Epsom Salt: Can You Use It To Deter Deer?


Close-up image of a White-tailed Deer.

There is nothing more frustrating than walking out to your garden only to find it half gone because a troublesome deer decided to snack on your hard work! Deer have a very strong sense of smell, and the aromas of your garden pull them in just as they do you!

In truth, Epsom salt can be used to deter deer from your property. Deer have a strong sense of smell, and the scent of Epsom salt irritates them. To deter deer with Epsom salt, sprinkle or spray an Epsom salt solution in areas where you want to keep deer out.

Though it has not been scientifically proven to prevent deer, it could help deter them from the garden you worked so hard on. Let’s dive in! 

What Do Deer Look Like?

I am quite sure you know what deer look like (we all remember Bambi, right?), but we should still cover their appearance to ensure that you are dealing with the right pest on your property. 

Deer are hooved, four-legged mammals, the specific term being ungulates. Other examples of ungulates are (but are not limited to) horses, giraffes, and cattle. Deer usually have brown or gray fur with bodies similar to horses with short tails.

Adults can range from 50 to 400 pounds depending on the type of deer. Deer have a slender snout like a horse, with a dark nose, dark eyes, and large ears. 

Males, called bucks, have antlers used to battle other males for a female’s attention. They also rub their antlers on trees, which can damage the tree if too much bark is taken off! Some male deer shed their antlers in mid-winter, but not all. 

Also, an important thing to mention is some types of female deer, called doe, have antlers. Be sure to look up what type of deer, if any, are located in your specific area. 

The most common deer in the United States is the white-tailed deer, known for its white rump and grayish fur. These are the ones I usually see!

Where Do Deer Live? 

White-tailed deer live throughout most of North America and are one of the most well-known types of deer, as I mentioned above. They live in almost every state in the United States, except Alaska and Utah. 

There are also mule deer which are primarily located in the western part of North America, from parts of Canada all the way down to Mexico. They are known to be very small and almost ghost-like mammals, making them very special creatures to some people. 

Be sure to research what types of deer are most prominent in your specific area to best identify them. If you are unsure, always seek the advice of a professional

Deer Prefer Wooded Habitats

Most deer like the safety of cover in densely wooded and forested areas, but as always, it depends on the type of deer (there seems to be a pattern here…)

I live in the Northeastern part of the United States, with almost 4 acres of forest and conservation land with no neighbors on one side. Needless to say, we see a lot of white-tails. 

I mostly spot them right on the outskirts of the woods feeding on vegetation. Usually, they are out during the cooler parts of the day, in the twilight and dusk hours. 

Unfortunately for farmers, deer also like to hang around agricultural areas since the food is abundant and there is usually water too. 

What Do Deer Usually Eat in Your Yard?

You may have guessed by now what deer typically eat, but let’s dig in a little deeper (pun definitely intended). 

Growing up, deer loved to dive into my mom’s cherry tree, stripping it of all the fruit we sadly couldn’t harvest the next morning. Other places around your property that might attract deer are your garden or flower beds.

Their diet also consists of leaves, fruits, nuts, stems, acorns, and even buds from woody plants! 

Knowing that they love all those things, we can use that to our advantage!

More on that in a moment, though.

Deer usually eat what is most readily available to them, which also depends on the season. 

When Are Deer Most Active?

In a study found in The Journal of Wildlife Management, researchers found that white-tail deer in Pennsylvania spent most of their daytime hours in shaded forest areas but by sunset moved to open areas, such as fields or even your backyard. 

By the time you have settled in for the night, the deer could be helping themselves to a hearty meal of your cucumbers and squash! 

The study also found that deer were found out and about 7 to 8 hours after sunset in the summer months and about 4 hours after sunset in the winter. 

Needless to say, deer are pretty active around the time most people are settled for the night, the perfect time to quietly graze their way to their bed for the night undetected. 

What Is Epsom Salt?

Now that we know when and what deer eat, let’s talk about Epsom salt.

So, what even is it? Well, the scientific name for Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate. I’ll just use Epsom salt in this article! 🙂 

It’s a bit different than regular table salt as the chemical compound is not the same, but the look is similar, hence the “salt” in the name. 

Epsom salt is known as a natural way to fertilize plants and is also used to help with pain!  

In other words, it’s not for eating! 

Read on! 

How To Use Epsom Salt To Deter Deer

Two young White-tailed Deer standing in shady woodland in Maryland during the Autumn

You can use Epsom salt in a couple of different ways to deter deer from your garden or flower beds. Just keep in mind this method is not scientifically proven to repel deer entirely, but it can help if combined with a variety of tactics.

We will go into other deterrents later. 

Right now, it’s time to talk about what you’re here for! How to use Epsom salt to deter deer.

Option 1: Sprinkle Epsom Salt Around Plants

Simple as that! Sprinkle it around the plants that seem to be the most targeted in your garden or the spots that look the most affected by deer in your yard.

Again, keep an eye on the pup! You don’t want him or her getting into the garden either. 

Be sure to check the area frequently and reapply the Epsom salt every couple of weeks or after very heavy rain.

Another thing to be aware of, some plants may not like too much “plant food,” so to speak. Only apply the Epsom salt around plants you know will not react badly to it. 

The idea is the smell will keep them moving, but should they have a taste, the bitterness should send them packing! 

Option 2: Spray Epsom Salt on Plants in Your Yard

Another way to use Epsom salt is to spray a solution on the plant itself. 

There are several ways to make a spray solution. One recipe is to mix warm water with a small amount of Epsom salt. 

A word of caution! If you use too much Epsom salt, it can burn some plants! I would dilute the Epsom salt in the water before spraying. Also, it is a good idea to test spray a small spot on the plant to see how it reacts.

If the deer happens to take a bite, it will get a mouthful of bitterness, and think twice before eating your lettuce! 

What Other Ways Can We Deter Deer?

If Epsom salt is out of the question, there are a few other ways you can deter deer from areas around your property.

Build a Deer Proof Fence

Fences are a great way to prevent deer from invading your property or at least a section of it.

Wildlife of Colorado. Wild Deer in Their Natural Environment in Colorado.

Depending on the type of deer in your specific area, the height of the fence can vary. Typical fence height ranges between 5 to 8 feet and should surround the entire area you wish to be protected. 

I would also recommend reinforcing the gate entrance to the fenced area. If they are hungry enough, they can be pretty determined and persistent! Especially if they have a few uninterrupted hours.  

There are various types of fencing you can use to prevent deer from feeding in your garden. 

Houseables Plastic Mesh Fence is a good option! 

You can also purchase metal fencing for your local hardware or farm goods store! Depending on the kind you want, you can most likely set it up yourself. 

My mom and I used chicken wire and just made sure the metal stakes were firmly in the ground, placed about 2.5 feet to 3 feet apart for strength. 

Always check your fencing every day to ensure there are no weak spots! 

Use a Deer Repellent 

If you’re like me and have limited time, purchasing a spray might be the better option. 

Natural Armor Animal & Rodent Repellent Spray might be able to help you! It also helps repel other pest animals such as raccoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, and more. 

Use Scents That Deer Hate

Planting plants useful to you but stinky to deer is another way to deter deer from your property. Some scents that smell bad to deer include (but are not limited to) lavender, rosemary, thyme, marigold, garlic, sage, and mint

Surround your garden with some of these herbs to help deter deer from eating other foliage in your garden or flower beds.

You can view a full list of the scents that deer hate here.

Utilize Predator Urine

I know it sounds weird, but urine can be a good way to deter deer. Their good sense of smell will raise the alarm and avoid conflict with a predatory animal, or at the very least an animal they don’t recognize! 

In regions that do not have many deer predators, human urine can work as well. Deer tend to want to stay away from other creatures and keep to themselves, including humans. 

Along with their good sense of smell, their shyness can also be used to our advantage!

If you’re interested in this method, you can check out our guide on the best coyotes urines to repel animals here.

Use a Dog to Deter Deer!

Love dogs? Me too! Your dog can also help you deter deer, believe it or not. 

A dog’s scent acts as a predator’s scent. Not only will your dog get some much-needed exercise and fun time, but they will also help you deter the deer by spreading their scent. 

Deer, as we very well know by now, follow their nose! 

Your pup will also probably want to mark his territory, bringing us back to our urine idea above!

Combining Deer Repellent Methods

Another great way to deter deer is to combine a few methods. 

The more tricks up your sleeve, the more you will keep the deer on their toes (or, I should say, hooves), hopefully making them think twice about entering your yard and eating your veggies! 

You Can Even Use Epsom Salt on Your Plants!

Plants also benefit from Epsom salt when sprinkled around your garden. It can be used as food for the plants but within moderation! 

You can use it as fertilizer if your soil is low in magnesium. Unlike some fertilizers, Epsom salt can safely be used without too much worry of over-feeding the plants as it is natural. 

Be sure to test your soil frequently to ensure that you are not harming your plants by using too much Epsom salt. 

Also, if you use a spray, be sure to check the ratios specific to the plant in which you want to protect or fertilize! 

That’s It, Folks! 

So the answer to the question, can you use Epsom salt to deter deer, is yes! 

Epsom salt does not smell appealing to deer and will avoid it if sprinkled or even sprayed around your garden or affected area where the deer frequently are. 

Remember, Epsom salt is not a scientifically proven deterrent but can help discourage deer from visiting your garden. 

Also, keep in mind that using more than one tactic will give you the best results. Good luck! 

References 

Sandbeck, E. (2000). Slug Bread and Beheaded Thistles: Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening. Broadway.

Hickling, W. C., & Zaylskie, J. (1963). Protect Trees from Animals

Craven, S. R., & Hygnstrom, S. E. (1994). Deer. The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, 47. 

Rosenthal, E. (2013). Protect Your Garden. Ed Rosenthal.

Montgomery, G. G. (1963). Nocturnal movements and activity rhythms of white-tailed deer. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 422-427.

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