Keep Deer at Bay!

We get a lot of questions late winter and early spring about how to keep deer from eating tender shoots, shrubs and early flowers. Deer can survive long periods without eating, but by late winter there is little vegetation available to them in the wild, so they become a little more curious and courageous about pillaging your yard.

Per customer feedback and observation, the most commonly eaten plants in this area are Yews, Arborvitae, Holly (non-prickly kinds), Rhododendron, Tulips, Hosta and Sedums.

The best defense is to landscape your yard using plants they do not like or ones that hurt their mouths such as Andromeda (Pieris), Boxwood, Blue Spruce and Daffodils. The other sure thing is to fence them out. I know you are cringing at the thought, but an 8′ fence (I’m told they can clear 6′) is the best way to keep deer out. Black plastic deer fencing can be tacked to trees on the edge of the woods surrounding your house or neighborhood. It tends to blend and is not as ugly as it sounds.

The next best thing is to make the plants they usually eat, taste and smell bad. We suggest a deer repellent, and our customers agree that Plantskyd brand and Repels All work the best. We’ve also heard that an all-purpose ornamental fertilizer like Bay State Fertilizer will also help repel deer. If you opt for one of these or a homemade solution, remember you’ll need to re-apply regularly, especially after watering or rain.

I’m told the best practice is to spray at three week intervals, but I’ve also read discussions where homeowners spray up to a few times a week and use multiple deterrents like netting, dog hair, tin cans hung from the trees leading up to your plants and good old-fashioned scarecrows. The hope is they will go to your neighbor’s yard who doesn’t spray or make it a challenge for the deer. You might send this info to the neighbors you like.

If you have some choice about where to plant, plant more vulnerable (i.e. deer delicious) varieties closer to your house where they’ll be more hesitant to come. Or choose attractive plants that deer don’t like to keep them out.

Deer do not like fuzzy or hairy textures. Some options are:
  • Brunnera
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Vervain
  • Yarrow
Deer do not like plants that move, sway and spook them. Some options are ornamental grasses such as:
  • Fescue
  • Miscanthus
  • Pennisetum
Deer do not like prickly foliage. Some options are:
  • Globe Thistle
  • Sea Holly
Deer eat with their noses first! They tend to avoid fragrant foliage. Some options are:
  • Bee Balm
  • Catmint
  • Hyssop
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
Some plants are even toxic to deer, which they instinctively know to avoid. Some options are:
  • Bleeding Hearts
  • Hellebores

Be careful about where you place them, though because some of these plants can be toxic to pets as well.

Deer resistant annuals


  • Calendula
  • Nicotiana
  • Salvia


  • Begonia
  • Caladium
  • Cleome
  • Lantana
  • Snapdragon
  • Torenia


Deer resistant perennials


  • Lavender
  • Russian Sage
  • Speedwell
  • Amsonia



  • Astilbe
  • Columbine
  • Lungwort
  • Pachysandra



For a full list of plants rated by level of deer resistance, we love to refer people to this article from the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers.


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