This guide shares 5 tips to keep deer out of your garden, including repellent sprays, solid repellents, scare tactics, and fences and other barriers.
(A sturdy fence works best, but if the local deer population isn't too aggressive, you can keep protect your plants without a fence.)
5 Ways to Keep Deer Out of the Garden
#1 Deer Repellent Sprays
Even though they may sample almost every plant, they have sensitive taste buds and a strong sense of smell. Deer dislike unpleasant flavors and smells.
Some of these deer repellent sprays are home remedies for keeping deer out of your garden, others can be purchased online or at your local garden center:
- Egg sprays – Blend together 6 raw eggs and 6 cups water and spray on plants. (The sulfur smell of the eggs keeps them away.)
- Pepper spray – Blend hot pepper or Tabasco sauce into water, strain (if needed) and spray on plants.
- Predator urine – You can purchase commercial “liquid fence” type products, or encourage your faithful pets to mark their turf around the areas you want protected. (Avoid food plants.)
- People pee – Given that we are predators (of a sort), peeing outside may indeed help discourage deer from entering a specific area.
- Peppermint extract – If you only have a small area to protect, this might work well for you. Purchase some mint extract (or make your own with excess mint). Mix in a ratio of roughly four parts water to one part extract. Spray on plants that you wish to protect.
- Combination sprays – Mixing your eggs and your peppers together will give deer a double whammy. Other recipes include sour milk, onion tops, dish soap, vinegar, clove oil, fish emulsion.
How to Use Deer Repellent Sprays
Reapply repellent sprays after rains, or every one to two weeks to deter deer. Rotating your sprays if possible, as deer have been known to develop a taste for spicy food.
#2 Solid Deer Repellents
While generally less effective than repellents sprayed directly on the foliage, solid repellents placed strategically around the garden may help deer proof your yard.
Human hair or predator hair – I tuck hair around the tops of the raspberries. There, the raspberry thorns will catch and hold the hair for several days.
I've been applying the hair from the kitties' grooming brushes there, too. You can ask for hair clippings at your local salon if you don't have your own available to help keep deer away from your plants.
Bloodmeal – Sprinkled around plants, bloodmeal gives off an unpleasant odor that acts as a deer repellent.
Ivory soap – Many people recommend using soap to keep deer out of your garden. Unfortunately, although it's been recommended for ages, placing bars of soap in socks around the perimeter of your garden is probably one of the least effective methods. You can try it, but I wouldn't rely on it for full protection.
#3 – Scare Deer Away from the Garden
Random lights, noises and water sprays can scare deer away from your garden.
Motion activated lights or sprinklers to scare deer – We put a solar powered motion light out near the orchard. There are no neighbors nearby to get hit with the spotlight, and it's handy if we need to go and check on that area of the yard at night.
Sprinklers may work even better, but I'd rather not waste water or water the garden at night and increase the risk of fungal diseases.
Noisemakers – I've placed several plastic grocery bags around the garden, and they seem to be helping. The changing noises the bags make when the wind catches them even surprise me, and I know that they're there.
Wind chimes, pin wheels, aluminum pie pans or cans strung together on a wire or string can also startle your nocturnal visitors.
Commercial ultrasonic pest repellents are less likely to annoy neighbors while still getting the point across.
Dogs – Back on the farm growing up, my dog Mr. Pupper was on patrol every night. The barking was not so great, but we did get a harvest.
Barking alone is not likely to scare the deer for very long – the dog needs access to be able to back up the bark with bite if needed.
#4 Fences (How to Choose the Right Fence Height)
While more work and expense than most of the solutions listed above, deer fences are one of the most reliable options available.
Keep deer out of a larger area (like a garden) where they can get a running start and have room to land on the other side, with an 8-12 foot tall deer fence. (White tailed deer require at least a nine foot fence.)
Using two fences instead of one allows you to use shorter, less visually intrusive fences. Pairing up two 5-6 foot tall fences 3 to 5 feet apart may do the trick to keep deer out. (Deer are better at the high jump than the broad jump.)
In our yard, we use 4 foot fences around individual fruit trees that are far from the house. With the fences places about 2 feet out from the trees, the deer can't easily reach the trees. (As my eldest said, “They are not giraffes.”)
There's not enough room for them to jump the fence without landing in a tree. We've also used 3-4 foot fences around shrubs. While they might be able to reach over those fences, they don't seem to like putting their heads in a cage.
I have not used electric fences. Height and spacing is more important.
#5 Other Physical Barriers – Netting, Row Covers and Fishing Line
Try plastic deer netting, floating row covers or chicken wire to keep deer out of small vegetable garden beds, or away from specific plants or crops. These covers also help deter birds and other wildlife who want to sample your plants and/or fruit.
To use deer netting, gently drape it over the foliage to protect the bulk of the plant. You can also build a box frame over smaller plants.
Does fishing line keep deer out of the garden?
Fishing line can keep deer out, if you use it correctly.
You can get creative and combine different techniques. For instance, try pairing fishing line with empty cans on top of buckets as demonstrated in the video below. The deer bump into the fishing line, knocking the cans off the buckets, which scares them away from the garden.
How do I know deer are eating my plants?
I see deer in our area all the time – usually at a distance, munching grass near the neighbor's woods. But rarely catch one in the garden or orchard eating my plants. That said, I know for sure they're in the garden due to specific signs of deer activity, including:
Damage – Chewed off Plants
Rabbits have munched our garden in the past. I've warded them off with garlic and herbs, which have worked pretty well.
I knew it wasn't a rabbit problem this year because it was the tops of plants that were chewed off. Peas, beans, raspberries, jostaberries, fruit trees – all had shaved tops or one side of the trellis missing leaves.
Hoof print are difficult to see in mulch or grass, but soft garden soil can give a nice, clear imprint. Deer have a cloven hoof. A clear print will resemble two half circles. Often just the tips will push in on firmer ground.
Deer love peas, so they trampled my onions and bolting lettuce to get to the peas. I suspect the lettuce was too bitter for them to enjoy.
My deer thoughtfully fertilized the lawn on the way out of the garden, so I was able to get a nice fresh photo of their droppings.
They resemble rabbit droppings, only bigger, with piles of individual marble sized poop nuggets.
Did I miss any deer deterrent tips that have worked for you in your garden? Please leave a comment to share your experience.
You may also find useful:
- Homemade Bug Spray for the Garden – 3 Easy Recipes
- The Ultimate Guide to Natural Garden Pest Control
- New to Gardening – Start Here – 10 Tips for Beginning Gardeners
Originally published in 2016, last updated in 2020.