Reader Questions: Deer Problems


I have had several readers send in questions about their options for deer problems. While venison is delicious, I understand that it’s not a feasible option to kill all of the critters. And besides, they are absolutely beautiful to watch. Having grown up in a family of hunters, I still stop the car to watch them on the side of the road, provided that there’s no one behind me. While I am lucky enough to not have deer problems in my garden, I understand the frustration they bring to a gardener who has invested so much time and money in their garden.

So what can you do to prevent them from devouring your landscape?

The easiest option to discourage them is to plant poisonous plants. The perennial nursery that I used to work for had a saying in their catalog under “Deer Resistant Plants” that stated: “Only cacti and plastic plants are truly deer proof” and that is pretty much true. If deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything and so would you if you were put in that circumstance. However, during any given year, there should be enough vegetation in the woods to sustain the deer population without having them raid your garden. The folks that I truly feel sorry for are those that live in jurisdictions where the deer population isn’t thinned each year. Deer, as will most any mammal, will continue to procreate to the point that the population overwhelms the local ecosystem and then they die of horrible afflictions like disease and hunger. I’d rather them be harvested sustainably then have that be the outcome but I digress. Back to deer resistant plants.

There are many options that are available in the poisonous category. Some of my favorites include foxglove, Arum, Hellebores, daffodils and monkshood. There are many other perennials that are deer resistant as well just by their good virtue. These include ferns of all sorts, ornamental grasses, coreopsis, heucheras, sedum, hibiscus and veronicas.

When you are considering deer resistant plants, keep the following in mind: deer noses are much more sensitive than ours and any smelly plant is likely to be a turn-off. Smelly doesn’t just include truly oderiferous plants like Houtynnia; it also includes plants like herbs such as oregano, chives or any allium species, mints, (there’s another story for another day), lavender and rosemary. Other aromatic plants include artemisia, geranium (the perennial, not the hothouse type), catmint, yarrow, agastache and salvia. If you are looking to deter deer with your planting choices avoid the hot-ticket items such as daylilies, hostas, azaleas and tulips.

But what should you do if you want to protect your existing plants from the ravages of Bambi?

There are some options although their effectiveness varies.

  • Dogs – having a dog or dogs that are outside at night are your best deterrents. Unless you have a large area for them to run, there’s a good chance that Fido will lay/pee/poop in some of the gardens you are trying to protect.
  • Sprays – there are several on the market but the one that I’ve used succesfully in customers’ gardens is Liquid Fence. It is not the best smelling stuff but I suppose that is the point. The downside is that it has to be applied after a rain, whether that rain be provided by God or your irrigation system.
  • Homemade concoctions – there are many home remedies available and they include locks of human hair wrapped in panty hose, bars of soap hung in trees and urinating in the garden. Of the three I’d have to choose the latter since you are at least providing nitrogen to the garden if nothing else.
  • Fences -you have to have the dedication and ability to erect a fence that is tall enough to keep out deer. The minimum height that would be begin to keep out deer is 6′ but 8′ is even better. When translated into dollars and cents, that is a sizable amount of money.


To me, a better option is to put in a fence that you deem appropriate and then create another fence of fishing line around it. Let me explain…deer have very poor depth perception and they will not usually enter an area that they can’t determine is safe. The basic setup is to add 2′-3′ long angled sticks to the top of your existing fence and string fishing line or some other material along them. The sticks need to be angled towards the area that the deer would be entering from…the last thing you want to do is have them hop the fence and then be afraid to jump back out! The thought is that as the deer approaches your garden, it would first come into contact with the fishing line and not be able to determine how far away the next fence is. This design works particularly well with veggie gardens that may already have a 4′ high or so fence around them. I will try to take pictures and update this post so that it is more clearly explained.

Whatever measures you take, just realize that deer are remarkably smart creatures that also like to eat. If you have the land, consider planting them an area that is rich in pasture crops such as alfalfa…chances are that they will hang out in those areas instead of your garden. I’d love to hear how you’ve kept deer from destroying your garden…please add your comments below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


December 1, 2011Permalink Leave a comment

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