How do you feel when deer show up in your yard? It can be a magical experience, and you might feel like an animal whisperer or a real-life Disney princess when you see these timid creatures on your property. On the other hand, the deer are there for a meal and your yard provides many food sources that they find appetizing.
Almost any plants and trees within reach are an all-you-can-eat buffet for hungry deer, and once they know that your yard is a tasty spot, they’ll keep coming back until their food source (and your plants) are gone.
With this in mind, what can you as a homeowner do to keep deer from destroying your property?
How to Keep Deer Away From Your Trees & Plants
Deer can reach anything from ground level to six feet high, so you’ll need to protect anything that grows in that height range. They are creatures of habit and once they decide that your plants taste good, they will return. The best method of prevention is to use one or more forms of deer repellent before they’ve discovered the plants in your yard.
There are two basic approaches to keeping deer away – exclusion (preventing them from getting onto your property) and aversion (making your property unappealing to them so they choose to go elsewhere).
While there are commercial options, including companies that will regularly spray your property with a deer repellent solution, there are also some things you can do yourself to keep the deer from decimating your yard.
Here are some DIY options –
Option 1: Fencing
One option is to install a deer fence around your property to keep out wildlife, including the hungry deer. This option may work best for you if you’ve tried other methods (see below) and they have been unsuccessful, or if you are most concerned about protecting your food garden (as most of the sprays are not food-safe).
White-tailed deer, the most common species in the Wilmington area, can jump up to 8 feet high. However, they have relatively poor vision so will not risk a jump if they can’t see what’s on the other side, or if it looks like they’ll have to cover considerable distance to get over the obstacle.
To be effective, an upright deer fence should be 8 feet tall. However, if you slant the fence outward at about 45 degrees, it only needs to be about 6 feet.
Solid fences are most effective; deer don’t know what’s on the other side (even if it smells delicious!) so tend not to try jumping over the fence. However, these kinds of fences may be cost-prohibitive or not allowed in some neighborhoods.
Another option is wire mesh fencing or even heavy-duty deer netting. Electric fences are also quite effective and can often blend into the background quite well (which is why it’s often recommended that you hang flagging tape or something else highly visible from the wires – it wouldn’t be good to have your neighbor walk into it!).
Check with your HOA and other neighborhood groups before attempting to install any kind of fence.
Option 2: Protect Individual Plants
If you only have a few shrubs or small trees that you want to protect, consider using wire mesh or deer netting. Simply drive several long stakes into the ground around the plant and wrap it with mesh or netting. Alternatively, you can build a PVC or wooden frame, wrap that in mesh or netting and place it over the plant.
Be sure it’s not touching the leaves or deer will be able to nibble it through the protective cover.
Option 3: Use Bars of Soap
There are some scents that deer particularly dislike, including highly aromatic soap. Irish Spring original scent bar soap is the one most commonly recommended. Deer are especially sensitive to the smell of tallow (derived from animal fatty acids) but are attracted to any kind of coconut oil based soap (so don’t use those).
Although deer don’t like it, studies have shown that they’ll feed within 3 feet of a bar of smelly soap. Depending on how large your planting bed is, or how many shrubs or trees you want to protect, that could mean you’ll need a lot of soap!
To cut down on the number of soap bars you’ll need, cut each bar in half. Drill a hole through it and hang it from a stake, branch or fence with string. You can also place it in an old pair of nylons, cheesecloth or burlap before hanging it.
If you’re trying to protect an area where you can’t hang anything, such as a garden bed where you are growing food, you can cut the soap into pieces, place inside a sock, and hang from a small wooden post that you drive into the ground nearby, or encircling the area you want to protect. Use a staple gun to attach the sock to the wooden stake.
If it’s near plants that you don’t plan on eating (such as a flower bed), you can place whole bars of soap around the plants. Using an entire bar should ensure that they last the whole season, even if it rains. Just keep checking back to see if they’ve disintegrated.
And don’t hang soap where it can drip down branches or stems; that will attract rodents who’ll chew on the bark and even eat the soap.
Option 4: Hang Bags of Human Hair
This option won’t work well in urban areas where deer are used to being around people. And the scent associated with the hair dissipates within 3 or 4 weeks so you’ll need to replace it frequently. Still, it’s worth trying.
You can usually get bags of hair for free from hair salons. Place it in mesh bags and hang it around your property just as you would with soap (see above).
Option 5: Create a Deer Repellent Spray
Deer don’t like certain scents, so spraying them on their food sources should keep them away. Don’t spray this on anything that you plan to eat, though, such as lettuce or tomatoes or anything else from your garden.
Homemade repellent sprays should be reapplied after it rains as they don’t stick to leaves a well as many of the commercial options.
Effective deer repellent sprays can be made with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, such as eggs, milk, garlic, hot sauce or hot peppers, dish soap, and oil.
Be aware that many of these home-made sprays truly smell horrible – both to the deer and to humans. Don’t use them in areas where the scent could reach you or your neighbors.
You’ll need to store any leftovers in a jar, as the ingredients will tend to solidify. If you leave it in a spray bottle it’ll get clogged. It will also smell awful, so be sure you have a place to store it like a garage or shed.
Here are some recipes to get you started.
Hot, Hot, Hot
3 tbsp hot sauce
3 raw eggs
3 tbsp minced garlic or garlic powder
Add the ingredients to a blender, blend, and then add it to one gallon of water.
Use this mixture in a spray bottle and spray your plants. Again, don’t spray this on anything that you plan to eat.
½ cup milk (smells horrible and helps the spray to adhere to plants)
1 tbsp dish soap
1 tbsp cooking oil
Blend together, add to a gallon of water, and use the mixture in a spray bottle. Don’t use on anything edible.
There are other deer spray “recipes” that you can easily find online. Some contain cayenne and other hot peppers, most include garlic, eggs, and some form of dairy.
Not all scents that keep deer away are unpleasant to humans. You can also use essential oils as a spray repellent.
Essential Oil Spray (not for food)
1 oz peppermint oil
1 oz lavender oil
4 oz jojoba oil
Pour the oils into a 40oz spray bottle, fill the rest up with water, and spray on your non-edible plants. You’ll have spray again after it rains. You can also add an egg to this recipe to ensure that the spray sticks to the plants.
Option 6: Predator Scents
Scents that are awful is one way to deter deer, the other is to use products that smell like their predators. Various types of urine and certain types of manure fall under this category. They can be harder to obtain, however, and if a deer realizes that the threat is not real, it will ignore these scents and continue to chew happily.
Option 7: Plant Deer-Resistant Plants and Trees
If deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything, including “deer resistant” shrubs, plants, and trees. However, it’s worth a try. You could plant the deer resistant plants around the perimeter of your property to discourage deer from entering, or use only plants that they can’t stand in your yard, getting rid of all other types.
Palms are incredibly deer resistant, so they’re an excellent choice, especially the palmetto or cabbage palm. If you’re looking for a shrub palm, then the needle palm, dwarf palmetto, or saw palmetto are good native tree options.
For more, check out this list of deer resistant plants recommended for our area from North Carolina State University Pender County Cooperative Extension.
Deer, cute as they may be, can also be destructive pests in the garden. If your property has become a smorgasbord for hungry deer, try using one or more of the DIY deer repellent methods above. You may have to try a combination of several options to see the best results. The key is to start early in the season before plants leaf out and become even more attractive to deer.