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Living with Deer

Antler damage

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Deer are a fact of life for many of us. They are charming to look at, but they can wreak havoc in the garden. Not only do they browse the plants, but the bucks will quickly destroy a plant when rubbing their antlers during the late summer and autumn rut. How can you garden in deer country?

Build a fence

The most effective way to garden in deer country is to fence the garden. Ask yourself these questions before fencing your garden:

  • Do you need to fence the entire property, or can you just fence a garden area?
  • Can you fence young plants temporarily, until they are big enough to withstand some deer damage?
  • Are there constraints to fences, such as community regulations against certain types of fencing?
  • Is building a fence worth the expense and time?

Deer fence

If you decide to build a fence, make sure it is constructed properly. An effective deer fence needs to be at least 8′ high if using wire. A board fence that deer cannot see through needs to be at least 5 ½ ‘-6′ high. Also effective is a 4′ high, double fence, with 3′-4′ in between the fences. A deer will not jump this because there is not enough room between the fences for a safe landing. Electric fences of 8 wires spaced evenly up to 7’ also works, but takes more maintenance than a non-electric fence. Gates should be strongly constructed. For a drive through opening, two widths of cattle guard keep deer out as it is too wide to jump.

Cattle guard driveway


Individual tree fence

Fencing individual plants until they are large enough to tolerate some deer pressure is a common practice. Use 3-4 stakes around the tree to support the fence. It should be at least 5′ high. Black, polypropylene deer mesh works well for this. Make sure you can easily open the fence to do any plant maintenance required. Bird netting can also be draped over or around plants as a temporary barrier.


Repellents need to be used before the deer have tasted a plant. They also need to be reapplied frequently, and work best if deer pressure is light. Deer can also become accustomed to the same repellent and begin to ignore it, so you may need to change formulas occasionally.

Scare Tactics

Deer can be scared away using scarecrows, bright lights, radios, etc. Unfortunately, they can become accustomed to any tactic used over a period of time. Moving the scare objects frequently can work. One recent innovation is a sprinkler activated by a motion sensor, which also needs to be moved frequently. Dogs are effective at keeping deer out of your yard, if they are in the yard and are active. Using an electric “invisible” fence to keep the dog in the yard is the most effective method.

Planting “Deer Resistant” Plants

In areas of severe deer pressure, the deer will eat anything. No plant is resistant to the antler rubbing damage. Some of the list below are USUALLY left alone.

Deciduous Trees Pieris sp  Pieris
Acer sp MaplesProstanthera cuneata  Bush Mint
Betula nigra River BirchRhododendron sp. Rhododendron (large leafed only)
Carpinus sp. HornbeamSarcoccocca sp  Sweet Box
Fagus sp. BeechViburnum sp Evergreen Viburnum
Fraxinus latifolia Oregon Ash 
 Achillea sp. Yarrow
Evergreen Trees Agave parryii -Agave
Abies sp. FirArabis sp. Rockcress
Cedrus sp  True CedarArmeria maritima Sea thrift
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Alaskan CedarBergenia sp. Bergenia
Cryptomera sp.  Japanese CedarCrocosmia sp. Crocosmia or Montbretia
Juniperus sp. JuniperCoreopsis sp. Coreopsis or Tickseed
Picea sp SpruceDianthus sp  Pinks
Pinus sp. PineDicentra sp. Bleeding Heart
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas FirEchinacea sp. Coneflower
Tsuga sp. HemlockEchinops sp. Globe Thistle
Umbellularia californica Oregon MyrtleEriogonum sp. Buckwheat
Eryngium sp. Sea Holly
 Euphorbia sp. Spurge
Deciduous Shrubs Fargesia sp  Clumping Bamboo
Berberis sp. BarberryGeranium sp  Hardy Geranium
Callicarpa sp  BeautyberryHakonechloa macra Japanese Forest Grass
Calycanthus sp SweetshrubHelictotrichon sempervirons  Blue Oat Grass
Diervilla rivulaaris Bush HoneysuckleHelleborus sp. Hellebore
Forsythia sp  ForsythiaHemerocallis sp. Daylily
Fothergilla gardenia Dwarf FothergillaHumulus lupulus Hops
Kolkwitzia amabilis  BeautybushIris sp. Iris
Poncirus trifoliate Osage OrangeKniphofia sp. Red Hot Poker
Potentilla fruticosa PotentillaLavendula sp  Lavender
Ribes nigrum Black CurrantLiatris sp. Gayfeather
Ribes sangunium Red Flowering CurrantMiscanthus sp Maiden Grass
Sambucus sp. ElderberryMonarda sp. Bee Balm
Syringa sp. LilacNepeta sp. Catmint
Viburnum sp Deciduous ViburnumsOriganum sp Oregano
 Oxalis oregona  Redwood Sorrel
Evergreen ShrubsPaeonia sp Peony
Arbutus unedo Strawberry TreePapaver sp. Poppy
Arctostaphylos sp. ManzanitaPennisetum sp  Feather Grass
Aucuba japonica AucubaPenstemon sp. Beardtongue
Berberis sp. Evergreen BarberryPeroskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Ceanothus sp. California Wild LilacPhygelius sp. Cape Fuchsia
Choisya sp. Mexican OrangePhyllostachys sp  Bamboo
Cistus sp. Rock RoseSalvia sp. Flowering & Edible Sage
Citrus junos  YuzuRudbeckia sp. Black-eyed Susan
Daphne sp  Evergreen DaphneSalvia rosimarinus (Rosimarinus officianalis) Rosemary
Elaegnus pungens SilverberryThymus sp Thyme
Garrya sp. SilktasselZauchneria sp  California Fuchsia
Elaegnus pungens Silverberry 
Gaulteria shallon Salal
Laurelus noblis Bay TreeFerns
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon GrapeAdiantum sp  Maidenhair Fern
Mahonia x Hybrid MahoniaAnthyrium sp  Painted Fern
Myrica (Morella) californica Pacific Wax MyrtleBlechnum sp  Water Fern, Deer Fern
Osmanthus sp  OsmanthusDryopteris sp  Autumn Fern, Male Fern
Pachystima myrsinites Oregon BoxPolystichum sp  Sword Fern, Tassel Fern

Homemade Deer Repellent

  • Mix the following in a 1 gallon tank sprayer:
  • 2 beaten and strained eggs (straining keeps the eggs from clogging the sprayer)
  • 1 cup milk, yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
  • 20 drops essential oil of clove, cinnamon, or eucalyptus
  • 1 tsp. cooking oil or dormant oil
  • 1 tsp. liquid dish soap

Top the tank with water. Shake frequently while spraying. Apply to dry foliage. Will last 2-4 weeks in dry weather; reapply after rain.

Internet Resources:
WSU Hortsense  and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife

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