Pests & Diseases

Tips to Keep Deer Out of the Garden


Is it deer proof? It is the question on so many gardeners’ minds and we have all asked it at some point. Sadly, the answer is generally a resounding NO, but remember, hope springs eternal in the garden, and I have some creative ideas for you to distract, deter, and dismiss the problem wildlife your garden suffers from.

Over the past twenty years of gardening, I have tried just about everything. Many of the most effective strategies are cost prohibitive, like installing a 10 foot tall fence around your property with chicken wire buried 2 feet deep to keep ground dwellers out. Not only is that expensive, but for most people living in suburban developments, it isn’t allowed.

My Not to Do List

There are some things you should not do because 1) they don’t work, and 2) you actually create a bigger problem. One example is the notion of stringing clear fishing line around your garden at ankle height. Trust me, deer can and will step right over it to eat whatever precious plants you are trying to save.

And then there is the netting disaster. This may be effective, but often a curious snake will make its way in and get tangled to death. If you have never had to cut a snake from mesh, consider yourself fortunate. It is stressful for both parties and if you do not aid in the rescue the snake will die. This is totally unnecessary, as many snakes play vitals roles in managing the mammal population that we are at odds with.

My Favorite Critter Strategies

One of the key components to successfully managing animals in the garden is to identify who is causing the damage. Most gardeners deal with a variety of visitors at different times of the year. You will employ various strategies for each creature and habit you are trying to break.

Repellents: The reason this acknowledgment of who is doing what is important relates to the type of repellent I recommend. You see “deer spray” does not necessarily work for deterring other creatures. To successfully use repellent, you need to apply a formulation that is specific for the animal you are trying to deter. Look for animal-specific concoctions to conquer the problem effectively.

Water surprise: Motion-censored irrigation is great way to deter browsers, especially at night. You do not need an irrigation system, as you can buy the sprinkler and attach it to a garden hose that can be moved daily to add an additional element of surprise. The idea is simple: Just like a motion light, the irrigation sensor is triggered by movement. A sudden burst of water will shoot out, thus spooking the intruder.

Mesh bags: Voles are one of my biggest problems, and I was thrilled to find mesh baskets that protect the critical root zone of any new plants that you are adding to your garden. Consider these mesh baskets to be your insurance policy from these pesky root-eating rodents. I even use them in containers to prevent squirrel and chipmunks from digging.

Plants that repel: I never say any plant is “deer proof,” because as soon as I make that declaration a herd will prove me wrong. However, there are several plants that can help reduce browsing damage from all the common culprits. By growing these plants along your bed edges, you just may be able to trick the critters into leaving your property and taking up residence in someone else’s yard.

Arugula (Eruca versicaria) – Though people covet the flavor, animals are extremely offended by it, making this a top candidate for growing. I recommend directly sowing the seed along a sunny border in a light layer of compost. It will germinate quickly, and the leaves can be harvested at every stage of development. As the summer heat kicks in, allow the seeds to ripen, ensuring you will have another crop when temperatures moderate.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Basil is a summer staple for most gardeners, but did you know that animals do not fancy it? Particularly, the non-traditional flavored varieties, like lemon, lime and the small leaf forms of globe basil, which are excellent candidates to grow along a bed edge, providing a boxwood-like formal appearance combined with bitter foliage that smells like burning hair.

Garlic (Allium sativum) – As one of my all-time favorite edibles to grow, garlic belongs along the edge of every sunny landscape because it is a great plant to help deter in-ground pests such as voles and moles while creating an effective foliage barrier for deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. Considering 90 percent of the garlic sold in American grocery stores is imported from China, this favorite culinary bulb has some serious food miles attached to it. It is easy to grow with little maintenance and can be contained to the edge along any sunny border.

I hope these creative ideas will help to deter the problem animals from visiting your garden. Want to learn more? I now offer a fun and informative hour-long webinar all about managing animals! Visit for more details.

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