If you live in an area with lots of deer (like I do), then you know how much damage they can do to your garden. One day you have Hostas, the next you don’t! Learn how to keep deer away with these tips that will keep them from eating your plants and vegetable gardens.
I live in an area of the country that has a lot of problems with deer.
And I happen to live in a house that backs on to a ravine. So I see deer on a fairly regular basis.
Despite this I have been able to avoid having any trouble with deer in my garden, even though lots of my neighbors complain about them all the time. (Some have even gone so far as to try hunting them in that ravine behind my house!)
Pro Tip: Combining more than one of these deer proofing approaches is the secret to success!
1. Plant deer resistant plants
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There are very few plants that are totally deer proof. If a deer is hungry enough, it will eat pretty much anything. (And apparently they really like Hibiscus!)
However there are some general characteristics of plants that are less likely to be eaten:
- Plants with prickly foliage or brambles (eg. globe thistle)
- Plants with furry leaves (eg. Lamb’s Ears)
- Plants with strong scents or tastes (eg. rosemary and garlic). Deer rely on their sense of smell and will avoid plants that are too pungent.
- Plants that are poisonous or have really thick sap (eg. Jack in the Pulpit). The poisonous plants are the only ones that deer will not eat even if they are hungry. Although if you are going to plant these, you do need to make sure that your pets won’t eat them either.
You can find some ideas on our list of deer-resistant shade plants.
Pro Tip: To check the deer resistance rating of a specific plant, look it up on the deer resistant plant list from Rutgers University.
2. Use mass planting
Another option is mass planting the plants that deer do like to eat.
This won’t prevent the deer from browsing them, but allows you to still have some flowers left after they’re finished.
The idea is, instead of just planting one Hydrangea (that would get devoured), grow a few of the same Hydrangea in one spot. The deer will eat the plants on the outside of the group but often won’t go out of their way to get to the ones in the middle.
So you’ll still have some blooms to look at.
3. Design flower beds with plant blocking
Plant blocking combines the last two points to keep the deer from eating your plants: Mass plant some flowers or vegetables that deer like, and then surround them with deer-resistant plants.
As an example, to keep the deer from eating your Hostas, surround them with a border of ferns (which most deer don’t like).
Make sure the border plants are close enough together to form a kind of hedge and large enough to make it difficult for the deer to reach over them.
Unless they are really hungry, the deer will often move on to find easier-to-reach edibles that they enjoy.
4. Install a tall fence
If you really want to prevent deer from getting into your garden, a tall fence may be your best bet.
I have a 6-foot high fence surrounding my entire backyard. It was originally built to keep my dog in the yard (and provide some privacy), but it is also a pretty good deer deterrent.
However, I have read that if a deer is motivated to get into your garden, a 6-foot fence isn’t high enough. They can jump right over.
To really be deer proof, a fence needs to be at least 8 feet tall, and 12 feet high would be better.
Someone suggested putting up barbed wire, or installing an electric fence on top of a standard 5 to 6 foot wooden fence to create a better barrier. While I’m sure these would help, it sounds a bit drastic to me. And I think it would feel like my garden was inside a prison 🙂
I do like this idea though: Making the fence higher by installing planters across the top.
Of course, you might want to pick deer resistant plants to put outside the fence if you don’t want to attract too much deer attention to your yard.
5. Or build a solid fence
Fence styles that deer cannot see through don’t have to be as tall as a see-through style of fence (such as a split rail fence).
The deer aren’t as likely to jump into an area when they can’t see what they are getting into.
6. Plant trees and shrubs inside the fence
To discourage deer from jumping over a shorter fence plant tall and wide trees and shrubs along the inside of it.
If they can’t see a clear landing area, the deer won’t attempt the jump.
It also increases the width that they have to jump across, so it’s somewhat like having a double fence, without having to build a second fence.
The bushes don’t all have to be planted in a straight line or be the same kind of shrubs.
In my case, I created garden beds all along the inside of the fence and planted many different kinds of plants…ornamental grasses, blue junipers, Magnolia bushes, Daphne, Hydrangeas, and Japanese Maples, just to name a few. As you can see from the picture, the fence is hardly visible through all of the foliage!
Using evergreens and other plants that hold their shape in the winter is particularly useful for a deer proof garden, because they provide all year coverage.
You can also plant bushes outside the fence…especially if they are deer resistant species. I have some help from nature in this area. There are patches of very prickly wild blackberries that grow on the edge of the ravine. Although the plants themselves are a nuisance (they spread all over the place and scratch like crazy!), I’m sure they help to prevent the deer from getting too close.
7. Put up a double fence
Another option is to build a double fence (two fences that are 3 to 5 feet apart).
This allows you to have a shorter fences that will still keep the deer out because the deer won’t try to jump over them if the distance they have to cover is too wide.
8. Create a rock garden perimeter
The next way to deter deer from your flower beds is to create a rock garden around the perimeter of your yard. (You’ll see this tactic used at a lot of modern zoos to keep the animals in their enclosures.)
Deer avoid rocky areas, so surrounding your garden with a wide rock garden can be a good way to keep them at bay.
To make this work best, vary the size of the rocks. That way there isn’t too much flat area that the deer can walk across.
You could also combine a rock garden with a fence so that the deer don’t have a clear landing area.
This is what I unintentionally did across the back of my yard. When I first moved into my house and was creating garden beds, I dug a lot of rocks out of the ground. They all got piled along the inside of the fence where I intended to (but never did) create a terraced rock garden.
9. Spray Liquid Fence
If you don’t have the option of putting up a fence to prevent the deer from coming in, you can try using a deer repellent like Liquid Fence (available on Amazon*).
I haven’t used this myself, but my neighbors have and they say it really works. (I am thinking about getting some to keep the rabbits out of my yard!)
Spray Liquid Fence (or another chemical deer repellent) on and around the plants you want to prevent the deer from eating. The scent will keep them away.
The odor is enough to stop them, so they don’t have to eat your flowers and shrubs to find out they don’t like it.
A couple of notes: Liquid Fence smells REALLY bad (something like rotten eggs) when it is first sprayed, and you do need to re-apply it periodically for it to keep working.
10. Let your dogs out
If you happen to have a dog like I do, letting them out in the yard does help to protect your garden from deer.
I installed a dog door out to my fenced backyard. Which again was intended for the convenience of the dog. But also means he can come and go as he pleases.
When he was younger, I could always tell when deer were getting close to the back fence because he would make a mad dash out the dog door, run straight to the back of the garden and start barking. The deer never stayed very long!
And he’s a cocker spaniel…so not exactly a vicious guard dog.
Pro Tip: In order to be effective, the dogs need to be able to get close to where the deer are. The deer will learn quickly if a dog is on a tether or in a run that prevents him from reaching them.
11. Sprinkle Irish Spring soap
Another option for keeping deer out of your garden without a fence is Irish Spring soap. (I haven’t tried this, but I hear that it works really well!)
Deer don’t like the “fresh clean” smell of Irish Spring (another one of those “sense of smell” deterrents).
Shave slices off the bar of soap and sprinkle them around the areas you want to keep the deer out of. Then repeat whenever the soap has dissolved.
You can also try drilling holes in the middle of the soap and hanging it from branches or posts around your garden beds.
Other home remedies that have a strong scent such as hot pepper and garlic may also work. But you’ll need to refresh them frequently.
12. Use motion activation
To scare the deer away, try motion activated devices that create a startling noise, movement or bright light.
Some examples that can work are motion activated sprinklers, flood lights or animated Halloween props.
Just make sure you’re not bothering the neighbors as much as the deer 🙂
Pro Tip: Deer will get used to these deterrents over time. So you will occasionally have to swap them out for something different in order for this strategy to keep working.
13. Surround the garden with fishing line
Surrounding your flower beds, vegetable gardens and fruit trees with fishing line is another way to keep deer away.
The idea with this is that the deer can’t see the clear line and get startled by it when they hit it.
To make it effective, the fishing line should be installed at two or three different heights and pulled tight around wood or metal posts that are firmly anchored in the ground. Otherwise, the deer may go right through it.
I haven’t considered trying this one because I’m always afraid the deer will get tangled in the line. While I don’t want them eating my garden, I’m not trying to hurt them.
Other gardening ideas you might like
Do you have any other suggestions for how to keep deer out of your garden? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on February 13, 2018 but was updated with new content on July 26, 2023.