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 Maples Prostanthera cuneata  Bush Mint
Betula nigra River Birch Rhododendron sp. Rhododendron (large leafed only)
Carpinus sp. Hornbeam Sarcoccocca sp  Sweet Box
Fagus sp. Beech Viburnum sp Evergreen Viburnum
Fraxinus latifolia Oregon Ash  
  Achillea sp. Yarrow
Evergreen Trees Agave parryii -Agave
Abies sp. Fir Arabis sp. Rockcress
Cedrus sp  True Cedar Armeria maritima Sea thrift
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Alaskan Cedar Bergenia sp. Bergenia
Cryptomera sp.  Japanese Cedar Crocosmia sp. Crocosmia or Montbretia
Juniperus sp. Juniper Coreopsis sp. Coreopsis or Tickseed
Picea sp Spruce Dianthus sp  Pinks
Pinus sp. Pine Dicentra sp. Bleeding Heart
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir Echinacea sp. Coneflower
Tsuga sp. Hemlock Echinops sp. Globe Thistle
Umbellularia californica Oregon Myrtle Eriogonum sp. Buckwheat
Eryngium sp. Sea Holly
  Euphorbia sp. Spurge
Deciduous Shrubs Fargesia sp  Clumping Bamboo
Berberis sp. Barberry Geranium sp  Hardy Geranium
Callicarpa sp  Beautyberry Hakonechloa macra Japanese Forest Grass
Calycanthus sp Sweetshrub Helictotrichon sempervirons  Blue Oat Grass
Diervilla rivulaaris Bush Honeysuckle Helleborus sp. Hellebore
Forsythia sp  Forsythia Hemerocallis sp. Daylily
Fothergilla gardenia Dwarf Fothergilla Humulus lupulus Hops
Kolkwitzia amabilis  Beautybush Iris sp. Iris
Poncirus trifoliate Osage Orange Kniphofia sp. Red Hot Poker
Potentilla fruticosa Potentilla Lavendula sp  Lavender
Ribes nigrum Black Currant Liatris sp. Gayfeather
Ribes sangunium Red Flowering Currant Miscanthus sp Maiden Grass
Sambucus sp. Elderberry Monarda sp. Bee Balm
Syringa sp. Lilac Nepeta sp. Catmint
Viburnum sp Deciduous Viburnums Origanum sp Oregano
  Oxalis oregona  Redwood Sorrel
Evergreen Shrubs Paeonia sp Peony
Arbutus unedo Strawberry Tree Papaver sp. Poppy
Arctostaphylos sp. Manzanita Pennisetum sp  Feather Grass
Aucuba japonica Aucuba Penstemon sp. Beardtongue
Berberis sp. Evergreen Barberry Peroskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Ceanothus sp. California Wild Lilac Phygelius sp. Cape Fuchsia
Choisya sp. Mexican Orange Phyllostachys sp  Bamboo
Cistus sp. Rock Rose Salvia sp. Flowering & Edible Sage
Citrus junos  Yuzu Rudbeckia sp. Black-eyed Susan
Daphne sp  Evergreen Daphne Salvia rosimarinus (Rosimarinus officianalis) Rosemary
Elaegnus pungens Silverberry Thymus sp Thyme
Garrya sp. Silktassel Zauchneria sp  California Fuchsia
Elaegnus pungens Silverberry  
Gaulteria shallon Salal
Laurelus noblis Bay Tree Ferns
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon Grape Adiantum sp  Maidenhair Fern
Mahonia x Hybrid Mahonia Anthyrium sp  Painted Fern
Myrica (Morella) californica Pacific Wax Myrtle Blechnum sp  Water Fern, Deer Fern
Osmanthus sp  Osmanthus Dryopteris sp  Autumn Fern, Male Fern
Pachystima myrsinites Oregon Box Polystichum 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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