There was a time when deer were creatures of the forests and wild areas. In recent decades as people have invaded their habitat, deer have adapted to life in the suburbs. In fact they also pester urban gardeners.

As with slugs, to reduce a deer problem, you can attack one or more of three factors:

Deer eat the leaf blade and leave the petiole (leaf stalk) so that the clump looks like a bunch of celery sticking into the air. If rabbits nibble on a hosta leaf, of course, they must be down lower on the plant due to the size of the critter.

  1. Get Rid of the Deer
  2. Change the Growing Environment
  3. Reduce the Food Supply

Getting Rid of the Deer

In most urban or suburban situations, reduction of the deer herd by individual gardeners is not an option. State wildlife agencies have been trying to manage deer herds for decades with little or no impact. The number of deer in most areas is on the rise. So, we need to look at other alternatives for ways to protect our beloved hostas.

Change the Growing Environment

Deer need places to eat, sleep, drink, reproduce and feel safe. Sometimes we can change the local environment such that the deer are excluded from an area. For pure exclusion, a fence needs to be about 10 feet tall and leaning away from the area to be protected. However, deer tend to shy away from areas where they cannot determine a safe escape route. Planting a row of shrubs on both sides of a shorter (six feet or so) solid fence may block enough of their site to make them leery of the area.

Some people have had success with common electric fences that are used for farm livestock. These are available now with solar powered units. The key with these fences is that you need to be isolated a bit from neighbors to prevent accidental contact by small children. And, it seems that multiple strand fences work best.

Even electric fences, however, seem to be dependent on the "take off and landing" space available. If they have a clear way on both sides of the fence, deer can leap over most electric fences. By cluttering up the landing zone with plants, hardscape or some other obstacle, the success of the fence may increase.

Wolves are natural enemies of deer. Most of us do not have a wolf but we have the next best thing, a dog. People with large gardens have had success using "invisible fence" products to restrict the range of the dogs to the boundaries of their properties. Leave the dogs out at night and they will chase away any deer that wander in looking for a snack.

Reduce the Food Supply

- As with slugs, you will often see lists of "deer resistant" hostas or other plants. These are good for a general indication but actual results may vary widely from garden to garden. A site where 3 deer wander across the yard every week or so will have much different impacts than one where 20 deer walk through every night of the summer.


Whether home made or commercially prepared, repellants are meant to make potential food either taste or smell bad to the deer (or rabbits). There are several commercially available repellants on the market. The down side of all of them is that they wash off with rain or irrigation. They generally work while on the plant but need regular replacement.

To minimize the number of time you must reapply, try using an additive called a "sticker, spreader." A drop or two of this product per gallon of repellant spray will make it spread better on the leaf and bond better. Thus, it will generally extend the effective time of the repellant.

A number of homemade repellant sprays are also used by hosta gardeners. Pepper sprays, garlic juice, the urine of predator animals, Milorganite and others are used to deter deer. All work to a certain degree until they wear out. Human hair is often used too but, with deer that are accustomed to living around people, its effectiveness is diminished.

Soap is an effective repellant also. Small bars of soap spread around the garden may help to keep the deer away.

Scare the Deer

Deer like to be comfortable in their environment. They do not like surprises. To take advantage of this characteristic, there are several devices available today. One is a motion detector unit that is attached to a water spray nozzle. When a deer comes near the garden, the water comes on and spooks them away. Some times the motion detector is connected to a sound device or a bright light.

Often the key to the effectiveness of these options is to move the device every week or so. If they are left in the same spot, even the deer will eventually become acquainted with them and merely feed in another part of your garden.



Copyright 2000-