing the same objects or hearing the same sounds that once scared them. Move deterrents frequently so deer can’t get used to their locations. 

Adopt a watchdog

Deer will avoid predators at all costs, even your fluffy little Fido. Let your dog roam around your yard to ward off bigger pests, including deer. 

Deer aren’t afraid of cats, but any odd scents will throw them off and can scare them away. Collect cat or dog hair from your pets or a local groomer and use that to deter deer. Stuff the pet hair into bags, then place them around your garden or the border of your yard.

Buy deer repellent

Deer repellent is a spray, liquid, or container of granules made to smell bad to deer and deter them from certain areas of your yard. It emits an awful smell, such as decaying deer corpses, to signal a warning for deer to stay out. 

Deer repellent tends to not be a popular choice since many of them smell like rotten eggs to us. Thankfully, some deer repellent options are less stinky, such as Liquid Fence, Tomcat, and Repels-all. 

You’ll need to reapply repellent every few weeks.

  • Repellent spray: Spray on trees, around the outside of your garden, or other areas deer frequent.
  • Repellent liquid: Follow the instructions to mix and put into a sprayer, then spray in areas you’re trying to keep deer-free. 
  • Repellent granules: Follow the directions to apply repellent granules to different areas of your yard.

Pro Tip: Even though most deer repellent is non-toxic, you’ll still want to avoid spraying it on plants you’re planning to eat unless you enjoy the taste of rotten eggs. 

Install deer-repelling posts

If you don’t want to alter much of your landscape, you can place discreet electronic deer-repelling posts around your yard. The posts smell like acorns, attracting deer. If the deer sniff the post and touch it, the post will give them a startling shock. 

The shock won’t be strong enough to hurt the deer, just enough to scare them away and prevent them from coming back. Electronic posts are battery-operated with a long lifespan so you can place them in far-off regions of your yard and not have to worry about checking them to make sure they are working.

They’re also easy to move around your yard. If you notice the deer evading the posts, move them around to different locations to throw the deer off guard and scare them away.

Make your yard less inviting

Overgrown grass is heaven for deer. Mow regularly and keep your yard free of debris to prevent deer from overstaying their visit, or worse, inviting more friends along to feast in your yard.

Be sure to also eliminate any potential hiding spots, such as large bushes and other areas of cover that deer can hide behind. 

Grow deer-repelling plants

The easiest way to keep deer from treating your precious plants like a buffet is by growing plants they don’t want to eat in the first place. 

Deer have a sensitive nose, so they can easily find ripe fruit trees, but that also means they’ll stay far away from more pungent plants. 

If you don’t want to change the plants you grow in your garden, consider planting deer-repelling plants around the border. You also can plant stinky plants around trees to keep them from messing with tree fruit, leaves, or bark.

Keep in mind that if their food supply is low, a desperate, starving deer may still nibble on the less-tasty plants. 

Here are a few plants that deer don’t like to eat: 

VEGGIES
Carrots
Chives
Eggplant
Leeks
Peppers
Rhubarb
Onions
Parsley
FLOWERS
Bluebell
Buttercup
Daffodil
Iris
Lamb’s ear
Poppy
Pot marigold
Rue
Snapdragon
HERBS
Dill
Lavender
Lemon balm
Mint
Parsley
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme

Grow a food plot just for deer

Designate an area of your yard, far away from your garden, to turn into a feast just for the deer. It may seem counterintuitive, but keeping the deer fed is a great way to keep them from hungrily grazing in your garden. 

Fill the food plot with red clover, orchard grass, or crops like peas, alfalfa, kale, or corn. You also can toss fallen produce from fruit trees or your vegetable garden into the food plot. 

Use deer urine to lure deer to the designated space. Make sure not to put the food plot too close to the road where deer can surprise and endanger themselves and people driving by. 

Try home remedies

Garden pests aren’t a new problem, so there are centuries worth of home remedies people have tried to deter them from destroying your bountiful garden. 

Home remedies might not be as powerful as other methods, but they do a great job helping to keep deer at bay, especially when used in addition to other deterrents like the ones mentioned above. 

Common home remedies for a deer-resistant landscape:

  • Chili powder — sprinkle around the garden
  • Cayenne pepper — sprinkle around the garden; keeps most garden pests and bugs away
  • Red pepper flakes — sprinkle around your plants; also will deter rabbits and squirrels
  • Garlic powder — sprinkle around the garden; also will keep rabbits, moles, and mice away
  • Garlic capsules — insert in shrubs and trees to deter deer and squirrels 
  • Irish Spring soap — place shavings in drawstring bags around the garden
  • Human hair — collect your leftover hair trimmings or get them from your barber, then toss them around your plants
  • Urine — human urine or the urine of deer predators such as wolves and coyotes will scare deer away from your garden

Other tips to protect your plants from deer

  • Harvest produce as soon as it’s ready. 
  • Use multiple deterrents to prevent deer from evading one or getting used to the other.
  • Deer cannot easily distinguish red and orange from other colors, so keep that in mind when deciding which visual deterrents to use. 

Landscape with deer-resistant plants

Here are some of the most common deer-resistant and deer-repelling plants. You can find more plants, rated by how resistant they are, from the University of Connecticut and Rutgers University. Plant these to create a deer-resistant garden. 

TREES
American holly
Black gum
Crape myrtle
Dwarf
Alberta spruce
Ginkgo
Japanese black pine
Magnolia
BUSHES and SHRUBS
Barberry
Beauty bush
Boxwood
Butterfly bush
Dogwood
Forsythia
Japanese spirea
Juniper
Lilac
Russian sage
PERENNIALS
Basket of gold
Bee balm
Bleeding heart
Buttercup
Cactus
Catmint
Forget-me-not
Iris
Peony
Yarrow
ANNUALS
Begonia
Coleus
Flowering tobacco
Larkspur
Petunia
Salvia
VEGETABLES
Asparagus
Carrots
Chives
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Garlic
Leeks
Onions
Peppers 
Potatoes
Rhubarb
Tomatoes
HERBS
Dill
Lavender
Lemon balm
Mint
Parsley
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme

GROUND COVERS/OTHER
Bearberry
Ornamental grasses
Pachysandra
Spotted deadnettle
Sweet woodruff 

What to know about deer

Appearance:

Most deer you spot in the U.S. are white-tailed deer, and in the West, you might see some mule deer. White-tailed deer have a characteristic white underside stretching from their torso to their tail. 

When deer are alarmed their tail will raise and they will stand still for a few moments to survey the scene before (usually) fleeing. 

The farther you live from the equator, the average size of white-tailed deer tends to get larger, but they usually weigh between 150 and 300 pounds for a male deer (buck) and between 90 and 200 pounds for a female deer (doe). 

Male deer have antlers, the length, and size of which will determine the age of the deer. The larger the antlers, the older the buck. 

Dietary patterns: 

White-tailed deer have a four-chambered stomach, allowing them to eat large amounts of food. They can eat up to 2,000 pounds of food a year. They tend to forage for legumes, shoots, grasses, acorns, mushrooms, and fruit.

Reproduction:

Each spring doe usually give birth to one to three fawns. Male fawns will stay with their mothers for around a year, and female fawns will stick around for two years. 

FAQ about deer-resistant landscaping

1. How do I know if I have a deer problem?

Deer are big so you’ll probably catch them in the act of snacking in your garden. But if you’re a busy homeowner who’s rarely home, here are some other signs you have a deer problem:

Trees are missing leaves up to 6 feet high
You find little black pellets (deer scat) around your yard
Your plants look shorter than they did yesterday
You find ragged ends on twigs and leaves
The bark on your trees looks like it has been scratched or rubbed away

2. What plants attract deer?

Common plants that attract deer include:

Decorative
–Azaleas
–DaylilyEnglish ivy
–Hosta
–Jewelweed
–Roses
–Snowberry
–Tulip

Edible
— Apple trees
–Beans
–Chives
–Crabapple trees
–Cherry trees
–Clover
–Kale
–Lettuce
–Parsley

3. Is there a way to coexist with deer?

It can be very peaceful to watch deer in your backyard. You don’t have to compromise your garden to keep the delicate creatures nearby. 

Deer-proof your garden with some of the methods mentioned above. Then, install a food plot far from the garden and the road to keep the deer grazing in that area instead of your garden or other parts of your landscape. 

Plant your deer food plot with native plants and you might attract other critters, such as rabbits and hummingbirds, to your yard. 

By creating an area where deer can safely feast, you can continue to enjoy Bambi’s presence while feasting on a salad made from your own hard-grown vegetables. 

Too busy to keep Bambi out of your garden? Hire a Lawn Love expert to help with all your lawn care and deer-proofing landscaping needs. 

Main Photo Credit: yamabon | Pixabay

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.