Deer In The Backyard Perennial GardenDeer In The Backyard Perennial Garden

5 Strategies For Preventing Deer Damage In The Garden

While most people enjoy seeing deer grazing in a field, they're less amused when wildlife walks in to graze on a newly planted garden. Yet, as neighborhoods grow and deer populations increase, backyard deer sightings are becoming more and more common across the country. We'll help you identify deer damage, and share useful strategies for preventing deer damage in your landscape. Plus, see our recommended deer-resistant plants, flower bulbs, and wildflowers.

We offer a Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix, formulated specifically for our gardeners with deer problems.We offer a Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix, formulated specifically for our gardeners with deer problems.
We offer a Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix, formulated specifically for our gardeners with deer problems.

How To Identify Deer Damage

The first step to managing any pest is to positively identify the culprit. If you suspect critters have been grazing in your garden, look closely at the damaged plants for the following clues:

  • Foliage and twigs eaten by deer have ragged edges. Deer lack upper incisors, so they eat by tearing off plant matter. Rabbits and rodents have upper and lower incisors and leave clean cuts.
  • Another indication is the height of the damage -- deer can reach up 6 feet or more.
  • Most deer damage occurs from late fall through early spring, when their natural food sources are scarce. A mature buck consumes between 4 to 10 pounds of food each day, including grass and other plants as well as buds and twigs.
  • Deer are creatures of habit; once they establish pathways or a feeding area, it is difficult to deter them.
pink coral peonypink coral peony
Fragrant Peonies are generally avoided by deer.

5 Strategies For Preventing Deer Damage

Deer are adaptable and learn quickly. Using a combination of control strategies is usually the most effective way to limit the amount of damage they cause.

1. Install Fences

One sure-fire way to prevent deer damage is a tall fence. This method is especially helpful in discouraging deer from entering backyards where pets or people are often active, gardens adjacent to your home, around vegetable gardens, or even around smaller gardens when you may plant some of your prized ornamental plants. When it comes to fencing in large open spaces, deer have been known to leap over 7' high fences, so an 8' to 10' fence may be needed. Though for many homeowners, fencing more than a small area isn't practical, both aesthetically and financially. 

2. Apply Repellents

We work with gardeners across the country, and we've found that gardeners have the most success using deer use repellents. There are several commercially available products reputed to repel deer, such as "Deer Off", which are widely available at garden centers and hardware stores. Some have an odor that is unpleasant to deer; some have an unpleasant taste. Apply them early in the season, when food sources for deer are more scarce, and before deer have gotten in the habit of eating in your landscape. Be sure to reapply as needed, especially after it rains. Of course, many of the repellents used to deter deer are unpleasant to humans, too, so be considerate of where you use them, especially neat food crops. 

In early spring, young plants are at their greatest risk of being eaten by deer -- even those that are highly deer resistant. Young plants need time to produce their natural defenses, such as oils in their leaves and stalks, to defend against deer. Deer may be very hungry after a long winter, and desperate enough to make an exception to their normal diet. There are easy workarounds to keep your plants safe:

  • Keep young plants potted in containers until they're big enough to transplant in the garden.
  • Or, drape a lightweight sheet over your outdoor garden beds at night.

3. Use Scare Devices

Deer are easily startled, so using a motion detector to trigger a distraction, such as a sprinkler, trigger floodlights, or turn on a radio, will work for a short time. However, deer will quickly become accustomed to them, sometimes within as little as a week. Varying the scare devices every week can extend their effectiveness. However, remember to be mindful of how the scare devices might affect your neighbors!

4. Provide Ample Food Alternatives

Many gardeners have found that simply offering easy access to alternative foods reduces damage to ornamental plants. For example, placing feeding stations, or planting groundcovers such as clover, at the far corners of your landscape can draw wildlife away from the most decorative areas of your garden.

Another option is to plant a buffer or a "living fence" that discourages deer from getting too close to the garden you want to protect. For example, rather than leaving a large lawn area mowed very short, which gives deer easy access to your garden, you may want to plant a large border of wildflowers around your property. Not only does this look beautiful, but it would also give deer an area to graze that's distanced from your more precious plants.

5. Select Deer-Resistant Plants

By choosing plants that are unpalatable to deer, you can reduce the amount of damage in your landscape. In general, plants that taste bitter or spicy, those with bitter milky sap, thorny plants, and those with hairy or fuzzy leaves are less attractive to deer.

Explore some of our favorite plants, including wildflowers, plants, and flower bulbs for a beautiful, deer-resistant garden! Although no plant is 100% deer-proof, we have recommendations for plants that are generally avoided by deer.


Perennial Plants 

Asters 

Astilbe 

Bee Balm 

Black Eyed Susan

Bleeding Heart 

Brunnera

Butterfly Bush 

Columbine 

Clematis 

Coral Bells 

Coreopsis 

Creeping Phlox

Dianthus 

Echinacea

Ferns 

Foxglove

Gaillardia 

Geranium

Hellebores (Lenten Rose)

 

 

Iris

Lavender 

Liatris

Ligularia 

Lily of the Valley

Lupine 

Milkweed 

Nepeta

Select Ornamental Grass

Penstemon 

Peony 

Russian Sage 

Salvia 

Sedum 

Spiderwort 

Veronica 

Wand Flower (Guara)

Yarrow

See All Deer Resistant Plants

Fall-Planted Bulbs

Allium 

Anemones 

Daffodils 

Fritillaria

Grape Hyacinths 

Scilla 

See All Deer Resistant Fall Bulbs

 

Spring-Planted Bulbs 

Caladiums 

Callas 

Crocosmia

Gladiolus

See All Deer Resistant Spring Bulbs

Wildflowers

Deer Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix

Black Eyed Susan Seeds

Borage Seeds

Coneflower Seeds

Coreopsis Seeds

Milkweed Seeds

Lupine Seeds

Poppy Seeds

Zinnia Seeds

See All Deer Resistant Wildflower Seeds

For Best Results, Combine Strategies

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to deterring deer. Combining several different management strategies is the best way to protect your garden. It is also a good idea to rotate between different methods to prevent animals from growing accustomed to one particular scare tactic, repellent, or other protective measure.

To learn more, read 8 Ways To Critter-Proof Your Fall Bulb Plantings!

Shop Deer Resistant Wildflower Seeds

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