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Deer Resistant Gardens

David Tharp

As wildlands reduce and deer populations rise, deer search for additional feeding area. While cute, a hungry deer can cause extensive damage: stripped gardens, decimated bushes, trampled flowers, and destroyed vegetable plots. One adult deer eats between six and ten pounds of vegetation a day. Not to mention the additional problem that deer are the key attractant for mountain lions — bringing them out of their preferred reclusive existence into our towns.

Download the Guide to Deer Resistant Gardening

Why create a deer-resistant garden?
Deer-Attractant Gardens = Deer = Pumas.
Deer-Resistant Gardens = No Deer = No Pumas.

Tips and guidelines for creating a beautiful deer-resistant garden:

1. Choose Smart Plants: The first step is to get rid of any plants in your yard that deer like to eat, and replace them with plants they find unpalatable. A deer-resistant garden does not have to be as bland as one might think. With a bit of research and careful planning, a garden can be well-designed, colorful and deer-resistant. For example, if you want to plant bulbs, choose daffodils, which deer tend not to go for, rather than tulips. If you like roses, choose a rugosa hybrid. The overwhelming scent, leathery leaves and thorns make them unlikely deer food.

2. Ask Your Neighbors: Deer populations vary in their tastes according to geographic area. Try using native plants which have proven successful for your neighbors. Chances are the local deer have similar preferences and disdain for certain plants. For more information, download the booklet (at end of the page) or consult your local nurseries.

3. Use Borders and Fences: Although deer are skilled jumpers, fences make it a lot harder and provide strong deterrents. A less expensive alternative is bordering the entryways and edges of your garden with deer-repellent plants. You can also employ tactics like obscuring the view of your yard, eliminating cover, and cleaning up rotting fruit and till.

4. Using an Additional Tool for Key Seasons: Early in the spring, nature provides more deer food. But during birthing season, mothers get hungrier! And Summer into Fall means less food and a need to get water by chewing on plants. This is the time for an additional tactic, such as using Deer Repellent sprays. Consult your local nursery for a natural deer repellent spray recipe. Other commercial sprays exist as well.

5. Protect Young Plants: Young, tender plants taste better to deer than older, established plants. And young plants can’t afford to sacrifice too many leaves. Protect these plants with a physical barrier and/or spray until established. Young plants can be individually caged using a roll of wire mesh.

6. Plant Strategically: Planting a deer resistant group of plants in front of non-deer resistant plants can sometimes dissuade deer.  For instance, using Berberis aquifolium, Ribes speciosum or even large Bunch grasses along the deer route and planting behind these with deer preferred plants sometimes discourages deer.

An important tip: Deer also tend to have regional tastes, so we've found the same plants on lists of both "rarely eaten" and "sometimes eaten." It's always a good idea to consult your local cooperative extension office and other gardeners in your neighborhood or town for advice. Deer also seem to have an uncanny ability to find (and eat) fertilized plants, use less nitrogen if you feed your plants.

If you still want to grow plants that deer love: Utilize tall deer fencing. It works. If the deer population is large, and the depredation severe, fencing becomes the best long-term solution, especially if you want to grow plants that deer love. Since deer are just as happy to wiggle under a fence as to leap over it, be sure the fence is secure at ground level. A six- to seven-foot tall fence is needed; gardeners in California developed the idea of using two shorter fences, about 4 feet apart, because deer are usually cautious about getting into any situation where they might be trapped.

For a listing of recommended plants, download the guide for deer resistant gardening.