It’s the middle of summer, your garden is blooming, and you can’t wait to go out and harvest some fresh veggies. But when you get out there, you see half your garden is eaten and a fluffy white tail flashing as a deer prances away with half a lettuce leaf in its mouth. How do you get rid of those pesky deer?
Capsaicin, the main spice component of cayenne and chili peppers, acts as an irritant to deer and interferes with their sense of smell. To deter deer with cayenne pepper, plant cayenne peppers near vulnerable plants, use a mixture to create a spray or use dried cayenne pepper flakes in your garden.
Below we’ll walk you through how to use each type of cayenne pepper deterrent so you can keep those damaging deer out of your yard and garden for good!
Does Cayenne Pepper Deter Deer?
All the information out there leads to a resounding YES! Deer can definitely be repelled by cayenne pepper.
Cayenne pepper has been explored as a pest deterrent quite frequently in deer.
For instance, in a study from the Journal of Chemical Ecology, when white-tailed deer’s diet was modified to include capsaicin as an irritation method, it was shown to be highly effective in repelling deer.
In another piece published by the Journal of Wildlife Management, researchers found that a 6.2% concentration of Hot Sauce (containing capsaicin) was effective in deterring both mule deer and white-tailed deer from apple twigs.
But before you go out and buy as many red peppers (or as much hot sauce) as you can find, it’s important to note that some modes of deterring deer are better than others. Simply placing whole cayenne peppers around won’t be as effective as using a spray, for example.
Why Does Cayenne Pepper Deter Deer?
We’ve established that cayenne pepper does, in fact, deter deer. But why? What is it about hot peppers that make deer avoid them?
Deer have a strong sense of smell they use to find food, identify family members, and sense danger. Cayenne peppers appeal to a deer’s sense of smell, warning it not to eat such a spicy and, for deer, painful plant.
With that being said, you don’t have to worry about a deer writing in agony from consuming some of your deterrents. It’s the equivalent of how we feel when we eat particularly spicy wings or a spicy curry.
When we eat spicy foods that contain cayenne pepper, we’re stimulating our pain receptors. The only thing is, we weirdo humans have developed a preference for spicy food that makes our mouth feel like it’s on fire, while deer most certainly have not.
They like their food without the heat, thank you very much.
In addition to being a bit painful to chew on, cayenne pepper also irritates a deer’s senses. If the pepper makes its way into their nose or eyes, it will cause them to burn, similar to when we get soap or shampoo in our eyes.
This disruption of their senses is more dramatic than if our sense of smell got cut off. Deer use their sense of smell to warn them of nearby predators, people included. So, they REALLY don’t want to lose that.
If they munch on some lettuce and suddenly get a burning sensation in their nose or eyes, they’re not likely to come back to that area anytime soon.
How to Use Cayenne Pepper To Repel Deer
As previously mentioned, there are three main ways to use cayenne pepper to repel deer. BONUS! Cayenne pepper repels more than just deer. But more on that later.
The good thing about using cayenne pepper as a deterrent is that it’s easy to use, effective, and inexpensive. Commercial repellents and sprays can break the bank, so before you try those, try cayenne pepper instead!
1. Use Partner Planting With Cayenne Peppers to Protect Garden Plants
This is the first option on our list because it’s the most passive way to deter deer. Once you plant them, you really don’t have to do anything else. No reapplications, no need to buy more peppers.
Just plant, and watch the magic happen!
Partner planting has been used to deter deer in the past and has been proven effective at keeping deer away from vulnerable plants.
Partner planting refers to the practice of planting something that deer hate next to something they love. For example, planting hot cayenne pepper plants next to your lettuce plants. The odor of the hot peppers SHOULD keep the deer away from the lettuce.
If you have a specific plant you want to protect, it is as easy as planting one hot pepper plant next to your prized plant.
However, if you want to protect your whole garden, it can get a little tricky.
For instance, in the study mentioned above from The Journal of Wildlife Management (hot sauce study), researchers claimed that while immediately effective, deer could learn to adjust and not be averse to the repellent.
Specifically, they’re describing habituation – when someone or something gets used to an activity or repellent in our case. You can read more about habituation in our guide for deterring wildlife with motion sensor lights here.
When using odor repellents, the rule of thumb for deer is to space them about 3 feet apart. If you plant cayenne peppers in your garden every year anyway, you’ve got a head start. If you don’t, it might be a good idea to consider planting them this year!
Cayenne peppers aren’t the easiest plant to grow. Their native climates are tropical and sub-tropical regions, where they’re grown as perennials. Hot peppers are grown as annuals here in the States because they can’t survive our harsh winters.
North Carolina University has some tips on how to grow cayenne peppers as annuals:
- Start the seedlings indoors about 1.5 to 2 months before the last frost.
- You can find seedlings at your local garden supply store or buy them online like the Gardeners Basics Cayenne Pepper Seeds.
- Put the baby plants outdoors only after there is no chance of frost.
- Keep them in full sun.
- The best soil is well-drained and consistently moist.
There you have it. Plant these next to any plants you want to protect from deer. The absolute BEST way to use partner plants is to crush some peppers to emit their odor. Try doing this at least once a week.
You can even crush the pepper over the plant you want to protect to really give the deer a surprise if they’re brave enough to try eating it.
2. Use a Hot Pepper Spray to Repel Deer
The next option on our list is creating a hot pepper spray. This spray can be applied directly to your vulnerable plants or trees.
Unlike partner planting, using a spray will require frequent reapplication to remain potent. It can be washed away with the rain or break down naturally.
The great thing about using a hot pepper spray is that it can be applied to fruit trees, budding trees, and blooming trees which deer occasionally browse. Planting a hot pepper plant at the base of a tree just won’t cut it when deterring them from apple or fir trees.
How Do You Make a Hot Pepper Spray to Repel Deer?
There are tons of recipes out there. Some use only cayenne pepper, but many use a combination of peppers, garlic, onion, or jalapeno.
The truth is, the effectiveness of cayenne pepper starts at just a 6.2% concentration, according to the Journal of Wildlife Management.
So what the heck does 6.2% concentration mean? Well, if you’re making a spray with water and cayenne pepper, you’d need 1 tablespoon of cayenne for every 1 cup of water.
When we say ‘1 tablespoon of cayenne,’ we’re referring to any type of cayenne. You can use the pepper itself, chopped up into pieces, crushed pepper flakes, or even some cayenne-based hot sauce like Frank’s RedHot.
Once you’ve got your measurements all figured out, here’s what you do:
- Bring the water and pepper substance to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool.
- Strain out the solids.
- Pour the remaining liquid into a glass spray bottle.
That’s it! Now you have your hot pepper spray.
To use it, simply spray the plants and trees you want to protect from top to bottom. Don’t worry; it won’t harm your plants.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, capsaicin (the main ingredient in cayenne pepper) breaks down in the environment after about 1-2 weeks. For this reason, you’ll need to reapply your spray at least once a week and definitely after heavy rainfall.
Alternatively, if you’re not into the whole home-brewing process, you can buy a ready-to-use spray such as Bonide’s Ready to Use Hot Pepper Wax Animal Repellent. It comes in a spray bottle that can be used as soon as you open it from the box.
Sprays are the best choice if you need to cover a large area or if you need to protect buds, blooms, and fruits on trees since it’s applied directly to the plant.
3. Use Spicy Cayenne Pepper Flakes to Deter Deer
Red pepper flakes, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper flakes – what’s the difference? Unfortunately, this can be confusing, and the answer doesn’t really clear things up.
Red pepper flakes can sometimes mean cayenne pepper flakes, but other times it means flakes from a few different peppers, including cayenne and other spicy peppers.
The term ‘red pepper’ can refer to a lot of different peppers. So when we are talking about using cayenne pepper flakes, we’re referring to flakes from Capsicum Annuum. But even that doesn’t narrow it down.
C. Annuum can refer to bell peppers, jalapeños, cayenne peppers, and many more. Is your head spinning yet?
The point is, when you’re looking for a deer deterrent, try your best to buy pepper flakes such as Indus Organics Cayenne Pepper Flakes. It has cayenne pepper in the name, plus it gives you the Scoville heat units (SHU) to ensure it’s going to be SPICY.
We’re looking for 30k-50k SHU for optimal spiciness. Indus has theirs around 40,000, which is plenty enough to send deer scurrying in the opposite direction.
So, how do you use it? Sprinkle it around like pixie dust? Actually…yes!
To use cayenne pepper flakes to deter deer, scoop a handful and sprinkle them on and around the plants you want to protect.
Red pepper flakes are the third option we provide because it’s the one that needs replacing the most. A strong breeze or heavy rain can sweep them away, so frequent reapplication will be needed.
However, using cayenne pepper flakes is also the easiest. You don’t have to cultivate your own cayenne pepper plant, and you don’t have to play mad scientist in your kitchen to create a spray. Just open the bag, grab a handful, and sprinkle it in your garden.
Cayenne pepper flakes aren’t the best if you’re trying to protect trees. They’re best used in small gardens or for just a few potted plants.
Other Animals and Insects That Cayenne Pepper Repels
If you’ve got beef with other pests in addition to deer, you may be surprised to see a decrease in their presence as well.
In fact, virtually all mammals are repelled by cayenne pepper. There are, of course always exceptions.
Deer appear to be one of the most affected animals when it comes to cayenne pepper, but it still has the power to repel other animals as well.
Some of the other animals you may be seeing less of once you start using cayenne pepper deterrents include:
The only group of animals that are unaffected by cayenne peppers is birds. Birds could care less about cayenne pepper and have no receptors that cause the uncomfortable mouth-burning sensation that happens in us and other animals.
What Is The Best Homemade Deer Repellent?
Here’s the big question. Is cayenne pepper the best we can do, or is there some other DIY deterrent that works even better?
There are tons of scents and natural repellents that repel deer. And many of them even have scientific research to back them up. If you’re interested, you can view our full list of scents that deer hate here.
But which one is the BEST?
The best homemade deer repellent consists of a combination of cayenne pepper, dish soap, vegetable oil, and garlic. Or use a simple egg-water spray. These components have a STRONG odor that will discourage deer from coming close to any of your plants.
Remember, you don’t need a ton of cayenne pepper. About 1 tablespoon for every cup of water will do just fine. Here’s the recipe, and remember, you can always double (or triple) it!
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bulb garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp dish soap
- 1 cup hot water.
To make it, simply combine the peppers, garlic, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for about a half-hour. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. Strain the solids and add the dish soap and oil to the water. Voila!
Your second option is a little less appealing: a putrid egg scent. This is only feasible if you’re trying to protect trees and plants that are well away from your home, as the smell will be pungent.
To make this spray, combine 3 eggs for every gallon of water you plan to use. You can use a blender to combine the 3 eggs with some water and then add more water until you reach a gallon.
Once you’ve reached a gallon, strain the mixture and pour the remaining liquid into a glass spray bottle. You can also use a larger sprayer like the Vivosun 1.3 gallon lawn and garden pump pressure sprayer. This particular sprayer is excellent because it has a back strap, so you can wear it like a backpack instead of lugging it around by the handle.
Spray your egg mixture on the plants and trees you want to protect. Back up, like waaay up, and watch as the deer give your plants a wide berth.
Wrapping Things Up
Cayenne pepper is an all-around amazing vegetable. It adds spice to dishes, has plenty of health benefits, AND deters pesky deer!
To recap, here’s how you can use cayenne pepper to deter deer:
- Plant cayenne pepper plants near your vulnerable plants
- For best results, plant the cayenne peppers within 3 feet of your plant
- Try crushing some of the red peppers to emit the spicy odor
- Create a spicy pepper spray to use on plants and trees
- Spread cayenne pepper flakes around your garden or in potted plants
Cayenne pepper deters so many more pests than just deer. Say goodbye to squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, skunks, flies, ants, and opossums as well!
If you’re not sure what pest you’re dealing with or feel overwhelmed with troublesome deer, get help from a professional! Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a wildlife professional near you in seconds for free! Using our partner network helps support pestpointers.com.
Use these techniques to keep your garden plants and fruit trees safe from troublesome deer. Happy planting!
Andelt, W. F., Burnham, K. P., & Baker, D. L. (1994, April). Effectiveness of Capsaicin and Bitrex Repellents for Deterring Browsing by Captive Mule Deer. Journal of Wildlife Management, 58(2), 330-334.
Craven, S. R., & Hygnstrom, S. E. (1994). Deer. In The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (Vol. 47, pp. 25-39). https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=icwdmhandbook
Heffelfinger, J. (2018). Deer of the Southwest: A Complete Guide to the Natural History, Biology, and Management of Southwestern Mule Deer and White-Tailed Deer. Texas A&M University Press.
Kumar, S., Kumar, R., & Singh, J. (2006). Cayenne/American Pepper. In Handbook of Herbs and Spices (Vol. 3, pp. 299-312). Woodhead.
Kimball, Bruce A., Jimmy Taylor, Kelly R. Perry, and Christina Capelli. “Deer responses to repellent stimuli.” Journal of Chemical Ecology 35, no. 12 (2009): 1461-1470.
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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