Deer on a Diet: Deer-Resistant Gardening Tips

Let’s be clear: gardening with deer can be frustrating. You read all the books, plant all the right plants, and those hungry mowing machines just tear through your new deer-resistant plantings like they’re candy! And then leave poops on your lawn to further taunt you.

They’re cute; I’ll give deer that. But they’re creatures of habit, and they’re not that hard to anticipate. Today I’ll give you a few tips to reduce the likelihood that they’ll eat your garden to the ground, and then next week I’ll share a list of plants that grow easily, look great together, and that the deer won’t eat. In short; plantings for deer that you can’t f*** up. Allright, on to the tips!

Spray new plants with deer repellent

First, deer are curious. They’re like a lot of college students – they’ll try anything once. So anytime you plant something new that is not absolutely, totally, 100% deer-resistant (like, you know, rocks), spray it down with deer repellent for the first six weeks.

Bonus tip: every time you run out of repellent, get a new brand. They all work fairly well. You don’t want the deer deciding that maybe they do actually like a salad dressing of rotten eggs and cayenne, thankyouverymuch.

Get rid of the candy

Deer are creatures of habit. So they walk their same paths every week, they eat their favorite plants, and they nibble anything easy to reach along the way. You know what makes a favored path? Candy! Delicious, delicious deer candy.

So those few roses that you can’t bear to get rid of are actually drawing the deer into your garden. Deer might not show up just for the pansy flowers or the Japanese anemones, but since they’re there already for the roses, why yes, they will just have a nibble. Thanks!

You know what this means, right? You must be brutal. Do a quick evaluation of what is eaten every dadgum week, and get rid of it. Give it to your sister, compost it; it doesn’t matter what you do with it, but it can’t stay there.

Once you’ve put the deer on a no-candy diet, do a six-week course of repellents or use motion-sensing sprayers like the Scarecrow to further break their habit of using your garden as a grocery store. Once they’ve found that your neighbors have some delicious plants too, they may just stay away.

Stay ever vigilant

Deer have babies every year, who don’t yet know how gross your hellebore flowers are. And as for grownup deer, well, let’s just say having a brain the size of a baseball doesn’t make for a great memory. They’ll absentmindedly nibble stuff they’ve already deemed inedible. And when times get tough, they’ll eat a baseball mitt if it keeps them going.

So you’ve got to keep an eye on things, and as soon as you notice any nibbling or issues, pull out the motion-sensing sprayer to startle them, or dig out a repellent spray, and try to convince them as fast as possible that your garden is just a totally uncool place to hang out. Don’t let them get into a habit of visiting your garden, because if you do, they’ll be a lot harder to get rid of again.

Chill out

Lastly, don’t take the deer personally. Really, aside from the fact that they spend their entire day eating roses and have the intelligence of a boot, they’re just like us. They want to get by, eat some good food, have kids, and enjoy a gentle and pleasant day hanging out by the stream with their families.

It’s nuthin’ personal when they eat your plants. They don’t have the option of heading down to Whole Foods and picking up some organic rosebuds as they’d surely prefer. So if you feel your blood start to boil at evidence of their grazing – chill out, have a beer, and do some zen-like deep breathing or something. They’re just plants; they’ll probably grow back, and when we die, we can’t take our nice gardens with us. We gotta be, like, philosophical about these things, or we’ll turn into grumps.

Stay tuned for the second installment, Deer-Resistant Plants You Can’t F*** Up, coming Friday.

Want to read more?

The Scarecrow: Motion-Sensing Sprayers that Scare Deer and Small Children

My review on Amazon of the new book, 50 Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Every article about deer-resistant plants I’ve written here


    • says

      Lisa, isn’t that great about Cordylines? I’ve actually included them in my upcoming article about deer-resistant plants. My clients have had great success with them in deer country.

      My Tropicannas are coming along well! We’ve had a very slow start to our season (was still raining only a week ago!), so they’re only about 6″ tall so far, but in my experience it seems to take a year or two to really get going in my clime. Luckily I can leave them in the ground in winter, so they can expand their roots during our rainy season and come back strong!

  1. says

    “Even on your worst day, you are still smarter than a deer”…
    I bought a book this winter by Rhonda Massingham Hart called ‘Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden’ that has excellent tips on planting (broken down into the different east-west & all in between zones of NA) plus deer deterents. Wonderful book & made me feel better about what I was trying to over-come.
    Not taking it personally is the hardest part, especially when the empty house next door had better success with fruit bushes & flowers than I did due to the munching monsters.
    A big part of my gardening philosophy is: if I need to babysit, dig up in the fall or excessively water it – it might not survive in my space. I’m turning more towards the local native plants that the deer seem to understand they can’t eat (due to texture, taste, poisons or toxins natural to the plant or other) & this year, my gardens are rather nice. Also helps that I’ve put simple netting around all my berry patches & over the raised veggie beds.
    Will be interesting to see what happens later on in the season when moms bring their babies around…
    I still dream about venison though….
    Can’t wait to read your planting tips!!


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