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How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden
Hillary T
How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden

How to Keep Deer Out of the Garden

I write this on the heals (rather, on the cloven hooves) of discovering deer crumbs (in my world that's half-eaten foliage) and hoof prints in the garden.

Having become careless with my methods of deterring and repelling deer - finding the remnants of their hydrangea snacks was a reminder that doing nothing doesn't work.

On another page we explain how to identify deer damage to your plants.

As a hydrangea grower, both in the nursery and in the garden, we have experimented with a few methods of deterring and repelling dear. I'm not going to opine about methods I've never tried, rather I'll stick to what I've tried that has proven successful.


Deterring Deer With Fencing

Deterring deer with a barrier (fence) works best for us. Fencing requires more cash up front, but our fences are saving us from daily dear patrol and repelling methods.

We installed deer fence only around our nursery pens. Our 1-gallons are the fruit of our labor and they are our inventory, therefore we deemed it worth the effort and expense to put up 7' tall fencing to protect these plants. 

After asking around and researching a bit, we settled on the Tenax brand of plastic deer fence. It's not the frustrating deer netting that tangles on itself (which makes me want to run screaming) and latches onto every minuscule twig.

No no no, this is much, much better. It's a rigid plastic that comes in a giant roll. You'll need a pick-up truck (a small pick up is all you need) or a van to transport it. It's rigid, but it does need support so we drove those 6' tall T-post fencing stakes into the ground.

An hour later and a tad out of breath, we had our first plant pen secured.

A year later, the fencing has sagged a little between the stakes or the top unsupported 1" has flopped over, but it seems to be holding up well in the sunlight and not degrading. I think the sunlight and heat made it a little elastic at some point.

It is fine though - the height is still there are it's keeping the deer out. I know because I see not only their hoof prints, but their entire un-frightened selves boldly grazing outside the pen when I make my daily rounds of checking on the plants. I yell to scare them off, but I'm not putting down "yelling" as a good deterring device.

The color of Tenax is perfect - it's black and blends into the background. It seems like it would be useful to run through the woods is you were wanting to fence off your entire property.

For high-visibility sites, like ornamental gardens or a vegetable garden, 6x6 posts and nice wire trimmed with more wood would be fitting. There must be a million ideas on Pinterest for creating a lovely, structural, deer-deterring fence that will also win you awards for design. I'm not out for awards. (Yet.)

Fencing is expensive, but peace-of-mind is worth it. Fencing is like an investment in sanity.

If you do it beautifully, it's also a design element. Sometimes it can be simply practical, like in our circumstance.


fencing for deterring deer

We use Tenax C. This picture is meant to show the scale of the Tenax C squares and the heft of the plastic. 


One last tip for all tall deer fencing is to tie orange flagging tape or warp orange duct tape every 10-15 feet or so. The tape helps the deer see the fence. Some fences are hard to see for humans and deer alike. Apparently deer have bad eyesight and need the fences called to their attention. Flashy tape helps prevent deer from crashing through or getting tangled up and destroying that section of your fencing. 


Repelling Deer

Repelling deer is the next category. I've read to revolve your methods so these grazers don't get used to your tricks.

So far, if we're consistent about it applying these products, Bobbex and Milorganite have worked to repel deer.

I've been alternating using them totally randomly. I have no patterned advice for an alternating schedule. Just get out there are use these products.

Bobbex works great. It stinks, but in a nice spicy-musky-skunky way. Did I just admit I like the smell of skunks? (Maybe.) 

I used to think I had to apply Bobbex after every rain, then I went to their website while writing this and read to reapply it after several rains. This is terrific news! It will go further and last longer!

I was also under the impression that it is almost too expensive. Yes, the small Windex-size bottle like in the picture is expense, but when purchased in bulk on their website, the price falls rapidly.


picture of Bobbex deer repellant


Milorganite has been working well for us too.

It's a product made of "biosolids," the new term for sludge, which is the old term for human waste treated at a municipal facility. This is not for the squeamish, but it's a useful way to recycle our waste. (Poop.)

This is folk remedy passed around from gardener to gardener. Interestingly, Milorganite doesn't support claims to repelling dear. I don't know why they don't and I don't want to speculate (but, please don't sue me if any of the tips in this article don't work to protect your plants - these tips are my opinions). Wait, was that a disclaimer?

It seems best practice to apply after rain, but maybe only after heavy rain. No recommended rates have been published.

I don't use this product in autumn because it does contain some nitrogen and I shouldn't be fertilizing plants at this time. I do sometimes spread it on pathways in the fall, if I've been spooked by seeing deer in the woods or seeing signs of deer.

Dogs repel deer by chasing. An ambitious dog-like dog who loves a good chase is a fantastic asset to have around. 

I emphasize that the dog must behave like a dog and get up and do something about a trespassing deer. Some dogs are simply onlookers and will not give chase. That doesn't work. The dog, even a small dog who will never ever catch an athletic deer, must get up. Bark. Run. Be a dog.


Choose Plants Deer Don't Like

It is said that deer will eat anything when hungry. I've noticed they don't touch my gardenias in summer, but they'll eat them in winter.

That being said, there are plants that gardeners are learning deer don't like at all due to being too strong in flavor. Here are the ones I've been told about and are testing for myself.


Amelanchier species - a native tree
Calycanthus floridus - has strong compounds in the leaves that deer dislike
-we offer var. purpureus - purple backsides to the leaves
Daphne odora - the lovely daphne
Illicium species
Rosemary officinalis - the herb rosemary
Vitex agnus-castus - this is also used in herbal preparations and called "chastetree"
-we offer Flip Side and Delta Blues

Artemisia annua - sweet Annie
Tulsi rama - holy basil


Both Deterring & Repelling Deer

There are two electronic solutions we're experimenting with. Since they give deer a mild shock and thus train them to stay away and they are somewhat fence-like, I think of these two solutions as both deterring and repelling deer.

-We are experimenting with Wireless Deer Fencing. I believe I need to get a lot more and place them closer. Right now we have 6 posted on about 1 acre at the places deer show up the most often. We have an impression that they are working because since they've been posted, we haven't seen deer in those favorite spots of theirs!

-I am considering an electric fence - the kind that are knee-height and are affordable enough to encompass a large area. A friend has one and it's working for them. My day-dream is that we can get solar panels to power it. I'll let you know if/when my dream becomes a reality.


We hope these tips help you a bit in your gardening adventures.

May the force be with you,

Hillary & Mike



Hillary Thompson

Hi Nancy,

I know how stressful it can be when branches die, but take heart – the plants will likely fill back in and you’ll hardly notice a branch died.

Yes, just cut out any dead branches that appear. Cut them back to just above any branch “forks” with living tissue or all the way back to the main trunk. You can confirm they’re dead because the color will be a lighter brown (not vibrant brown like live branches) and they’ll start to shrivel. Plus, the buds will look dead. A final way to confirm they’re dead is by using your finger nail to scratch off a thin layer of bark – if it’s green underneath, the branch is still living and will flush out again. If it’s brown, then go ahead and prune it off.

I don’t know much about the Bayer Tree & Shrub Protect and Feed, but I looked it up and it seems to be overkill if you don’t have any extreme pest problems. The pests they list are awful, such as the emerald ash borer, but viburnums and lilacs don’t have much problems with the insects listed, so this might be a waste of time and money for you. If you are seeing Japanese beetles (they are very common on many plants so you do want to treat them) a more environmentally friendly way is to use the Japanese beetle traps – they work great, are not expensive, and are much easier on the environment. Here’s a link to the traps: You’ll be astounded by how many dead Japanese beetles end up dead in the bottom of that bag!

Regarding fertilizing, once established and if there are no nutrient deficiencies showing up, I hardly fertilize my trees and shrubs. Maybe I will spread some 10-10-10 or use the Garden Tone products once a year if I’m really wanting to get some extra growth, but generally I think about caring for the soil by incorporating compost, topdressing with mulch, watering once a week (when it doesn’t rain), and keeping harsh chemicals away so that the soil can be healthy and grow a healthy plant for me.

Nancy Hamilton
I have a lilac with brown leaves in one of the branches, big branch,, also a section of a vibermum with brown leaves… should i cut the branches out or pull the dead leaves off. I treated the soil around them with bayer tree and shrub protect and feed.

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