How To Use Deer Repellents to Prevent Damage to Your Yard or Garden
By: Julie Day
It’s a magical feeling to encounter a graceful deer, peacefully browsing in the early dawn . . . unless your beloved hostas are what’s for breakfast! Whether you live in the country or the city, foraging deer can cause significant damage to landscapes and vegetable gardens. Unfortunately, “deer-proofing” is virtually impossible, but there are steps you can take to discourage deer and minimize the damage.
Deer are prey animals by nature, and deer repellents take advantage of that by producing unpleasant or startling scents, sounds, sights, or flavors. Because they’re always on the lookout for predators, deer are very alert and easily startled, and they’ll run away (or avoid an area) when faced with a threat or questionable situation.
Tender plants such as hostas are irresistible to deer.
Repellents are temporary solutions – in time, deer will get used to any repellent, so you’ll need to change things up in order to keep it working. Ideas for DIY deer repellents and deterrents include:
- Scented soap: One of the easiest and most popular methods. Shave a few bars of strongly-scented soap (such Irish Spring or Cashmere Bouquet) and scatter the shavings around the garden. This is a great use for travel soap samples!
- Human hair: Available from barber shops, human hair can be sprinkled around or hung from branches in cheesecloth bags or nylon stockings.
- Predator urine: You can order predator urine sprays (such as fox or coyote), and some gardeners send meat-eating humans outdoors to “mark the territory,” too.
- Eggs: Mix a beaten egg into a quart of water and spray plants and surrounding areas.
- Baby powder: Sprinkle on or around plants.
- Scented fabric softener sheets: Cut into strips and tie to branches or fence posts.
- Blood meal: Sprinkle around plants or beds.
- Hot pepper powder or sauce: Spray or sprinkle directly on or around plants. Some gardeners add garlic or curry powder, too.
- Milorganite: This commercial fertilizer is made from treated sewage sludge, giving it an odor unpleasant to deer. It can be hung in net bags around the garden.
- Commercial repellent sprays or granules: Available at garden centers, commercial repellents often contain a combination of unpleasant smells and flavors.
Scented soap as repellent.
Visual and Noise Deterrents
- Bamboo fountains: Originally designed as “deer chasers” for Japanese gardens, bamboo fountains make a knocking sound when the water dumps out, which serves as a great auditory deterrent.
- Metal cans or pie pans: Hang in groups where they will reflect light and rattle in a breeze.
- Tin foil or Mylar: Can be hung in strips to sparkle and reflect light. Mylar strips can also be strung from two posts or branches, where they will make a buzzing sound when caught by the wind.
- Dogs: Dogs are great garden protectors if you can keep them safely contained (and if they don’t add to the problem by digging up your garden!).
- Trail blocks: Once you’ve located common deer trails, even a wheelbarrow blocking the path can deter them for a day or two. Deer are habitual animals, and they’ll steer clear of an obstacle until they’re sure it’s safe.
- Plant netting: Green bird or plant netting can be used to protect shrubs and trees and can be used as row covers for veggie gardens. Drape it directly over the plants or on a simple wood or PVC frame.
Japanese “Deer Chaser.”
If you live in a rural area or have a large farm or orchard to protect, you may want to step things up a notch. Commercial deer repellents include:
- Explosive devices (producing a gunshot-like sound)
- Ultrasonic devices
- Motion-controlled strobe lights and whistles
These aren’t recommended for home gardens because they’re expensive and can disturb neighbors.
Deer repellents often work on other prey animals like rabbits.
Tips for Using Deer Repellents
Which deer repellent works the best? The answer is probably “none of them,” (or “all of them,” depending on your perspective). Any of these methods can work temporarily, but you’ll need to change them up often in order for them to keep working.
- Scented or flavored repellents should be reapplied every few days, especially after a hard rain.
- Visual repellents should be moved around and changed frequently.
- Keep experimenting! Some gardeners swear by a favorite method, and others try it to no effect. Find what works in your garden, and be adaptable.
- Deer repellents work best in relatively small home landscapes when deer populations and damage are in the low to moderate range.
- If the deer in your area are gutsy or hungry enough, or if deer populations are large, they’ll overcome their fears and eat almost anything. In that case, you may need to consider fencing (at least 8′ tall) to protect your garden.
Deer Repellent Products
- Deer Off (Havahart)
- Plantskydd Deer Repellent (Tree World)
- Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent (Liquid Fence Company)
- PredatorPee (sells urine from a variety of predatory animals)
- Milorganite® Lawn and Garden Products (manufacturer)
- Home Garden Use of Milorganite® (Cornell Waste Management Institute)
- How to Prevent Deer from Damaging Plants in Your Yard (video)
- How to Landscape Your Yard with Deer-Resistant Plants (article)
- How to Install a Deer-Proof Fence for Your Yard or Garden (article)