Deer are very common in North America, especially white-tailed deer seen throughout almost the entire country. Deer are omnivores meaning they only eat plants, so they are not a threat to a human’s wellbeing. However, they can be pesky little things in yards and gardens!
Deer can cause major damage to gardens and trees by eating foliage. The best way to repel deer is by installing a fence, using deterrent sprays, and growing strong scented plants that deer dislike such as herbs, marigolds and lavender. Use a combination of these methods for best success.
We often see deer as cute little creatures depicted in animated movies as helpless and sweet. However, they are pretty hardy and can figure out how to survive in some pretty tough conditions. No garden is safe from deer, but here’s how you can help protect yours!
Recognizing Deer In Your Garden & Yard
Well, there are two common types of deer in the United States. White-tailed deer are seen almost everywhere except in Alaska and the mule deer is seen in the Western states.
All deer are ungulates, meaning they have split hooves instead of one big hoof with no split like you would see in a cow or a horse. They can be pretty big as well.
Deer can range anywhere from 40 to 400 pounds depending on where they live, how old they are, and what they have for resources. Older deer and bucks tend to weigh more.
If you have ever been in the North, white-tailed deer are much bigger than white-tailed deer in the South. This is because of the resources and the environment they grow in. They can grow bigger in the North than in the South, which is beneficial because the extra meat on their bones keeps them warmer in the northern winters.
Out here in Upstate, NY – we have TONS of white tailed deer which are in-fact, quite the nuisance.
In truth, deer are the top garden pest in the United States. In many states, deer (a variety of species) are the biggest issue with gardens, shrubs, trees, and anything else growing in your yard. They love to eat plants and they can even eat 5-10 pounds of food per deer a day, according to Penn State.
While they usually like to eat at night, you can find deer grazing all day long. If you scare them, they do not fight. They just run away a majority of the time and are easily frightened.
The NRCS states that deer can jump 8 feet high and they can squeeze themselves through small openings about 7.5 inches around to get to what they want. Talk about a tight fit!
Damage Caused By Dear
You will know if a deer has been in your space, they usually walk the same paths and they walk them often. Small, round droppings and beaten-down deer paths will be your first clues.
Deer love to eat vegetation, and their preferences may differ depending on their herd and location. Some might go for more trees while other herds will go for new plants. Bucks will tend to rub their antlers against trees (here’s specific tips on keeping deer away from your trees if you need to go that route.)
Deer can be a genuine threat to sustainable living since they are constantly eating new growth. Those who try to be more sustainable and grow their own food will benefit from this article and all it offers.
White-Tailed Deer Vs Mule Deer
Essentially, mule deer get their names because of their ears, which are big and floppy like mules. The white-tailed deer gets its name from its tail, which acts as a white flag when they are running away.
White-tailed deer and mule deer have a difference in antlers, too. Where white-tailed deer have one “beam”, if you will, for an antler and all the points grow off of it, mule deer antlers form a “Y” shape and all the points grow from it to form smaller “Y”’s.
While both deer have white bellies, they have a different cast color in their brown fur. White-tailed deer will appear more of a white cast color and mule deer will look grayer.
Finally, mule deer skip when they run, unlike a white-tailed deer, which has more of a steady run pattern. If you have ever seen a mule deer run, you will be able to tell the difference right away without even using the characteristics I mentioned before. It is a sight to be seen.
6 Ways To Keep Deer Out Of Your Yard And Garden
Many deer deterrent studies can be traced back to 1939, so this is not a new endeavor. Over the years, countless people have had issues with deer and there are many tried-and-true solutions.
We’ll start with the obvious… BUILDING A FENCE!
Install A Fence To Keep Deer Out
When installing a fence, you have a lot of options. It is important to keep deer can jump over most fences. They can jump 8 feet high without putting much effort into it, and higher if they have the right motivation.
Luckily, you really just need a solid barrier.
Building a fence is a good idea for the winter to repel deer as well just so they don’t end up in your backyard.
Classic Wire Fence
First, you have your classic wire fence. This can be effective if you put it around your garden and build it up high enough, however you need to make sure it is high enough – 8ft at least.
When I was a kid, my parents used wire fences around our gardens and used an old wives’ tale trick of putting a white string around the top of the fence. A deer never jumped over it again. There is no evidence of this working scientifically, but it always helped us out growing up.
We also used dryer sheets to repel deer, which is an inexpensive way to mask some scents that attract them.
So, you can use this method for both your yard OR garden.
Mesh, Poly, & Rope Fences
Your other options for fencing are mesh fences, poly tape/rope fences, and cow gate fences. If you use any of these options, it’s important to make sure they don’t have sizeable gaps in them because deer can easily slide through those.
Deer can slide through the openings in a cow gate fence, so you might have to reinforce them with mesh or lining. Poly tape is used to reinforce another type of fence because it is a type of electric shock deterrent.
The SGT KNOTS High Visibility Electric Fence Poly Tape is great for going around the perimeter of your gate to help keep deer out. This poly tape is highly conductive and flexible to fit your needs. It is also resistant to corrosion and rust.
If you are using electric shock deterrents or are considering barbed fencing, take a look at your local town or county regulations to make sure you can put it on your property. I don’t recommend these types as it’s better to just build a high enough deer fence.
Use Homemade Deterrent Sprays Keep Deer Away!
Many people dislike using store-bought pesticides or deterrents because they do not know what is in them exactly.
You can use a combination of some natural scents that deer hate to keep them at bay. The way these work is that deer are attracted to your garden by way of smell. SO, using strong scents can overpower and mask the scent of what attracts them, causing deer to stay away in the first place.
Some scents that deer stay away from include:
- Marigolds (more on that below)
- Putrescent egg solids
We have a full list of 11 scents that deer hate if you’d like to view a few more, but the basic premise is strong scents aren’t attractive to deer and mask OTHER attracting scents they love.
You can also find more information on natural deer deterrents here: 12 Best Natural Deer Repellents (And How To Use Them).
Grow Plants That Deer Hate
Stemming off the scents portion here…
While deer will eat just about any plant, if they have a vast variety of foods around (like in a residential neighborhood), they are not likely to stop and eat a plant they dislike when they could eat something else.
Deer are not a fan of anything super fragrant and smells can bother them. They like light, sweet smells you would get from a flower or a new bud. What they do not like is intense smells like herbs, boxwood trees, and marigolds.
Deer will get out of the vicinity if they smell these pungent plants. If you don’t want to sacrifice the garden you have already made, you can plant these things on the outsides of your garden to mask the smell of the plants within. You can also plant them near your garden to see if it works before committing.
Missouri State explains deer also would rather go for more exotic plants, things they can’t just get anywhere. They would like new and budding plants, trees, and shrubs. If you plant local flowers like a wildflower seed mix in your backyard, they are much less likely to stop by.
Wildflowers are cheap, easy to plant, and beautiful. All you do is wet the ground, spread the seeds, and give it a quick rake and soon enough you have wildflowers!
These Premium Birds & Butterflies Wildflower Seed Mix are great, affordable, and beautiful! The mix contains 23 varieties of wildflowers, so you can expect a wonderful mix when they pop up.
Last but not least, you can limit planting things that will attract deer, but we all know this option isn’t very fun. Everyone wants to plant the trees and plants they want to see grow. If you are on your final straw, I would consider this, but there are plenty of other options to get rid of those deer!
Through habituation. deer can learn to tolerate unpleasant tastes and smells, but usually once is enough to get them to scram. If you need, rotate the herbs and plants around to help create more of an unwelcome environment.
Mimic Loud Sounds Deter Deer
Deer dislike loud sounds, much like powerful scents. They are very skittish and will bolt if startled. So, if you can get a noise machine or even a motion sensor with a loud beep, they are more likely to stay away from you but can get habituated with it.
Growing up, my dad would pound on the sliding door when we had deer coming up to the back deck and they would scatter every time because of the noise. Sometimes, even just yelling or stomping is enough to get them to run, but it isn’t a long-term solution.
Now, when I say coming up to the back deck, I really mean they were still a few hundred feet away. They wouldn’t dare to come up to close since the lawn was pretty wide open (deer are very skittish in rural parts.)
You do not have to use loud, unpleasant sounds though. our guide on using wind chimes to deter deer can give you more information on beautiful sounds deer will avoid.
Utilize Protective Measure (Bud caps & Tree Netting)
Bud caps and tree netting are great options if you want to protect trees. Deer love new trees, especially fruit trees. They will bite off the ends of the branches, new buds, and even eat the bark off from around the base of the stump.
Bud caps are little plastic caps you put on top of a new bud to protect it from a deer munching on it. They are easy to lose, but can be very effective in saving your buds and, in turn, your trees!
You can also use tree netting, which is biodegradable plastic (usually, they break down in about 5 years). You wrap it around the tree or make it almost like a fence around the tree and create a shelter for it. By doing this, you’re making it more inconvenient for the deer to even get near it.
Tree shelter tubes for the base of the tree are another option. They help keep deer from chewing on the bark. These can be expensive, but they are very worth it in the beginning stages of a tree’s life.
This 24″ Miracle Tree Tube (25) is a great option for new trees and even has holes within the shelter for the tree to breathe and acclimate to the weather. It is made of 100% recycled plastic and has vents to allow herbicide and insecticide treatments.
This doesn’t come without its downside, though. Some trees might not harden in time for winter if you insulate them with the tree shelter, and some might get some deformities like goosenecks. If you are using netting, make sure you are checking in on the season and the changes of your tree often to keep it healthy.
Finally, deer can remove some protective measures if they are used to them. So maybe you can combine these with the next tip to help keep the deer away.
Try Spray Repellents To Drive Deer Off
You can purchase sprays to go around your garden and your plants with harsh odor or taste to deter the deer. Many repellents contain some form of the scents that deer hate, like putrescent egg solids.
You can buy sprays and granules to place on the ground, like this I Must Garden Deer Repellent. It is affordable and all-natural, so it is safe to spray around your home.
That’s A Wrap!
Deer are pesky. They will eat up your garden and your new trees but this doesn’t mean it’s a forever problem, though!
By staying calm and working through your options, you can have a deer-free garden to plant all the fruits, flowers, veggies, and trees you want!
Happy deer repelling!
Allen, K. Nielsen, C. Eubanek, R. (2011). Urban and suburban deer management by state wildlife conservation agencies. Wildlife society.
Decker, Daniel J., and Thomas A. Gavin. “Public Attitudes toward a Suburban Deer Herd.” Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006), vol. 15, no. 2, [Wiley, Wildlife Society], 1987, pp. 173–80.
Manning, P. (2021). Fenced community gardens effectively mitigate the negative impacts of white-tailed deer on household food security. Canadian Food Studies / La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur l’alimentation, 8(3).
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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