Methods for Keeping Deer Out Of the Garden


There are few things that can be as depressing and disappointing to a gardener than to have a wonderful and healthy crop of fruits or vegetables on one day, only to find them eaten to the ground by the deer on the next. Some people go to the effort and expense of putting in fences, but deer have the ability to jump even tall fences. Other, even more extreme methods of keeping deer out of the garden are sometimes used, with limited success. There are some ways to keep the deer from eating your plants, though, that are at least as successful as many of the more extreme (and expensive) methods.

Planting Stinky Plants

Deer have a very developed sense of smell. Many of the ways of deterring them from the garden focus on this fact. Some stores even sell wolf or mountain lion urine with the idea that this may repel the deer. There are other deer repellents that can be purchased, too. An easier and cheaper way is to plant plants that deer find repulsive. Often, these plants also happen to be pleasantly scented to humans. The deer just don’t like the scent. Two really good examples are lavender and marigolds. People tend to like the smell of lavender and the bright, cheery flowers of marigolds, but deer dislike their aroma. Planting these around and in the garden can help keep the deer out. Deer also don’t like the smell of garlic. These plants can also help deter many insect pests.

Use Soap

Some of the scented soaps on the market are disliked by deer, because of the smell. This is especially true of Irish Spring soap. People tend to like the scent, but deer don’t. This is something that has been known for quite a while to deer hunters, who’ve found out that it isn’t wise to shower with Irish Spring prior to going hunting. The deer can smell it from a long way away and they don’t like what they smell, so they leave before the hunter even has the chance to see them.

Using the soap is easy. Just take a potato peeler and peel off thin slices throughout the garden. The soap doesn’t harm the plants, but it can repel deer. A downside is that the soap will gradually dissolve when the garden is watered, so more soap will need to be added periodically.

Use Fish to Repel Deer

If you have access to fish, such as if you like to fish and catch some that are trash fish, boil up any fish you don’t want, let the liquid cool down and pour this around the base of your garden plants. The ‘fish soup’ is excellent fertilizer for the garden, but deer hate the smell of the dead fish long after you can no longer smell it. 

Warn the Deer Off

This one sounds crazy, but it actually works. String garden twine around your garden and tie neon ribbon to the twine at intervals of about two or three feet apart. Each piece of the plastic tape should hang about a foot and a half to two feet down. The slightest breeze sets the ribbon in motion and the motion makes the deer uneasy. We’ve used this method to keep deer out of our beans and deer happen to love eating bean plants, so the fact that they left our beans alone says a great deal. Some neighbors weren’t so lucky until we told them about the tape. Orange tape seems to work best, but yellow is also good. Contrary to what many people might think, deer can see orange and yellow. They aren’t color blind.

Homemade Deer Repellent

You can also make a repellent spray to drench your garden plants with. To do this, in a deep pot, pour a gallon of water. To the water, add one bar of Irish Spring soap, peeled with a potato peeler. Add 1/2 cup of crushed or minced garlic and either 2 tablespoons of powdered cayenne pepper or diced hot peppers; the hottest you can find. Put this mixture over low heat and cook it, stirring occasionally, until the soap has dissolved. Put the mixture in a gallon jar or a bucket that has a tight fitting lid, cap it, then let it sit for about a week. Strain out the solids, add another gallon of water, stir and spray this on your garden plants. It doesn’t hurt the plants, but deer detest the aroma. If they are brave enough to take a nibble of one of the sprayed plants anyway, the hot peppers reinforce the notion that the plants aren’t edible.

The best part about the homemade deer repellent is that it also kills or repels many garden pests, such as aphids, earwigs and slugs.

All of these methods can help keep deer out of the garden and they can be helpful in other ways as well. A combination of them is usually the most efficient method of all. None of them is exceptionally expensive, especially in comparison with the store bought alternatives, yet they all work to varying degrees. None of them even actually harm the deer. The deer merely go elsewhere to get their nibbles.

The only disclaimer is that there are few ways to prevent a hungry and determined deer from eating what you are growing in your garden. However, you can certainly persuade them that they may want to go elsewhere for their garden veggies. The above definitely beats doing nothing and going out to find your garden decimated by the deer.


  1. Eva James

    I regularly use marigolds with great luck. Watched a young rabbit hop up to one last year. He took off fast after a good sniff so rabbits dont like them either lol. Deer or raccoons dont seem to like the white sweet corn either. Raccoons destroyed y neighbors patch two years ago and only tasted a couple of ears of my silver queen then left it alone.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      That is good to know about the white corn. We mostly grow Indian corn (flint corn) and haven’t had any problems with deer, so maybe that is similar. Raccoons are one of the few wild animals we don’t have in abundance, though. There aren’t any possums, either. 😀

    2. Eva James

      @rextrulove We just had a possum in the trap yesterday. Had seen a couple of raccoons so set it and got him. I would let them loose except they carry a disease that the horses can catch. They are not real hard on the garden. I raise indian corn to decorate with also.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yes, I forgot to mention that method. I have specifically planted fruits and vegetables that deer like, but planted completely away from the garden. I call that ‘distract gardening’. lol It certainly can help.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I don’t deny that they are cute. I’ve raised a fawn and they are adorable and also a major pain to raise. It was a rescue, brought to me when a person saw its mother get hit and killed by a car. It also totaled the car, though nobody was injured beyond getting shook up. They can sure do damage in a garden, though.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I have to admit that I’m not fond of the smell of marigolds, either. lol Still, they are pretty and deer don’t like them. I’ve seen hungry deer eating them, but that isn’t very common.

  2. Barbara Radisavljevic

    I didn’t know marigolds repelled deer. I knew they leave my lavender and sages alone. My problem is that what the deer don’t like, the gophers often do, and we won’t even mention the ground squirrels. On our rural property we also have the raccoons, skunks, and possums. I’m not currently gardening there, and on our more suburban lot, we don’t have the wildlife. Until my knees get better, I’m not doing any real gardening.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      @barbrad, marigolds have a distinct aroma that rabbits and rodents also tend to dislike. At least, they like it less than most of the other plants they can get to. Raccoons will eat almost anything, as skunks and possums will, but all of them are primarily carnivorous. We don’t have possums or raccoons here and skunks aren’t common, because we don’t have many rodents. We also have cats, if rodents do try to move into the area. I’ve heard a tree squirrel from our yard, but I never saw it and haven’t heard it in over a year.

      There are gophers, ground squirrels and marmots closer to the river, but we are a few hundred feet from a rocky ridge. On that ridge, there are timber rattlesnakes and flying over it quite often are hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles and ospreys. Add to that our cats and those of many of our neighbors, rodents don’t stand much of a chance here. Once in a great while, we have a deer mouse or field mouse, but that isn’t common and usually only during the cold part of the year, when they try to get in here to escape subzero temperatures. The cats usually take care of them.

  3. Barbara Radisavljevic

    Cats can help, but all the cats except two have disappeared from our property. They are my neighbors’ and 100% outdoor. I think the coyotes got them and it breaks my heart. I was quite attached to a couple of them.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      That is really too bad. It also goes a long way toward explaining why you have issues with rodents. For that matter, it also explains the presence of the raccoons, skunks and possums, since all of these will eat rodents when they can catch them.

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