11 Scents That Deer Hate (and How to Use Them)
Deer are beautiful creatures that forage for food. As a result, deer can often become unwanted guests in our gardens, and they can do some damage to our plants quickly if not repelled. Luckily, there are some simple things that you can do to keep deer out of your yard and garden.
Deer have a heightened sense of smell, which they use to effectively find food. You can take advantage of this trait and repel deer by using smells they dislike, such as marigolds, putrescent egg solids, mint, wolf urine, tansy, garlic, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, and lavender.
In addition to knowing just what scents can keep deer away, it is helpful to know the kind of damage a deer could do to your garden as well. In this article, we’ll get into explaining why and just how you should repel deer from your property. Let’s get to it!
Why You Should Keep Deer Away
Deer can do a lot of damage to your garden and yard, especially if there is more than one deer that frequents your property. The first, and possibly the most thought of the damage that deer can do eating the foliage off of your plants, which will stunt the growth of your greenery. This most commonly includes bushes, shrubs, and low-hanging trees.
The next reason you should keep deer away is something that those unfamiliar with a deer’s behavior may not be aware of.
Bucks often scrape their antlers on tree trunks and other hard surfaces. This can not only do damage to the trees in your yard or garden, but it could negatively impact other wooden structures in your garden as well, such as posts or columns.
Scents That Keep Deer Away
Deer have a powerful sense of smell, and they use this for finding food and detecting nearby predators.
Certain plant-based scents are so strong that they can disrupt a deer’s sense of smell and keep them away from their desired goal (AKA, your plants.)
This makes them very uncomfortable because when a deer is around these scents, they can not detect predators in their immediate area. As a result, deer usually steer clear of areas that have a lot of strong-smelling plants.
So, here a few deer repelling smells that you can utilize to keep deer away from your garden, yard, trees, and property!
Marigolds (Tagetes Species)
Marigolds overall are a plant that has an EXTREMELY strong scent.
According to the book Deer-Resistant Landscaping by Neil Soderstrom, marigolds have a strong smell that can effectively deter browsing deer.
This makes garlic great for repelling deer because garlic’s pungent smell is great at overpowering other scents nearby. This not only can cover up the odors of plants that a deer would consider food, but it also makes it so that a deer can not smell any potential predators very well when around marigolds.
The best way to use marigolds as a deer repellent is to simply plant a few marigold plants!
You can mix these marigold plants with your already existing garden plants to keep deer away from their target plants.
In addition to this, you can plant marigolds around where deer usually enter your garden as a way to deter them as well. Marigolds can be a pretty effective deer deterrent given the right situation, and they provide the great benefit of looking gorgeous in your garden as well.
However, some people may not enjoy using marigolds to deter deer naturally because they do not enjoy the smell of marigolds themselves.
Putrescent Egg Solids
Quite honestly, this may be one of the most effective (and stinky) repellents on this list.
To give putrescent egg solids a bit more efficacy, the EPA registered them for use as an animal repellent way back in 1975.
Chances are, you may be starting to think of what precisely this smells like as you read it. Quite simply, putrescent egg solids have a similar scent to sulfur and have a rotting egg smell.
Imagine a raw egg mixed with water and left out in the sun at a high temperature for hours on end. It stinks.
Bobbex Deer Repellent uses a formula base containing putrescent egg solids and garlic oil, two scents that deer strongly dislike. It also includes a small amount of vinegar which is a comment repellent across many pests.
You can take a peakski at Bobbex’s Deer Repellent here if you’re interested.
Mint (Mentha species)
Mint is another effective and natural way to repel deer. You can use mint in a couple of different ways when using it as an all-natural deer repellent. The first and possibly the most popular way to use mint as a deer repellent is to include mint plants in your garden!
Now, we’re saying mint here. Mentha species refers to the entire family of mint plans as a whole. Thus, some of the mint herbs you can plant in your garden to deter deer are:
- Water mint
- Apple mint
- Wild mint
- Water mint
You can include mint plants in your garden by planting them near plants that a deer is likely to try and eat. This will make deer less likely to even go near those areas.
Most notably, peppermint and spearmint generally have the most potent scent out of these mature, mint plants. So, they may be more effective in providing an aromatic scent for deer to smell when approaching your area.
You can also plant mint around the perimeter of your garden to repel deer as well. Not only does mint smell great, but it also provides fresh mint to add to your food and drinks (depending on the type of mint you’re using.)
Another option for using mint as a deer repellent is to use mint essential oils. You can apply this to rocks, posts, and other surfaces.
This is an excellent choice for those who do not have much room for planting multiple mint plants. However, you will likely need to replace this mint oil after every rain shower, which can technically make mint oil less effective than the mint plants themselves.
Yup. Wolf urine.
Ever notice when your dog will pee constantly in short bursts when out in your yard or on a walk? Well, that’s called marking its territory.
Animals in the wild sense each other heavily through the scent of urine. In the wild, animals all have a heightened sense of smell, and deer are no exception. The primary defense of a deer is its sense of flight and it’s the ability to move quickly and be very agile once it senses a predator in the area.
Thus, deer naturally stay in wooded, covered areas and jolt at the first sign of trouble.
If a deer senses a potential predator in the area, such as a wolf, it will surely stay away.
Quite seriously, you can purchase top-quality wolf urine from PredatorPee here. This authentic wolf urine comes in a 16oz bottle with scent tags as well, so you can spray a tag and wrap it around an object to make sure the scent is properly disbursed.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Tansy is a flowering plant that emits a powerful smell.
Tansy can be used as an effective deer deterrent, especially when combined with other plants on this list. Originally native to specific areas of Europe and Asia, tansy is not native to North America.
However, this does not mean that tansy doesn’t thrive in the Western world. In fact, tansy is considered to be an invasive species in the United States and Canada.
As a result, you should plant tansy sparingly and extremely carefully. Growing them in designated planter boxes is a great option, so it doesn’t overtake your garden.
Some excellent bonuses to using tansy as a deer repellent are that it is an extremely low maintenance plant and yellow flowers are a beautiful addition to yards and gardens.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic as a plant can do wonders at repelling deer. Its concentrate form is often included in many of the available and popular deer repellent sprays that are available on shelves.
However, as a plant, garlic can repel deer quite effectively due to its strong and very aromatic scent.
You’ll want to plant garlic near your plants that will most certainly be desired by deer. Plants such as vegetables, fruits, and flowers that deer may quite possibly eat.
To maximize the scent of garlic, you’ll want to periodically cut off the tops of the garlic plant to release some of its natural scents. This will help make sure that the garlic scent is released and more easily picked up by deer.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is yet another common household herb that is great at repelling deer. Research from Colorado State University found that thyme was often rarely browsed by deer, indicating that they don’t prefer the plant itself.
Like many of the other plants on this list, thyme can be used in the form of a plant or the form of essential oil when being used to keep deer away. When using thyme plants as a deer repellent, you can place them around specifically targeted plants that deer like in efforts to mask them from deer.
You can also plant thyme around the perimeter of your yard or garden or plant them around common entry points that deer make to get in. Thyme is an herb included in many recipes, and planting it will save you that trip to the grocery store when you need it!
When using diluted thyme essential oils as a deer repellent, you can place them on things like fences, posts, and rocks. This can keep deer away from your entire yard or garden or specific plants, depending on where you put the thyme oil. Also, you will likely need to reapply this every time after it rains.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is an extremely popular herb in cooking, but it is also great at repelling deer as well!
Like most of the other herbs on this list, you can use oregano plants and oregano oil as a way to keep deer away. This is because the plant’s strong scent is usually concentrated in the plant’s oil. You can plant oregano around plants that deer commonly eat as a way to prevent them from doing so.
Oregano is considered to be a deer-resistant plant, as in, deer will not go after oregano for a quick snack. Thus, when you plant it near other plants that deer DO enjoy, the scent of oregano can confuse their senses and overpower the scent of the plant that they would otherwise enjoy if oregano were not in the area.
In addition to this, you can plant oregano around the perimeter of your yard or garden or common deer entry points to prevent deer from getting into your outdoor space altogether.
Oregano oil is also effective at repelling deer. You can place it on things like rocks, fences, and posts to keep deer away from either the whole perimeter of your yard or garden or from specific plants.
Of course, for protecting the perimeter of your outdoor space from deer, you will need to cover your yard or garden’s perimeter with staggered areas that are applied with oregano oil.
To protect specific plants, you should apply oregano oil close to the plants you want to protect to be effective.
However, you will need to reapply for oregano oil after it rains, and you do not have the added benefit of fresh oregano that would otherwise be on hand.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is yet another strong-smelling herb that is good at keeping deer away from your yard and garden!
Also, like many of the other herbs on our list, sage can be used in both its plant and its essential oil form when being used to repel deer. When planting sage, you can plant it around the perimeter of your yard or around common places where deer can get into your yard to deter them from getting in altogether.
You can plant sage around specific plants if you just want to prevent deer from eating certain plants as, like other deer-resistant plants, sage will mask the scent of the desired plant that deer would otherwise go after. Plus, planted sage provides a wonderful smell in your garden.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Rosemary is a common cooking herb that is also great at keeping deer away from yards and gardens. According to research by Oklahoma State University, Rosemary is a plant that deer rarely damage.
Planting rosemary around the perimeter of your garden is great at preventing deer from entering your garden at all, especially when this plant is also in areas where deer typically enter your garden.
Rosemary as a herb itself is also deeeelish!
Rosemary is also great at repelling deer as an essential oil. You can apply rosemary oil around the perimeter of your yard in places that you would plant a rosemary plant to keep deer away. You can also apply rosemary oil around specific plants to protect them from deer as well. Like all other essential oils, you will need to reapply rosemary oil frequently, especially after rain.
Lavender is a plant that has an extremely strong scent, and because of this, lavender is a great natural repellent to many animals, including deer. According to the University of Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, lavender is a plant that rarely gets damaged by deer.
In addition to this, the plants mint, oregano, tansy, rosemary, sage, and thyme were also included on the list from Rutgers.
Lavender plants are beautiful, smell great, and are very effective at repelling deer as they’ll mask the pleasurable scent of nearby plants.
Like all of the other plants on this list, you could choose to use lavender as a way to protect specific plants by planting lavender around them, or you could prevent deer from entering your garden altogether by planting lavender around your garden’s perimeter. This is best done when you block off a deer’s entry points into your yard with lavender plants as well.
Lavender oil also has a strong lavender scent, and it is effective at repelling deer as well.
You can protect your entire garden by applying diluted lavender oil around its perimeter, or you could protect specific plants from being eaten by deer by applying lavender oil around them.
Best Practices For Using Deer Repelling Scents
Although plants can be a very effective and natural way to deter deer from specific areas, there are some things that you should keep in mind when using the plants on our list as deer repellent. The first thing to keep in mind is that these plants are most effective when a combination of them is used.
For example, having a combination of rosemary, lavender, mint, and oregano are much more effective than just having a few mint plants around.
When using these plants as a natural deer repellent, the next important thing to consider is that they are usually only effective when they are mature. This means that a deer may even eat a very young plant that is supposed to be a repellent. This is mostly because the plant’s scent isn’t very strong yet.
It is also important to remember that fawns will try many plants that adult deer may not normally eat. In addition to this, deer are likely to expand their diets during starvation periods where food is scarce. As a result, it is always best to also have a fence and use a combination of the plants and essential oils on our list.
Where to Apply These Scents
When planting deer repelling plants to keep them out of your garden or yard, it is always best to plant a combination of several of the different plants on our list in three areas. This includes planting a variety of deer repelling plants around the perimeter of your garden, around plants that are particularly vulnerable to being eaten by deer, and around areas where deer could break into your garden.
When it comes to using essential oils and other scents that are great at repelling deer, it is always best to apply these about 6 feet off the ground. This will allow the scent to be carried to the deer more effectively. If snow is on the ground, you should apply these scents around 6 feet above the snow line.
Long Term Solutions For Keeping Deer Away
Although the plants on our list are effective at repelling deer most of the time, there are some things that you should do to keep deer away and protect your plants in the long term. These include putting up a fence and putting chicken wire around trees. Here are some long-term solutions for keeping deer out of your garden and protecting your plants from them.
Put Up a Fence
Putting up secure fencing around your garden and, albeit, your entire backyard can be an extremely effective deterrent against deer and, more than likely, even more, effective than using scents.
Luckily, many different types of fences are available that are good at keeping deer out of specific areas.
Put Chicken Wire Around Trees
In addition to putting up fencing to protect the perimeter of your yard or garden from deer, you can choose to protect your trees and plants from deer by putting up small fence structures around them and putting chicken wire or tree shelters to protect your trees from bark stripping by bucks.
You can also set up some plastic netting to protect smaller plants from being eaten as well.
Use Motion Sensor Lights
Motion sensor lights by themselves will do a decent job at repelling wildlife for a bit. Still, their effectiveness is increased when paired with another stimulus such as a motion sensor water sprinkler.
You can read more on using motion sensor lights to repel deer and wildlife in our handy dandy guide here.
That’s a Wrap!
Deer use their keen sense of smell to find their food and detect predators that are nearby. Luckily, we can use their strong sense of smell to our advantage when it comes to repelling them.
Plants with a strong scent often overpower other scents nearby, making deer very uncomfortable since they cannot smell their predators as easily. The best natural plant deer repellents include marigolds, lavender, mint, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, and tansy. These plants are most effective when used in combination with other plants on our list. In addition to this, you should have secure fencing around your garden and/or protection around your trees and plants for the best results.
Andelt, W. F., Burnham, K. P., & Manning, J. A. (1991). Relative effectiveness of repellents for reducing mule deer damage. The Journal of wildlife management, 341-347.
Wagner, K. K., & Nolte, D. L. (2001). Comparison of active ingredients and delivery systems in deer repellents. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 322-330.
Osada, K., Miyazono, S., & Kashiwayanagi, M. (2014). Pyrazine analogs are active components of wolf urine that induce avoidance and fear-related behaviors in deer. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 8, 276.
Palmer, W. L., Payne, J. M., Wingard, R. G., & George, J. L. (1985). A practical fence to reduce deer damage. Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006), 13(3), 240-245.
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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