Minimizing Deer Damage

Deer damage is one of the biggest concerns facing property owners in the local area today. To many, the threat of insect or disease problems pales in comparison to the agony of knowing that at any moment a passing deer may devour part of your landscape.

Individual deer vary in their plant tastes and the degree to which repellents thwart them.  Let’s not kid ourselves: deer are robust eating machines with cast-iron stomachs.  Many times, they have the upper hand, uh, er, mouth. Yet common sense (yeah!) tells us that deer can’t eat what they can’t get at, and they are less likely to eat what smells or tastes unattractive.

The best way to protect your plants from deer is with a fence.  Tenax deer fence is easy to work with, tough, and visibly tolerable. It should be supported by metal T-stakes or 2×2″ wooden stakes and attached with twist ties or plastic zip-ties. A good height is 7-8′ and the fencing should be placed within a few feet of the plants its protecting. Deer are unlikely to jump over a fence when they can’t perceive a clear landing on the other side. If the fence is being used as a property perimeter, it should be higher. Plastic trunk protectors can be placed on young shade and flowering trees to prevent ‘buck rub’ and rodent damage.

Other options include products with unsavory smells and/or tastes. The best deer deterrent sprays are extremely bitter and can adhere to surfaces for a month. The more popular and effective are Bobbex, Tree Guard and Liquid Fence.  Make sure to reapply the treatments after significant precipitation.

Some people get excellent results from methods that typically have a lower success rate, such as tallow based soaps, human hair clippings, or Milorganite. Milorganite is an organic fertilizer with deterrent properties. Soap and hair would be used at 4 or 5 portions per 3-4′ shrub. All of these work by scent and are very successful when feeding pressure is low.

Choosing plants that deer are less likely to prefer is always a prudent strategy, but remember that deer are fickle and vary in their tastes.



Picea abies – Norway Spruce

Picea glauca – White Spruce, Black Hills Spruce

Picea omorika – Serbian Spruce

Picea pungens – Colorado Blue Spruce

*Pinus leucodermis – Bosnian Pine

*Pinus nigra – Austrian Pine



*Berberis thunbergii – Barberry

*Buddleia sp. – Butterfly Bush

Caryopteris sp. – Blue Mist Shrub

*Forsythia sp. – Forsythia

*Kolkwitzia amabilis – Beautybush

Myrica pensylvanica – Bayberry (semi-evergreen)

Potentilla fruticosa – Potentilla

Rhus aromatic ‘Gro-Low’ – Gro-Low Sumac

Spirea sp. – Spiraea sp. Varieties such as Bridal Wreath, Anthony Waterer, Gold Flame, etc.

*Viburnum p. tomentosum – Doublefile Viburnum

*Viburnum rhytidophyllum – Leatherleaf Viburnum (semi-evergreen)

*Viburnum carlesii – Koreanspice Viburnum


Buxus sp. – Boxwood

Juniperus chinensis – Chinese Juniper cultivars, such as Hetzii, Green Sargent, Sea Green, Gold

Coast, Blue Point, etc.

Leucothoe fontanesiana – Drooping Leucothoe (zone 6)

Mahonia sp. – Oregon Grapeholly

*Microbiota decussata – Russian Arborvitae/ Siberian Cypress

Picea sp. – Dwarf Spruce cultivars, such as Montgomery Blue Spruce, Birds Nest Spruce, Dwarf

Alberta Spruce, etc.

Pieris japonica – Japanese Andromeda


Acanthus mollis  (Bears Breeches)

Achillea sp.  (Yarrow)

Aconitum sp.  (Monkshood)

Agastache sp.  (Anise Hyssop)

Allium sp. (Flowering Onion)

Amsonia sp. (Blue Star)

*Aquilegia sp. (Columbine)

Arabis caucasica (Rock-Cress)

Arisaema triphylum  (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)

Artemesia sp.  (Silver Mound)

Asclepias sp.  (Butterfly Weed)

Astilbe sp.

Aurinia saxatilis  (Basket-of-Gold)

Aubretia deltoidea  (Purple Rock-Cress)

Baptisia australis  (False Indigo)

*Brunnera macrophylla  (Siberian Bugloss)

Ceratostigma sp.  (Plumbago, Leadwort)

Cimicifuga sp.  (Black Snakeroot, Cohosh)

Convallaria majalis  (Lily-of-the-Valley)

Coreopsis verticillata  (Threadleaf Tickseed)


Dicentra sp.  (Bleeding Heart)

Digitalis sp.  (Foxglove)

Echinops sp.  (Globe Thistle)

Eupatorium sp.  (Hardy Ageratum, Joe-Pye-Weed)

Euphorbia sp.  (Spurge)

Helleborus sp. (Lenten Rose, Hellebore)

Iberis sp.  (Candytuft)

Lavandula sp.  (Lavender)

*Ligularia sp.

Monarda sp.  (Bee Balm, Bergamot)

Myosotis sp.  (Forget-me-not)

Nepeta sp.  (Catmint)

Opuntia humifosa  (Prickly Pear Cactus)

*Paeonia  (Peony)

Perovskia atriplicifolia  (Russian Sage)

Pulmonaria sp.  (Lungwort)

Rodgersia sp.

Salvia sp.

Stachys byzantine ( Lamb’s Ear)

Lamium maculatum  (Deadnettle)

Thalictrum sp. (Meadow Rue)

Thymus sp.  (Thyme)

Yucca filamentosa  (Yucca)


Ajuga reptans  (Bugleweed)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi  (Bearberry)

Asarum sp. (Wild Ginger, European Ginger)

Epimedium  (Barrenwort)

*Pachysandra terminalis  (Japanese Spurge)

Lamium sp.  (Deadnettle)

Galium odoratum  (Sweet Woodruff)

Liriope sp.  (Lilyturf)

Thymus sp.  (Creeping Thyme)

Vinca minor  (Myrtle, Periwinkle)






Dusty Miller





Polka-Dot Plant

Purple Fountain Grass








Chionodoxa  (Glory-of-the-Snow)

Colchicum  (Autumn Crocus)

Eranthus  (Winter Aconite)

Fritillaria  (Crown Imperial)

Galanthus  (Snowdrops)

Hyacinthus  (Hyacinth)

Muscari  (Grape Hyacinth)

Narcissus  (Daffodil)

Scilla siberica  (Siberian Squill)

*These plants are known to be occasionally browsed, but are seldom severely damaged