12 Sustainable Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

There are ways to live alongside deer without destroying your garden.

A family of deer eating roses in suburban garden.
An unprotected garden can feed a whole family.

Ed-Ni-Photo / Getty Images

The presence of deer can be a charming site on a landscape—unless it's your own landscape and they're munching on your roses.

Yet another example of conflict between humans and wildlife as a result of human encroachment into natural habitats, deer are an increasing nuisance in rural and suburban environments because their natural predators (wolves and mountain lions) have been eliminated in many areas. Only human hunting and road accidents keep their numbers in check.

Rural and suburban developments are ideal habitats for deer: open areas of grass and ornamental plantings for grazing interspersed with forested areas for shelter and a source of twigs, leaves, and bark in regions where snow covers the grass in winter. If you are unsure what is eating your plants, the key signal is the height of the damage. Deer will leave jagged edges on leaves and stems far from the ground.

Here are 12 sustainable, humane methods to keep deer out of your garden, grouped into four major strategies. You may need to use all four.

Lead Them Not Into Temptation

Once deer discover a great source of food, they will return again and again until they've exhausted the food supply. Removing any temptations early in the spring can prevent their habits from setting in.

1. Don't Grow What They Love to Eat

Under stress, deer will eat just about anything, but some plants are more alluring than others. Here are some plants to keep out of an unprotected garden.

  • Apples
  • Azaleas
  • Berries
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Clematis
  • Hibiscus
  • Hostas
  • Pansies
  • Petunias
  • Roses
  • Sunflowers Tomatoes

If you absolutely must grow deer-friendly plants, keep them close to your house.

2. Grow What They Don't Love to Eat

Deer graze mostly by smell. Surround your yard (or at least your garden) with pungent-smelling plants, like those listed below, or rough, prickly, hairy, or thorny plants like thistle, lamb's ear, or ornamental grasses. If you grow deer-friendly plants, you can surround them by unfriendly plants at your property's edge to create strong smells that can prevent deer from smelling more tempting plants.

  • Alyssum
  • Bearded Iris
  • Bee Balm
  • Catmint
  • Catnip
  • Chives
  • Columbine
  • Garlic
  • Lavender
  • Marigolds
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Peonies
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Tansy
  • Thyme

A fuller list of landscape plants rated by deer resistance is a great guide to what to plant and what not to plant if you have deer in your area.

Treehugger Tip

There are many ornamental plants that are toxic to humans and other mammals, including deer. There's no reason to make deer suffer—just send them somewhere else. There are more humane ways to deter animals from your yard. Toxic plants to avoid include bleeding heart, daffodils, foxglove, monkshood, poppies, and spurges.

Physical Barriers

It's a lot easier to keep deer from eating your plants if they can't even access your property. But if it's not possible to keep deer out, you can also create physical barriers around your plants to protect them individually.

3. Fencing

Deer jumping over a fence.
A fence needs to be 8 feet or higher to deter deer.

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

A physical fence may not be the most attractive method, but it gets the job and can be camouflaged by plantings. Deer are great jumpers, so to deter them, a fence needs to be 8 feet or higher with gaps no larger than 6 inches.

Treehugger Tip

You don't need a fortress. Like the joke about how fast you have to be to outrun a bear (faster than the slowest person in your hiking party), you only need to make your yard less attractive than others in your neighborhood.

4. Green Screen

A privacy hedge or green screen can double as a barrier to deer, especially the green screen plants are deer-unfriendly. Tall plants growing tightly together is a more aesthetically pleasing option than a fence.

5. Netting

When fencing isn't possible, netting can protect trees and shrubs without blocking sunlight. Cheaper than netting even, monofilament fishing line can be wrapped two or three feet off the ground to deter deer.

Create Disturbances

Deer graze most frequently from two to three hours before nightfall, then graze late at night, bedding down around midnight, then grazing again in the early morning for two to three hours. These are the best times to activate deterrents.

6. Lights

Deer are creatures of habit, so any novelty is a threat. Low-maintenance solar-powered LED lights flashing or blinking on a timer can drive deer away.

7. Water

If you live in a region that's not water-constrained, a motion-activated sprayer can startle deer away from your yard.

8. Noise

Noise-making garden ornaments or wind chimes can deter deer—if the wind is blowing, that is. Alternatively, you can set up an old radio and tune it to static to confuse deer.


 Goldendoodle dog watching a resting deer.

Debra McVey / Getty Images

There are hundreds of home remedies online for deer repellents. The key is to change your repellents frequently. Sprays will need to be reapplied every few months or after heavy rains. The scent of pouches fades over time. Switch repellents with each new application so that deer don't become accustomed to a specific smell.

9. Pouches

Fill pouches with garlic, fabric softeners, or strong-smelling soaps, then hang them from trees.

10. Granules and Powders

Sprinkle granules or powders made with garlic, hot peppers, strongly scented soap, or other unpleasant odors.

11. Liquid Sprays

Make a solution from diluted dish soap, perfumes, essential oils, a mix of egg and milk, or predator urine (available at garden centers), then spray it on the leaves or at the base of your plants.

12. A Dog

The scent and bark of a dog is enough to scare deer away.