Deer Proof Your Garden and Yard Naturally

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If you’re like me, you love driving down a country road and seeing deer grazing in a field. What I don’t love is when Bambi comes to snack in my yard. There are some things you can do that will help keep the deer, and other browsing critters away from your garden naturally, without chemicals.

Deer Proof Garden and Yard Naturally

Don’t plant this…

First, you can steer clear of planting some of the plants deer like to eat. As far as shrubs; azalea, rhododendron, dogwood, roses, lilac and burning bush are some of the favorites. Trees like yews, pines (especially white pine), and fruit trees are all eaten by deer. Garden plants, like most vegetables including beans, peas, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables. Corn, blackberries, spring bulbs and hosta have all been known to disappear. My Aunt Val in Minnesota loves to watch the deer from her front porch – until they start eating her pansies, as they seem to do every year. In my yard in Western North Carolina, the apple and peach trees fall prey, but they won’t touch the blackberries. (I wish they would!)

Plant this…

So, in avoiding plants they love, you can go for plants they DON’T like. Among these are borage, ice plant, marigolds and zinnias. Some perennials include alliums, aloe, black-eyed susan, bleeding heart, any of the mints, fern, geranium, iris, and herbs like oregano, rosemary and yarrow. Among the trees and shrubs are bamboo, pampas grass, yucca, barberry, butterfly bush, currant and gooseberry, hawthorn (despite its apple-like berry), holly, mountain laurel, palms, oleander, boxwood and viburnum.

Need other options?

If you already have the plants they like and don’t want to change what you have or start from scratch, there are other natural alternatives to discourage Bambi from munching on your garden and landscaping.

One thing you can start with is a smell deterrent. Among the best ones are the sulphur compounds. They smell like rotten eggs and deer hate them. You might too, but the smell will die down in a day or so. You can also get predator urine. Around here we use coyote urine, which can be purchased at a local garden center or online here. Your area may have other urine preparations that are region specific. I have another one I use that’s a clay granule base with thyme, peppermint and piperine, which is black pepper oil. It also works well for other animals such as bunnies and groundhogs.

Soap also works as a natural deer deterrent. Simply hang a bar in the bushes. (learn to make your own soap here)

My uncle used to wear the same socks for a week, then tie them to a barbed wire fence. He never had a problem with deer when he did that. Neighbors either, come to think of it!

Other smell deterrents include blood meal, human hair, fabric softener sheets, creosote, processed sewage such as Milorganite, and along that same line, human urine. Yep, can you believe I said it?  This one really does work.

You may need to use a taste deterrent as well. Among these are hot pepper wax and piperene-based sprays. Both are very unpleasant on the tongue. Another option is a throat numbing spray such as Cepacol. Remember what it does to your throat? It’ll do that to the deer too. Not harmful, just annoying.

Consider planting a border around your garden with plants they’ll avoid. Mints, sage, marigolds, and big ugly thorny things like locust, buckthorn and hawthorn work well. Fences usually don’t, because deer can jump very high. In order for a fence to be effective, it must be 10-12 feet tall.

Of course, guinea hens, llamas and donkeys will all raise the alarm when a deer is in the yard. My dog lets me know too, but I think he just wants to play with them.

Motion detector lights will sometimes work at night as will motion detector spray devices. There’s a product on the market called the “Scarecrow.” It’s a sprinkler that starts up when it detects something in its path, like a deer.  It startles them with a shot of water. (Find it here.)

And if none of these work, just give in. I planted a seed plot with clover and grass seed not too far from the edge of the woods. I set it well away from the garden and not in sight (or smell) of what I wanted to keep. I planted a row of mint along the edge of the plot and the deer seem to stay within that area. My garden is safe and my yard is free of tracks…for now, until they get me figured out!

How do you deer proof your yard? Share below!


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Tricia says

    I need to know how to stop robins & sparrows from eating my strawberries. Little annoying boogers!

  2. Betty Hunt says

    Nice article! Very interesting. I do disagree with one thing: Deer DO eat iris! I planter beautiful yellow iris around my pond. Not a little fake pond like a kiddie pool, but a real used-to-be cattle pond. It is fed by an artesian well. The iris were about two years old, and very beautiful. I had been enjoying daily visits to the backyard to look at them. When hubs and I got there there was not a bloom in sight. When we looked closer there were deer tracks everywhere! The iris were all gone! Right down to the ground! That was several years ago. They have come back and there are more than ever. They are almost all the way around the pond now. The iris are beautiful, and so are the deer! I love them both!

  3. Sue says

    I had a problem with deer approaching my veggie garden from one side and devouring everything within reach. I planted perennial artichokes and rhubarb there. Around the rest of the garden I planted onions. Haven’t had a problem since.

  4. Poppy says

    we have been using yellow caution tape about 4 ft high around the perimeter. It seems to work quite well. They have left my tulips alone since I put it up. I am going to fence the garden this year as well to be sure.

  5. Becky says

    I have also heard from neighbors that deer do not like the scent of citrus, so they hang lemons etc in areas that have plants they don’t want eaten.

  6. Patticake says

    I think I’m going to buy the scarecrow sprinkler for my garden as the deer have decided they like to bed down in our tree row at night. The garden would be a nice snack bar on the way in and out, so a deterrent is in order this year. As to cats, they hate mothballs. I do too, but I don’t crawl around in the flower beds at ground level as a cat does, so I don’t mind. By the time the mothballs have dissolved most cats have found other territory to use. If they come back, sprinkle a few more mothballs out.

  7. Chuck McClinnis says

    I have heard from some friends out further in the country that they surround their garden with a fishing line “fence”. when the deer can’t see it but feel contact, the flight response kicks in. I plan to try that this year, sounds sensible though.

  8. Jennifer says

    Milk deer hate the smell of it. As my mother learned when she took a washed out milk jug and cut it open filled it with feed and hung it out away from her house to feed the deer thru the winter. Come spring it was still full they hadn’t touched it. Thats when she learnedvfrom her father that they dont like milk. So even tho she had washed it, deer must still be able to smell the residue left on the gallon. This year were going to try spraying the plants around the perimeter of the garden.

  9. Cherie says

    I have tried everything to discourage the deer, rabbits, skunks, coons, geese, the neighbor’s cat, etc. from destroying the landscaping in my yard. The ‘Scarecrow” is a clever device that attaches to your hose and shoots a short burst of water cannon type spray in a surprisingly wide area that keeps ALL of the above out of the area the spray reaches to. It requires a 9-volt battery, is adjustable, and is worth it’s weight in gold. It is harmless and works so well I plan on getting another one for the other side of my property. It is critical for keeping pooping geese out of my yard and has guaranteed me some extra sleep hours as my husband is no longer dashing out of the house in the middle of the night screaming and chasing the geese. You can find it on Amazon.

    I have also used the urine granules with success against the furry animals but not with the feathered ones. The granules will also work to keep cats from using our sand as a litter box. Two years ago a coon climbed our weeping crab tree, removed the baby birds one at a time and dismembered them, and this year I used the granules around the base of the tree and the coon never bothered the new babies. I imagine this would work for fruit trees also being raided by coons.

    A spray product called ‘Repels All’ has worked well to keep our hosta and cedars from being chewed by the deer and keeps the neighbor cat from peeing on our screen doors but must be replenished periodically. As the spray really doesn’t work well in our sub-freezing temperatures in the winter I wrap all my cedars with sheets I buy at the resale shops for cheap. For burrowing skunks a combination of the two (granules and spray) works but must be repeated. A product called ‘Scoe-10-X’ works like no other to remove skunk smell from pets and cat urine from the decking and outdoor carpet. It is natural, has no smell, and within minutes the urine smell is gone. Look for it online and buy the smaller container as it lasts forever.

    Lastly, if you feed the birds try feeding just safflower instead of sunflower, wild bird seed or corn. At least where we live the deer, skunks, coons, squirrels, rabbits, grackles, jays, etc. avoid it like the plague and it will attract more songbirds as they are not competing with the larger birds for the seed.

    One last word of advice; save your money and don’t buy the plastic owl or revolving coyote on a stake for your yard. They do not work.

  10. frances says

    Our back yard is obviously part of an old deer trail. We love watching the deer especially when the apple tree is full. The apples are smallish & scarred so we welcome the deer to clear the tree & the ground. Mom comes with babies and sometimes take a nap on the lawn. At my old house I fed the squirrels. Loved watching their antics trying to get the sunflower seeds 🙂

  11. Cheri says

    I have read that llama beans act as a deer repellant and it will also fertilize your garden at the same time. Not sure if this is true, but haven’t seen any deer in my garden (or pasture) since we got llamas.

  12. leslie says

    @sarah – I live in an urban neighborhood and our answer to that is responsible pet owners who do not let their animals outside – and of course who are willing to own a pet and make sure they are not able to reproduce. It’s annoying to find your garden used as litter.

  13. Sarah says

    Would love to know if there is a deterrent that would keep cats away…they think the gardens are liter boxes.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      There’s a method that I mentioned above that seem to work well. Take some clean kitty litter and put it in a coffee can. Add some thyme, peppermint and wintergreen essential oils. Shake it up and let it sit for a few days. Sprinkle some around the edges of your garden. It’ll last for a few weeks.

  14. Jeanette says

    I use a mixture of 2 eggs beeten and mix it in a quart spray bottle and spray it on anything you don’t want the deer to eat, works really well, have to repet after rain..

  15. leslie says

    No deer but SKUNKS!!!! anything for them???? (those of us who own dogs would really appreicate a solution!)

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Skunks don’t like a lot of the things mentioned above, but they are notorious egg stealers, so the sulphur solutions might not work. I’ve used napthalene (like in moth balls) to some success, but then the smell hangs around for weeks. Better than skunk, though!

  16. Deanna says

    We buy only plants that are deer resistant. However, as it was told to us after they ate a deer resistant tree, when deer are hungry they will eat anything. We do individual fencing around each plant or tree until they are big enough to withstand deer munching. There are lists on the internet showing what plants are less likely to be eaten. We also have to be careful about the deer rubbing the velvet off their horns in the late summer early fall. We had our tamaracks destroyed by rutting deer, they weren’t being eaten so weren’t fenced. We also fence our gardens to keep deer, cats and dogs out. I don’t have problems with other animals.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Rutting season is a whole ‘nother ballgame. It seems the bucks will rub on anything, even the side of a barn. The trick is to find out where they are rubbing and treat that area.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Raccoons should be deterred by any of the above methods, so I’d try one of those. Milorganite is an all natural based fertilizer that is produced from the sewage from the city of New York, at least it was when I was growing up. It may be made somewhere else now. Talk about recycling!

  17. wendy decker says

    we researched it and found that the US forest service uses the plain DIAL GOLD bar soap. You drill a hole thru it and hang it wherever you don’t want them to be. IT WORKS!!!! We’ve been using it for 2 yrs. And while my neighbors have a problem, we do not! We have it hanging at about 10 foot intervals around the veggie garden and either on the ground or hanging in different places around the yard with MUCH success. Has to be the GOLD or it doesn’t work! GOOD LUCK!

  18. Robin Heider says

    I have used my dog’s own hair to spread around the garden with some success. I have to replenish from time to time, but since he’s got a golden retriever type coat, we always seem to have plenty.

    On a side note– any suggestions for keeping cats out of the garden? I have raised beds that they consider one giant litter box. Yuck.

    • Anna Brown says

      I have the same problem. I use Cayenne Pepper powder, and sprinkle all around my garden beds. I have to do it like once a week or so, but cats stay away. Some of my friends are horrified that I do this, but the Cayenne pepper does not hurt them for long, and cats are smart – they remember a burn when they get one.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      The only thing I’ve found is a clay baed critter deterrent. I use to be able to get it, but since I can’t find it anymore, I make my own. I use kitty litter (new) and add a bit of thyme, peppermint ad wintergreen essential oils. Shake it up and seal it in a coffee can. Sprinkle some of it around the edge of the garden. It works for quite a while and won’t hurt anyone, you, the dogs, cats or whoever.

  19. K Bell says

    I love all the ideas to deter deer, however, our deer here in Florida must have a different palate than in N.C. We have queen palms all over our yard. If they are not beyond a certain maturity, they get mowed down to nubs. They have also eaten our Indian hawthorn when really hungry.

    I’m more than willing to try some of the new ideas to deter them, but its been my experience that the deterrents I’ve tried work briefly and then the deer become immune. Some that I’ve tried are: Irish Spring Soap (didn’t even slow them down), Milorganite (worked for quite a while, but then the deer decided they liked my Mexican petunias more than the awful smell), motion detecting flood lights (just gave them a better view of their smorgasbord) and hair.

    One warning about coyote urine: it may deter deer but it attracts coyotes. I have five small dogs and the last thing I want in my yard is a hungry coyote. And, yes, we have coyotes in the Tampa area.

    I’m looking forward to trying these different ideas but I’ve surrendered to the notion that the deer, when really hungry, will eat just about anything. I thoroughly enjoy watching them so its a small price to pay.

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Yes, it does, and I forgot to mention that. I haven’t used it here, but we did a lot in Minnesota. You might have to do what I did and just give the deer their own patch. I found some inexpensive plot seed mix at Walmart and am trying it this year. So far, so good!

  20. Elaine Jacobs says

    We swear by Milorginite. We have deer in our area and used to have trouble with them eating vegetation in our yard. We started using Milorginite several years ago and haven’t had a problem since. We like that it is natural without all the chemicals that can wash into the waterways. We live near the coast and are very conscious of what may run into the bays.

      • Cheryl says

        I was goimg to ask about armadillos. Is there anything else that might work they are enjoying our yard way to much. They are fun to watch especially when our corgie decides its there to have a play date!!
        Thanks for your info. Great help

        • Debbie says

          Hi Cheryl,

          It sounds like there are pros and cons to having the armadillos. : ) If you have a live trap, you can catch them and take them somewhere else.