Michigan State University masthead


Deer are invading my yard and consuming my garden. How can I keep them from eating everything?

Deer may be beautiful to look at, but can cause considerable damage to woodland wildflowers, vegetable and fruit crops, gardens, and landscape shrubbery. Deer numbers can reach abnormally high densities, even in cities and suburban areas, whenever humans create safe havens where predators are few or absent and food is plentiful.  

Remedies include:

  • Image of white-tail deer (doe)Exclusion:¬† Fences must be at least 8 feet high, or electrified Check local ordinances for fence rules).
  • Repellents: Can reduce, but usually not eliminate damage. Many kinds available commercially, for spraying on crops, shrubs, etc. Odor-based products may work better than taste-aversion products; many have to be re-applied after rain. A large dog in the yard often works well!
  • Hunting:¬† Effective where allowed, by making deer nervous about approaching yards and human activity centers. Check with MDNR and local government for regulations.¬† Some communities where deer are over-abundant have instituted deer population control measures.¬†

More Detailed Information

Deer damage may be caused by a number of different deer behaviors and habits.

Image of Image of white-tail deer (fawn)The best advice regarding damage to ornamental shrubs is to purposely plant shrub species that deer don't favor, and avoid those they prefer. A "preferred deer food" list to avoid would include white cedar, arborvitae, azaleas, balsam fir, any of the yews, roses, most fruit trees, and redbud. In the spring and summer, they love flowers such as tulips, daylilies, hosta, and most spring wildflowers such as trillium. (In many areas where deer are overabundant, the woodlands can be nearly devoid of spring wildflowers.)

On the other hand, deer tend not to eat (unless really hungry) the following, among others: boxwood, barberry, pine, spruce, juniper, viburnum, wisteria, red elderberry, smoke tree, dogwood, butterflybush, forsythia, and (unfortunately, since it is an invasive exotic) Russian olive. Among the more deer-resistant flowers are daffodils, mints, peonies, geranium, snapdragons, and marigolds. But I have seen where deer had simply bitten off the marigold flowers and dropped them, so I guess to a deer, nothing is sacred!

Commercial deer repellents can be useful and effective, but if it rains you may need to re-apply it more often than the label suggests!


Image of Image of white-tail deer (doe)Portions of this section were adapted and edited from earlier material written by Glenn R. Dudderar, former MSU Extension Wildlife Specialist.

James Harding
MSU Museum
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 353-7978