Bambis Will Find Your Garden- Living With a Herd of Deer


This branch of an apple tree was grazed by deer. It should be pruned up so as to be out of reach. Keeping tasty treats like this out of reach makes it less likely deer will visit.


Deer own the neighborhood.  They go everywhere at night, and wherever they think they can escape notice during the day.  Fences help to a certain extent, but deer are brave and strong, and can jump higher than you think.  They are cautious about jumping a fence uphill, and about jumping into enclosed areas.  They prefer well fertilized plants.  The high nitrogen content tastes good to them, like salt on French fries!



This tomato plant was grazed by deer. Spraying with Plant Skydd, which is organic and won’t harm the plant or the tomatoes, will discourage grazing.


Besides finding shredded leaves and bitten off stems, you might also notice hoof prints in soft ground or little piles of deer scat as calling cards of their presence in your yard.  You might see them browsing in your garden, or even on a low porch or deck.

The best defense against the deer is an olfactory defense.  They dislike the smell of putrescent eggs, moldy coffee grounds, cow’s blood, and most herbs.  Products such as Plant Skydd and Liquid Fence are pricey, but they protect your plants while until the plants get established.  You can shield plants to a certain extent by growing smelly herbs like lavenders, rosemary, basil, mints, and sages around them.  And some plants, like lantana, Artemisia, Hellebores, and Vinca taste so bad the deer just leave them alone.

A quick survey of the neighborhood is sometimes enough to get a wealth of data about which plants are growing well in lots of yards, which plants are pathetically nibbled, and which are largely absent.  Seeing wire cages around shrubs in so many yards in our new neighborhood should have been a clue to the problem.  Old timers call our azaleas “lollipop bushes” because the bases of them are so badly eaten, and only the parts the deer can’t reach freely flower.



Azaleas in this wooded area were grazed regularly until fencing was installed to protect them. Azaleas are blooming again and are now able to grow back.


Some experts suggest just forgetting growing tasty morsels like Hostas entirely, and plant only things the deer are known to shun.  It is cheaper, and much less stressful, to chose varieties the deer avoid.  Since I’m not willing to forgo growing roses and Hostas, I’m still fighting the battle to keep deer away from favorite plants.  Actually, it is a challenge to successfully grow the plants I love in adverse conditions, and I’m still up for the challenge.

The best resource I’ve found for gardening in a neighborhood with deer, and other hungry critters, is 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat by Ruth Rogers Clausen, and Alan L. Detrick.


I love this book because it goes into great detail about habits of deer and offers various approaches to foil them and discourage them from your property.  The plant entries are categorized by the type of plant, the cultural information is detailed, the photos beautiful, and numerous ideas are given for plant pairings in your garden.

Here is a list of strategies my friends and I have used with success in our gardens:

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Fucshia and Oxalis draw hummingbirds to this hanging basket

1.  Keep tasty plants out of reach This might mean pruning up branches of fruiting and flowering trees so deer can’t reach them, or it might mean growing your tomatoes in pots on a deck the deer can’t access.  Parents understand this principle, and can come up with creative solutions.  I’ve grown cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets and grown beans and eggplant on a second story deck.

2.  Confuse deer with nasty smells Like us, deer use their sense of smell to decide whether or not to eat something.  My friend brings home bags of human hair from her hair appointments, and sprinkles this around her garden to keep deer away from large areas.  I use Plant Skydd spray on particularly tasty treats like rose buds and Hosta leaves.  I also spray this concoction at access points to my yard where I think deer may be coming in.

Some gardeners buy blood meal, an organic fertilizer, and sprinkle this over whole beds of plants to discourage deer, rabbits, and other small mammals.

Another good product is Neptune’s Harvest.  This is an organic, water soluble fertilizer made from fish emulsion and sea weed.  A dilute solution used as a foliar feed also offers protection, until it’s washed off in a heavy rain.  This is an excellent fertilizer and gives the plants lots of resistance to various infections and infestations.  Use a tablespoon to a gallon of water.

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The Autumn fern is never bothered by deer, but the Hosta need a spray of Plant Skydd several times each season.


These products, and other organic garden products are available at The Homestead Garden Center in James City Co.

Coffee grounds, left out in a closed container for several days, can be sprinkled around beds you wish to protect.  Concoctions made with putrescent eggs, bovine blood, garlic, and hot pepper seem to be effective.  Some people use shavings from a bar of soap, and the previous owners of my property left piles of used kitty litter all over the back yard.  The cat litter didn’t break down, and left a huge and nasty mess.

3.  Startle deer with human sounds.  Wind chimes hanging in a tree near a deer path, a radio left playing in a garden, children playing, and a squeaky wind driven whirligig can all make cautious deer avoid an area.




This tea rose is shielded by a large Lantana.


4.  Shield a tasty plant with other plants.  This has only worked for me when I’ve created a fairly wide border around the plant I’m trying to protect.  If the border is too wide for the deer to reach comfortably, two feet or more, it is effective.  Good shielding plants have a strong aroma and coarse texture.   Effective shields include rosemary, lavender, ferns, garlic, onions and Lantana.  Most good shielding plants prefer full sun, so if you’re working in shade, try something else.  I’ve had good results with throwing a few cloves of garlic into a pot of annuals to protect them, and planting onion sets around roses or in flower beds.


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Grown on a deck, this tomato plant is covered with tomatoes and is safe from grazing deer. Vegetables grown in pots are heavy feeders. Top dress with compost and coffee grounds from time to time, and use Neptune’s Harvest when watering several times each month.


5.  Keep tasty plants close to the house.  The closer to your home, the less likely deer are to approach and nibble your prized plants- at least in theory.  Again, human noise, lights at night and sudden movement, provide some protection for foundation plantings and potted plants on decks, patios, and porches.



Coleus, Rex Begonias, Sedum, and a Colocasia are grouped together near the house. The Begonia was lightly grazed once, but since has been left alone.


6.  Build a fence around plants you want to protect Keeping the Bambis away with a fence is still a good plan.  Whether you try to fence your entire yard, or just a small patch for a vegetable garden, keep in mind that it needs to be tall and needs regular maintenance.  Some neighbors build wire mesh cocoons around new shrubs; some enclose their whole back yard.  The deer will try to jump anything under 8’, so plan on making an investment with this option.



St. Johns Wort is an excellent plant to use in an area of partial sun. It’s rarely touched by deer and blooms for a long time in early summer, often returning with more blooms when the weather begins to cool in Autumn. It comes back year after year with minimal attention.


6.  Plan the bulk of your garden around plants deer avoid.  There are many beautiful and useful plants the deer will never touch.  Roses and tomatoes don’t happen to be on that list, but lots of other wonderful plants are.  Using an abundance of deer resistant plants, especially on the perimeters of your property, make gardening in the forest much less stressful.


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

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