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10 Easy Ways To Keep Deer Away From Your Garden Without A Fence

Hint: Fairy lights and wind chimes can sometimes do the trick!

If you plant it, they will come. They being deer, of course, the scourge of anyone who has ever had the audacity to invest in perennials for their yard. “Just one deer can eat up to 12 pounds worth of your garden every single day, and they’ve been known to level entire flower and vegetable beds in a single night, causing the type of damage your plants can’t bounce back from,” explains Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn lawn care and garden service. Luckily, we have the simple ways to protect your plants without having to drop thousands on a deer-proof fence.

What’s attracting deer to my yard?

garden tulips

Deer are known as “edge species,” meaning their preferred habitat is the border between forest and open land. This space provides deer with a place to feed where they can have a lot of visibility to watch for predators, with the protection of the woods nearby if they need to run away from a threat.

That’s why deer thrive in suburbs — the open lawns and low hedges separated by small patches of woods and trees are their ideal environment. On top of that, many of the plants we feature in our landscaping — including most tender and broad-leaved plants that don’t have a smell or any fuzziness — are basically deer delicacies. In other words, our yards are the Michelin-star restaurants of the deer world.

While building a fence around your garden is the best defense, there is need to invest in a pricy 10-foot barrier to protect your plants. Here, the best ways to keep deer from your plants:

Repel deer with scents they hate

One of the best ways to keep deer away from your plants is to make your garden smell unappealing. Luckily there are quite a few scents that will send them packing, including:

1. Soap

Irish Spring is the most commonly recommended brand to keep deer away from our plants, but any perfumy or strongly scented bar soap — skipping ones scented like flowers, of course — will do, explains Robert Martinez, author at Yardenz. You can either shave pieces of the soap and sprinkle them around garden beds, or drill a hole into the bar itself and string some rope through it to hang it near any plants deer seem to be targeting.

2. Garlic

Deer agree with vampires when it comes to garlic — in fact, any plant in the allium family, including chives, scallions and onions, will keep them away from your plants. Simply planting them around your garden can help, but even more powerful is to spray your plants with the scent. To make your own garlic spay, just mix ¼ cup chopped garlic, 2 cups water and 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a spray bottle and mist the solution over your plants; repeat after heavy rain.

3. Eggshells

Eggshells sprinkled around tender plants deer love to eat
Eggshells deter deer from grazing on the baby plants they love to eatHasiah Z/Shutterstock

Deer find eggs to be neither incredible nor edible. That’s because they can detect the scent of sulfur in them. “Humans need the cooking process to bring out that smell enough where we can sense it, but a deer’s sense of smell is much more sensitive, so simply crushing shells and sprinkling them around your plants can make the whole flower bed unappealing,” says Edward Jones, Edward Jones, Managing Editor & Founder of the home improvement and garden publication, HomeCareHow. Even better? The shells also deter snails and slugs from your plants!

4. Hot pepper

Deer are completely turned off by capsaicin — the chemical in hot peppers that makes them spicy. “That’s why hot peppers make a great deer deterrent,” says small-space gardening specialist Emilly Barbosa Fernandes of House Grail. Her recipe:

Take four or five spicy peppers, such as jalapenos, habaneros or poblanos, and simmer them in a half-gallon of water for about 15 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit for 24 hours, remove the pepper pieces, then add to a spray bottle along with 1 tsp. of olive oil. Spray on any plants deer are attracted to, and repeat after a rainstorm.

5. Human hair

Deer may enjoy our gardens, but they’re not too keen on us, the folks who planted them, reveals gardener Jill Sandy, founder of Constant Delights. “Sprinkling your hair clippings — just ask your stylist for some the next time you get a trim — makes the area smell like you might be near, and that can cause deer to stay away from your plants.”

Repel deer with certain sights/sounds

In addition to scent-based repellents, you can also keep deer away from plants by triggering their natural fear of predators. A few methods proven to work:

1. ‘Strobe lights’

lights on trees

Simply grab a string of the twinkling-type, hang them around your garden and turn them on when the sun goes down. “Blinking lights will alarm deer and make them run off,” says Brandon Thorsell, a District Manager at Critter Control. You don’t need an electrical connection to make this happen, either, just grab a solar-powered version like DAYLIGHTIR 2 Pack 100 LED Solar Powered Copper Wire String Lights Outdoor (Buy from Amazon, $11.99) or mDesign LED Twinkle String USB Indoor/Outdoor Fairy Glimmer Lights (Buy from Target, $9.39).

2. Wind chimes

As a lifelong gardener in rural Connecticut, herbalist Barbi Gardiner, owner of The Outdoor Apothecary, has had a lot of experience with keeping wildlife and critters out of her gardens. “I only use humane deterrents to keep wildlife away,” she assures. “With that in mind, I’ve found wind chimes work well for deer. Not only are they startled by the sudden noise, but the chimes also make it so deer can’t listen for predators — they then determine that your garden is not a safe and will make a run for it.”

3. Foil

Just like blinking lights, hanging string with bits of foil attached to it — or any reflective material — around your garden can spook deer and keep them away from your plants by triggering their fear of sudden motion.

4. Cold water

Motion-activated sprinklers are considered one of the most effective deer deterrents. These devices connect to your regular sprinkler system and set off a jet of water any time movement — like a hungry deer approaching your plants — triggers them. Two options: Hoont Deer Repellent Motion Activated Sprinkler (Buy from Amazon, $37.97) or Hydro Solar Powered Motion Activated Animal Sprinkler (Buy from Home Depot, $39.99).

Keep deer disinterested with certain plants

Boxwoods repel deer
Deer don’t care for boxwoodsNadyaTk/Shutterstock

“While a lot of landscaping favorites are top picks on a deer’s menu, some plants are naturally unappealing to them,” explains gardener Jeniffer Smith, owner of Urban Home Corner. “These include daffodils, lavender, marigolds, verbena, snapdragons, boxwoods, junipers, butterfly bush, Russian sage, bee balm, peonies, lambs’ ear, pachysandra and lily of the valley,” she says. “Fill your garden with these pretty plants, and deer will head off for a yard with tastier offerings.”  

What else can you do to keep deer away from plants?

Deer hooves are not designed for large, rocky expanses, and they will avoid walking over areas where they feel they are on shaky ground. That means that simply using river rocks or other larger stones in your flower beds or the border areas of your landscaping can act as a sort of “deer moat” — no piranha needed!

Lindsay Bosslett is currently associate vice president and managing editor for Health Monitor Network, a patient-education print and digital publishing company. In her role there, she oversees a staff of editors and freelance writers, as well as the production of guides and magazines designed to help both patients and healthcare providers in the ever-changing point-of-care space. As a regular writer for both Woman’s World’s Organized column and First for Women’s Life Smarts page, she delivers practical, creative tips to help women make their lives easier. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading, hiking, gardening and attending taco festivals. She lives with her husband, two dogs and lots of bears in a little house on a hill in West Milford, N.J.

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