Garden Views: Discouraging deer from eating your garden

By Lynda Ellis
Contributing Columnist

We know of Bambi, the cute deer in the woods. But when Bambi and her descendants attack our gardens, they are not quite so cute. We would prefer that they eat elsewhere. We can plant deer-resistant plants. Many plants on such lists are eaten when deer are hungry enough.  One year, deer ate the leaves of my rhubarb plants. They usually will not eat daffodils, ferns, grasses, sedges or very low plants, such as creeping sedums, creeping phlox or periwinkle.

They may eat some plants early in the season or in a perennial’s multi-year life cycle, and avoid them later. For example, I put a fence around my turtleheads for the first few years, as soon as I saw the first signs of deer damage. Now deer leave them alone. One year they ate a foot off the tops of my garden phlox, including all the flower buds, early in the season. The shortened plants were not touched and bloomed later.

One spring, I planted a high-bush cranberry, a nice 3-foot globe. That first year, deer ate every single growing tip. It did not grow an inch, though existing leaves did get bigger. I thought it was a goner. The next year, it branched profusely (natural pruning). It is now over 6-feet tall; deer have never touched it since.

We can use odor deer repellents. People swear by various odorous commercial deer repellents. Coyote urine or urine from other carnivores is also used. A home-made repellent is two eggs and a cup or two of cold water mixed in a high speed blender, added to a gallon of water and sprayed on the foliage. All such repellents smell terrible and must be reapplied when the smell fades or washes off.  If fragrance is one reason you grow flowers, an odor repellent on them will repel you too.

We can use mechanical repellents, including water, light, and sound. Motion detectors have been connected to sprinklers, flashing lights, or radios. All may work for a while. Alternating methods, changing as each one becomes less effective, can sometimes help.

The only sure way to discourage deer is to use a fence. Some have reported success with one strand of strongly anchored heavy-duty fishing line, four feet off the ground.  If a small garden is bordered by a building on one side, a three-foot temporary nylon mesh fence on three sides can work. Taller, better-anchored fences are needed for free standing gardens. Check local ordinances on fencing height. The gate though the fence can sometimes be a weak link.

Bambi and her descendants were here first, but, with effort, we can carve out a niche for our flowers and vegetables too. There are some great additional hints and information in our publications: and

The Anoka County Master Gardeners invite you to visit for information on our Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinics, a free service for Anoka County residents. The clinics are 6-8 p.m. Wednesday evenings from mid-May through August at Bunker Hills Activities Center 550 Bunker Lake Blvd. NW in Andover.

Lynda Ellis is an Anoka County Master Gardener.

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