A hydrangea bush in bloom is a beautiful sight to behold. Their broad, textured, bright green leaves with large, round clusters of small flowers have enamored gardeners and homeowners across the land.
Unfortunately, this big, bold, mounding bush attracts plenty of hungry animals, so what animals eat hydrangeas?
Well, specifically, hydrangeas can be a favorite food for deer, rabbits, and voles but thats not all!
Other animals that tend to snack on these gorgeous plants include squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, and even birds. Hydrangeas provide nutrients, sugars, and moisture to hungry animals.
Now, with all of those animals that love your hydrangeas, you may be a bit worried for growing season. Don’t worry, there’s a ways to protect them from harm!
How can a hydrangea owner deter or repel this hungry onslaught of animals? The first step is to identify what is eating your hydrangea. It could be voles, deer, or groundhogs—they all damage plants in different ways.
After reviewing all these options, we will give you the full breakdown for for keeping pests away from you hydrangeas.
If you’re suspecting a specific pest, please use our table of contents to jump to identifying hydrangea damage in that instance.
Table of Contents
Deer Love To Eat Hydrangeas
Do deer eat hydrangeas? Yes, indeed they do. Hydrangeas can be a favorite “munchable” snack for deer wandering your yard.
A hydrangea’s leaves are usually soft, big, full of energy, and have plenty of sugar in them, everything a deer is looking for. While hydrangeas may not be the first choice for deer to snack on, they won’t hesitate to eat them if they come across them in their nightly travels.
The soft, new shoots and buds are most at risk for deer damage, but they will eat the leaves and even the flower clusters if they are hungry enough. Some hydrangeas with stronger-smelling flowers may be off-putting to some deer, but that just means they’ll munch on the leaves more.
There may be some varieties of hydrangeas that aren’t quite as palatable to deer, but overall, all hydrangea species are prone to deer feeding. Deer damage usually won’t completely destroy the hydrangea, but the damage they can do in one night can be disheartening.
Identifying Deer Damage On Hydrangeas
What does deer damage look like on a hydrangea? That depends on how hungry the deer was. When deer eat hydrangeas, they will attack the broad leaves first, then turn to the flowers if they are in the way or they’re not too fragrant.
You may notice your once bushy, full hydrangea suddenly is nothing more than bare twigs. That’s deer damage. You might also see small shreds of leaves as deer will take large bites, or tear them off.
You might also see sporadic damage on large hydrangea bushes, especially around the three-foot mark.
Smaller-sized hydrangeas will be eaten from the top down, and the deer could eat the branches of small plants because they are softer than more mature versions. Deer are more active at night, so if you see significant damage in the morning, hydrangeas with branches or wide masses of leaves ripped and missing, the culprit is deer.
Other signs of deer are deep tracks and their feces—which can resemble piles of marble-sized droppings or cylindrical-looking scat.
Hydrangeas are hardy plants that can usually grow back after taking damage, even from deer. That being said, if it’s a younger plant that hasn’t had time to establish its roots it could have a hard time growing back if it was eaten down to the ground.
Older plants will quickly grow new leaves back after taking moderate deer damage. Flowers, on the other hand, may not show up again until next season if they were chewed off.
Deer are creatures of habit, and if they start munching on hydrangeas, they will probably be back to dine on them again. While your hydrangea can usually stave off one attack, if the deer continue to eat the plant down to the ground, it may not come back.
A single deer can eat up to ten pounds of vegetation in one day, so if a few of them come skulking around in your garden at night, they can do a lot of damage.
You may often see deer mostly at night because they can be nocturnal. If you want to learn more about their daily activities, you should read our article on where deer live and go during the day.
How To Keep Deer Off Your Hydrangeas
Now that you have determined you have deer perusing your garden like it’s their personal buffet, let’s look at ways to run them off. You have several options here, depending on your budget, and how much work you want to put into the project.
Put Up A Fence
Putting up a tall fence is one way to keep deer out of your garden or yard permanently. While this isn’t always a practical solution, if you have been contemplating putting up a fence, now would be a great time to finally pull that trigger.
Keep in mind though, if you go with a four or five-foot fence, a deer can easily jump over it. You’ll probably have to erect a seven feet high fence to keep them from jumping over.
A fence may not be appealing because they often obstruct your view, but some fencing types will keep deer out, while not obstructing your view. New advances are coming out that help to deter deer, but still give you a clear view beyond.
You can go with metal fencing that will keep critters out, and you can still see through it, or do a shorter metal fence, with poly (plastic netting) fencing above the metal. Deer won’t be able to see how high the fence is and won’t attempt the jump.
When deer see a top rail, they know how high it is and know they can attempt the tall jump. Deer can jump six to eight feet high while standing still, and even higher when they have a good running start. But if they can’t see how high an obstacle is, they tend to run around it.
Use Strong Soap Scents
When fencing is out of the question, there are still ways to deter deer. Using fragrant bar soap is one way to keep deer away. Look for brands such as Irish Spring, Zest, or Dial; the stronger the scent, the better.
What you need to do is cut the bars up into chunks about an inch thick and place the fragrance bombs around areas you don’t want deer congregating, like around your hydrangeas.
The strong scent tends to deter them. Deer have a strong sense of smell, and don’t like to eat where there are very strong scents.
You can also put the soap chunks, or even grate the soap and fill up sachet bags. Then hang the bags on or around the hydrangea bushes. Aim for tying them up around three or feet high so they are closer to where deer tend to feed for better results.
For more scent repelling options, view our full list of scents that deer hate!
Give The Deer A “Shocking” Experience
An electric fence is one way to keep deer and most other animal pests away from your hydrangeas or any other area they aren’t welcome. You’ll need to put the electric fence, or just the electrified wire closer to your hydrangeas or the deer will simply jump over it.
Electric fences up to four feet tall are effective for keeping deer away if the fence is placed close to a barrier.
Deer can jump over them, but they are hesitant to jump into confined spaces where there is little room to maneuver.
Place it just one or two feet away from the hydrangeas and about three or four feet high. One or two zaps are all it will take to keep them from wanting to attempt a meal of your plants again!
You’ll need to keep the fence active for some time, but if you notice that the deer have moved on, you could remove the fence.
Just put it back up if you notice damage again to teach them a lesson once more.
Now before you go ahead and
Essential Oils And Other Strong Fragrances
Some other strong scents that deer seem to detest include lavender, mint, rosemary, cloves, garlic, and rotten eggs. Of course, who does like the smell of a rotten egg? Not I, Sam I Am.
You can mix up a solution of essential oil drops in water and then spray around your hydrangeas or wherever you don’t want critters coming around. Just add a few drops of lavender, mint, rosemary, or clove essential oil to a spray bottle, and then spray the deterrent where you don’t want the deer.
This is a temporary fix as you will have to reapply every couple of days, or after a rain shower because the fragrances dissipate over time or can be washed away after a storm. You can also use commercial deer deterrents such as Bobbex’s Deer Repellent.
For a more detailed run-down of scents that will keep deer far away, check out 11 Scents That Deer Hate.
Plants That Deter Deer
Another sneaky way to keep deer away is to plant flowers or herbs that deer detest. You not only keep deer from munching on your hydrangeas, but you get to add even more plants to your yard. That’s a win-win for everyone except the deer.
When you plant fragrant flowers around your hydrangeas, most deer will avoid these areas because the scents are too strong for their sensitive noses. You can plant herbs around your hydrangeas that will keep the deer away, and you also get the benefit of being able to use them in your recipes.
Herbs you can plant around your hydrangeas to keep deer away include chives, garlic, sage, lavender, dill, and rosemary. These inexpensive plants will grow nearly all season long, giving you plenty of flavorful ingredients and deer protection during the growing season of your hydrangeas.
You can also plant bee balm—which attracts honeybees and other pollinators—Russian sage, poppies, or marigolds. These are ornamental flowers that still produce a strong fragrance that will keep deer from getting too close.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Feed ‘Em
When the above options either don’t work, or aren’t possible there’s something else you can try, and that’s to make another area of your yard more attractive to the deer. Yes, I’m saying go ahead and feed them something they like better than your hydrangeas.
Go to your local livestock feed store and look for alfalfa. This can come in pellet or bale form, the way hay is wrapped. Get some of this feed and set it out far away from your hydrangeas or other areas the deer are ravaging.
Alfalfa is extremely nutritious and more delicious to hungry deer than hydrangeas are. They will tend to flock to this feed before going for any other “munchables” in your yard. If you want to create harmony between your plants and the deer, feeding them alfalfa might be your best bet.
Your hydrangeas will be happier this way, and who knows, maybe you can get a few good-looking, up-close pictures of the deer while they eagerly munch on the food you have provided for them.
How To Tell If Rabbits Are Eating Your Hydrangeas
Do rabbits eat hydrangeas? Rabbits will eat many different flowers, shrubs, and plants in your yard, and hydrangeas are not immune to their munching. While they can’t do as much damage as deer, a rabbit can still cause a lot of damage to hydrangeas.
Rabbits can’t reach up high like deer can, so you’ll notice rabbit damage when you see the bottom half of your hydrangea missing a lot of leaves, flowers, or even branches.
Younger hydrangeas and new sprouting plants in the spring can end up sustaining the most damage from bunny foraging. Rabbits target tender plants first.
They will eat the fresh new buds and even some of the bark and branches of younger bushes. Older plants can take the damage without too much problem, but new plants can be permanently damaged by rabbit feeding.
If the rabbits aren’t doing much damage to your hydrangeas you could leave them be as a healthy plant can spring back from the damage from one rabbit. Especially if it only eats a few leaves here and there. But if you have a lot of rabbits running around your property and they are doing significant damage there are steps to take to keep them away.
Build A Bunny Barrier
To keep rabbits out of any area they aren’t welcome, all you have to do is install a three-foot wire fence with landscape stakes. This can be chicken wire, hardware cloth, or another wire fencing that has holes less than two inches in diameter.
Small rabbits can squeeze through tiny holes so anything bigger than two inches might be big enough for them to pass through. You’ll also have to dig a trench and install the fence about 4 to six inches into the ground as rabbits can dig very well.
Rabbit Repelling Scents
Just like keeping deer away with strong scents, some fragrances or flowers work to keep rabbits away too.
This option might even work better for rabbits because they are so close to the ground. When they get close to these fragrances they tend to get a more overpowering smell than deer.
Planting a line of plants in front of your hydrangeas makes a barrier that keeps most rabbits away. Marigolds are a perfect plant to create this scent barrier because they have a strong odor that rabbits can’t stand. Lavender, chives, and rosemary are among other plants that seem to repel rabbits.
Instead of planting more flowers, you can sprinkle peppers around the hydrangeas. Chili powder, ground cayenne peppers, red pepper flakes, and even Tabasco sauce are repugnant odors to rabbits.
Your pet can even help to scare off rabbits. If you have a dog, their urine will frighten most rabbits away. All you have to do is let your dog urinate in the yard; depending on how big the yard is, when rabbits smell dog urine they will move away.
Another scent that keeps rabbits away is blood meal. This is a great fertilizer for plants, and the smell repels most bunnies so this is good all around. Simply pour the blood meal around your plants.
Blood meal provides nitrogen for your plants without adding chemicals. You can use this Organic Blood Meal Fertilizer as a viable option.
Like sprinkling chili powder around your plants, blood meal will lose strength after a rainfall, so it will need to be reapplied. Another thing to be wary of is your dogs, they tend to love the smell and taste of blood meal and will eagerly eat it if you’re not careful.
For a more extensive list of scents that will keep bunnies out of your garden, check out our list of scents that rabbits hate, right here!
Invite Rabbits To Stick Around Someplace Else
Just like using alfalfa to feed the deer so they don’t turn to eating your plants, you can do the same for rabbits. While rabbits will eat alfalfa, they prefer clover hay because it has more of what they need.
When rabbits have a good source of highly nutritious food they won’t stray far away from that food source. Providing them with plenty of good food, they won’t start to eat your plants.
Identifying Vole Damage To Your Hydrangeas
Do voles eat hydrangeas? Well, voles don’t eat the parts of the plants you can see. Instead, they will eat the roots though which can be devastating to hydrangeas.
You may be asking, what in the world is a vole? They are small rodents that look very similar to mice but act like moles. A vole tunnels in the ground like a mole, but they are omnivores like mice.
A family of voles can decimate a bulb garden or root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Moles are beneficial because they eat grubs and insects that can damage your yard, but a vole will often eat the roots of plants, and bark around small trees. Voles can severely damage your landscaping.
Vole damage to hydrangeas can appear like the roots of your plant have rotted away. You might find the branches of your hydrangeas laying on the ground and looking like they were cut from just under the ground.
Depending on the size of the hydrangea and how many voles there are, they can eat the roots of an entire hydrangea.
You might even see your plants leaning over because one side of the roots has been consumed. Voles like to tunnel very close to the ground and under mulch so they can reach the tender roots of grasses and other plants.
How To Prevent And Remove Voles
A good way to prevent vole damage to your plants is to avoid mulching right against the hydrangeas. They like to tunnel in the mulch where they are protected from the sight of predators. When they can’t easily tunnel up to the plant’s roots, they tend to go elsewhere.
Try spreading some strong scents into their tunnels to run them off. Cayenne, garlic powder, ammonia, onion powder, or castor oil can be inserted directly into their tunnels to make them run to fresher-smelling pastures.
You’ll have to be careful with ammonia though, as it can cause immediate chemical burns to plants.
If repelling these pests isn’t doing the trick—voles can make new tunnels to avoid the areas that are too offensive to them—then you might have to resort to more drastic measures. Mousetraps work on voles just as well as mice.
The best way to snatch voles in these traps is to bait them with peanut butter, set them near one of their tunnels, and cover them up. If you have hydrangea damage from voles you’ll probably see tunnels leading up to the plants.
Here, open up the tunnel just a little bit, set the trap right at the hole you’ve excavated, then cover the trap with a bucket, gardening pot, or something similar.
Be sure to leave it propped up a little so the vole can get inside. The reason to cover the trap is to give the illusion of safety. Voles don’t like to be exposed outside of their tunnels, so a mousetrap left in the open may not catch them.
Keep baiting the traps until you don’t catch any more for a few days in a row. Depending on the size of the colony, you could have a dozen or more voles in one small yard.
Lastly, putting up a small fence around your hydrangeas can protect them from vole damage. Since these little tunnelers can’t climb very well a short fence of hardware cloth will keep them from getting to your plants.
You’ll have to dig the fence into the ground between eight to ten inches deep because they tunnel better than they climb.
Watch For Squirrel Damage On Your Hydrangeas
Do squirrels eat hydrangeas? You wouldn’t think so, but if these little tree rats are hungry enough they will eat a hydrangea. Let’s clarify, they won’t eat the whole hydrangea as these little tree-dwellers can’t eat much in one sitting, but they do like to take the flower clusters.
Maybe they’re the squirrel equivalent of cotton candy. Regardless, squirrels typically won’t eat on a hydrangea if there are other food sources around. Acorns, nuts, seeds, bird feeders, and basically anything else that’s remotely edible can be a part of a squirrel’s menu.
Squirrel damage on your hydrangeas will look like small nibbles on the flower bunch, or the flower will look lopsided as the squirrel munched on it and left after it was full.
You might notice one or a few flower clusters missing. Squirrels don’t typically eat the leaves, so if only the flowers have been damaged or are missing you probably have a rogue squirrel.
You probably won’t have to worry about much damage to your hydrangea because of squirrels. They tend to move all over the place when they feed and can feed on a huge list of food items. The minor damage squirrels typically do to hydrangeas won’t permanently damage them.
If you have a lot of squirrels that have developed a taste for hydrangea flowers and they are making a mess of your flowers you do have a few options to protect them.
If squirrels do find something they like to eat near your house, they may be attracted to stay. Read more about it in our article on the 8 things that attract squirrels to your yard.
Break Out The Cayenne Pepper
You may have already heard about putting cayenne pepper in birdseed feeders to keep squirrels away, well you can do the same thing when it comes to protecting your hydrangeas. Just sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the flowers, or around the ground to keep squirrels away from your hydrangeas.
Be sure to apply it again after rain or after several days have passed as the smell and taste will weaken over time. Rain will wash away the pepper and squirrels could come back to nibble again.
Garlic is another odor that squirrels hate. Use some garlic oil concentrate, add some drops to a spray bottle and spray the flowers, or sprinkle garlic powder on the ground around the hydrangeas to keep squirrels away.
There are other ways to deter squirrels from your hydrangeas but we’ve added them later in the article as these options apply to all the animals on this list.
If you’d like more detail on this one, take a look at our guide on using hot pepper to repel squirrels here.
Could Chipmunks Be Damaging My Hydrangeas?
While they aren’t a typical meal for chipmunks, there are reports of hydrangea damage by these “cheeky” rodents. Fortunately, their damage is limited because chipmunks are so small and they seem to prefer the leaves over the flowers.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have both squirrels and chipmunks munching on your hydrangeas, then the damage could be very noticeable. Chipmunks can do more damage overall to hydrangeas when they tunnel underneath them and eat or damage the roots.
This kind of damage could destroy the entire plant because chipmunks are prolific diggers. The damage can be worse if you have a large family of chipmunks on your property.
The way to prevent chipmunk damage is to use the same cayenne or garlic methods outlined for repelling squirrels.
To keep them from digging in the roots, use the method for preventing voles from getting to the hydrangea’s roots. Use hardware cloth fencing around your hydrangea, and dig it into the ground eight to ten inches deep.
How To Tell If Birds Are Eating Your Hydrangeas
Believe it or not, there are a few species of birds that will eat new hydrangea buds. Finches and some sparrows seem to be the biggest culprits when it comes to birds that feed on hydrangeas.
Sometimes the birds will snack on the flowers or the flower buds, but the damage birds do is negligible. Some birds will also use a few small branches as nesting material, but you might not even notice the amount missing.
Since birds do so little damage there’s not much that needs to be done to keep birds away.
All Around Solutions To Protect Your Hydrangeas
While there aren’t many things that will work to keep all animals from eating your hydrangeas, the following options may work well for all the animals on this list. Instead of listing them over and over, we put them here in one group.
Motion Activated Sprayer
One of the best inventions I’ve seen for keeping your garden safe is the motion-activated sprayer. You hook it up to a hose, and whenever a deer, rabbit, chicken, dog, cat, toddler, or annoying neighbor comes too close it shoots out a quick spray of water. The noise along with the sudden splash of cold water is enough to frighten off nearly any wild animal.
Find a great quality motion sensing sprayer here, Orbit Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler. You can set it for daylight, or nighttime (when most of the hydrangea eating happens), or keep it on all the time.
The motion-activated sprayer may not work against voles or chipmunks because they tend to burrow in the ground and won’t trip the motion sensor. But combine this sprayer with repellents and your hydrangeas become very unappetizing to all but the most desperate of animals.
Tree And Bush Nets
A great way to prevent damage to your hydrangeas is to cover them in protective netting. Using a mesh such as Protective Garden Netting for Plants Against Animals will keep almost all of these animals from being able to nibble on your hydrangeas.
The netting goes over the trees and can be staked into the ground so it won’t be blown away by strong winds. The only problem with netting is if it sticks around for a long time, the plants will start to grow through it.
Trying to disentangle netting from plants that have grown through them isn’t a fun pastime.
Predator Decoys Work Wonders
Owls are natural predators of rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and other small animals. Putting a decoy up that looks like a realistic owl can help to frighten away most little hydrangea gnawing creatures. Try out this Plastic Owl Scarecrow Sculpture to run off the smaller pests.
Just be sure to move it around every other day or so. If rabbits or squirrels notice that it never moves, they will end up not being afraid of it.
Snakes can help to frighten off some animals such as chipmunks and voles as they are often prey for the slithering reptile. Try out a Yoogeer 47 Inches Rubber Lifelike Snake if you are having problems with voles, birds, or chipmunks, and send them scurrying away. Of course, this snake is so realistic it might send others into fits of panic as well.
Professional Trappers For Little Critters
Another way to tend to rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, or groundhogs is to have a professional trap these animals for you. Many services will come and set up humane traps for these pests and relocate them to areas where they will not do any harm to human gardens and plants.
There are traps on the market for the savvy do-it-yourselfer, but it could be illegal to relocate or trap some species in your area, so to avoid any innocent mistakes, it’s better to call a pro. Not to mention, an angry, cornered squirrel or groundhog can make Freddy Kreuger look tame!
That’s All For Now
There are a lot of animals eyeing your prized hydrangea like it’s a salad buffet, but with these tips, you can prevent it from becoming a menu item.
You may have to use some home-concocted olfactory warfare in the form of cayenne pepper, garlic, strong-smelling plants, or netting, but it will let them know they aren’t welcome.
Depending on what’s eating your hydrangea you may need a fence or a predator decoy, but with some ingenuity and persistence, you’ll run off whatever is perusing your plants.
Rensel, Leah J., and Jannell D. Wilder. “The effects of owl decoys and non-threatening objects on bird feeding behavior.” Quercus: Linfield Journal of Undergraduate Research 1.1 (2012): 4.
Unno, Akira, and Keisuke Nakata. “Characteristics of tree damage by the grey red-backed vole (Myodes rufocanus bedfordiae) in a deciduous forest in Hokkaido, Japan.” Journal of forest research 15.4 (2010): 259-264.
Nixon, Charles M., Milford W. McClain, and Kenneth R. Russell. “Deer food habits and range characteristics in Ohio.” The Journal of Wildlife Management (1970): 870-886.
Mason, J. Russell, et al. “Repellency of deer away big game repellent® to eastern cottontail rabbits.” The Journal of wildlife management (1999): 309-314.
Bosland, W. K., and P. W. Bosland. “Preliminary field tests of capsaicinoids to reduce lettuce damage by rabbits.” Crop Protection 20.6 (2001): 535-537.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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