How to Solve the Biggest Landscaping Problems with DEER!

It's that time of year; hungry deer looking to your landscaping for a four-course meal. You do what you can; Spraying foul smelling stuff on shrubs, hanging noise making gadgets from trees. I even have a customer that has installed a sensor light to scare them away. Whether these measures work remains to be seen. There are some misconceptions about deer and their diet and some things you can do about to deter them.

First: the brutal truth: there are no completely deer-proof plants.  The damage all depends on the following factors: The quantity of deer and the scarcity of food. In those cases, as they would say here in the south, 'Katie, bar the door', deer have been known to eat almost anything!

That said, there are some plants that deer like to eat. . . . less. . . . often. There are several consistent reasons for this behavior. It could be because they have wooly leaves, smells or tastes they don't like, or the plants give them a tummy ache.  It is here where we will begin with our investigation to keep them at bay. We will also look at some outside measures you can also take to prevent them from approaching your garden. I also have plant lists for zones 7-8 that will help you in this endeavor. If you look the list, and there are plants that you absolutely cannot live without, you will need to plant them in areas where you can provide a barrier from the voracious foragers.

Don't be discouraged, it IS possible to have a beautiful garden that is not a constant target of our 'deer' friends. It will be a challenge, and through some trial and error, but it is possible.

As I stated before, deer do not like plants with the following characteristics: Wooly or fuzzy leaves; Plants with a strong scent; Plants that are poisonous or have a foul taste. They also do not like plants with spines or other protrusions that have the potential to give them a snoot full of thorns. Let's look at a few of those categories:

Plants with Wooly or Fuzzy Leaves:

Sage
Lamb's Ear

Plants with Strong Scents:

Sweetshrub
Sweetbox
Boxwood
Gardenia
Wax Myrtle
Rosemary
Lavender
Bee Balm
Mint
Nepeta (Catmint)
Bayberry
Calamintha
Plants that are Poisonous or have a Foul Taste:
Convallaria (Lily of the Valley)
Catnip
Salvia
Yarrow
Helleborus
Digitalis sp (Foxglove)
Narcissus (Daffodil, Jonquil)
Ferns
Spirea
Plants that are full of Thorns:
Berberis
Pyracantha
Roses (although sometimes they will eat these if they are hungry enough!)

You can find a very thorough and complete printable list from NC State publications here:

Now let's talk about additional measures you can take:

1. Fencing: Deer are very agile creatures and will leap, or even crawl under a fence. Make sure your fencing goes from the ground level- up to 7' for most effectiveness.

2. Foul Smelling Fertilizers or Additives:

  • Mylorganite: A slow-release fertilizer made from human sewage. It IS rank smelling and will protect your plants for several weeks. Reports from my customers are that is works reasonably well.
  • Hinder- Ammonium Soap: This additive works to repel deer, as well as, rabbits.
  • Soap: Bars hung in plants will protect for a 1 yard radius.
  • Human Hair: I have also heard reports that this works, at least for a while.
  • Cinnamon and Cayenne Pepper: I have also heard that this works reasonably well, until the next rain. That said, you will need to reapply this often.

Hopefully, some of these measures will help you enjoy your garden and keep our four-legged friends in the forest where they belong.