How to Have a Flower Garden When You Live With Deer

Two young deer grazing and munching leaves
How to have a flower garden when you live with deer

Deer are becoming more present in our home landscapes and they’re eating our plants. More and more of us are moving into rural and suburban home sites… onto land that’s usually good deer habitat. This means they have less territory to roam, and less food resources to depend on.

Deer are actually quite choosy about their food

They carefully select their plants based on their past experience with a plant, the deer’s nutritional needs at the time, plant palatability, the time of the year, what other food sources are available to them, and weather conditions.

Deer need nutrient-rich plants, especially in the spring and summer when the does are pregnant and nursing, when young deer are growing, and when bucks are growing their antlers, which takes an enormous amount of food energy! (Read all about a deer’s antler growing process here. It’s fascinating!)

Here’s what they like most

Fertilized plants in our home landscapes offer extra nutrition to hungry deer. They provide protein energy-rich carbohydrates, minerals and salts.

Deer get about a third of their water from plants. So our irrigated landscape plants and succulent young vegetation really helps them out.

Fresh young shoots of many plants are most palatable to them.  After the shoots grow the deer often may leave that plant alone.

New plants added to a garden are full of water and nutrients. Deer will hit these first.

Watch your new plants after planting, deer will try to sample them but since they’re not rooted into the ground yet, their biting will pull the new plants out.

Plus, they’re creatures of habit; they’ll go to where they know they can eat.

The most damage occurs when deer are facing starvation

During times of drought deer are facing starvation. That’s when they’ll browse even the most deer resistant plants. And that is when you will need to use damage control measures with your deer resistant plantings.

It’s hard not to be compassionate. They’re just being wild animals doing what they need to do. And we’re changing and restricting their landscape.

The most difficult time is in the fall, when plants are at their lowest hydration levels and when the new, young deer are out foraging. The youngsters are learning about the plants around them, so they sample everything.

So how do we protect our landscapes and flower gardens?

These are the best things we can do:

  • Fence off an area for your non-deer resistant plants. See below for more.
  • Plant your most deer resistant flowers outside of the deer fence
  • Plant the plants that are the most deer resistant in your landscape. Consult with lists offered by local resources.
  • Stay aware that even the most deer resistant plants get browsed at times. This may be temporary.
  • Back up your efforts and spray the deer resistant plants with deer repellent when they show signs of browsing. I recommend Liquid Fence.*
  • Always spray new plantings on the outside of the deer fencing, for a while. This will be crucial in the fall when the youngsters are out learning and foraging for the first time. When you spray them from the start, you teach them that “this plant isn’t good”. Remember how they are creatures of habit? This can work for you.
  • Be extremely consistent with the spraying: follow the directions. Liquid Fence advises to spray once a week for three weeks, then once every three weeks. You’ll have to test your deer out, before you stop spraying.

What fencing will work?

Make the fencing 8 ft. tall. I’ve gotten away with 6 ft. but I’m always ready to extend the height by 2 ft. if I need to.

It’s often said that deer can jump either high, 8 ft., or wide. You can make the space they jump into seem narrow by planting shrubs along the outside or on the inside of the fence. And if they can’t see in they tend to stay away. So if deer can jump over a lower fence, they may not if they can’t see what they’re getting into.

But I wouldn’t fully trust this idea. I’ve seen deer get into some tight and complicated gardens that you would not think they would try. Like I said, they could be really starving and desperate 🙁 . So I recommend aiming for the 6-8 ft. fence. There are several ways to make a fence and ways to extend the height. See resources for fencing below.

I’ve enclosed my gardens with 8ft. t-posts that I sink about 12 in. or more into the ground. And I use 7.5 ft. tall 1 in. poly deer mesh held to the posts with zip ties. It’s easy to set up and I’ve had good success. Not the prettiest, though.

Rolls of this poly may be available at your local nursery.

Sometimes rabbits chewed through my fencing, and once a deer broke through to get out when it became startled by us…it had jumped in. But over many years I’ve had very little damage.

There are much nicer fencing options, if you have the time and resources. They’ll be much longer lasting, sturdy, and pretty.

Deer looking through a wire fence

Now for the flowers

I’m sorry, but there are no deer-poof plants. But there are plants that are very deer resistant. Some of the qualities that tend to make a plant less palatable to deer are:

1.) Plants with pungent aromas, like catmint, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and

2.) Plants with plants with prickly or tough leaves, like holly… but not roses. Deer love roses, thorns and all. (There goes the painful thorns idea.)

Many organizations have come up with deer resistant plant lists. But most are made from trial and error observational data rather than controlled scientific studies.

But the best strategy is to work from a list of deer resistant plants from sources in your area to stack the deck in your favor. Use deer repellant spray at planting time and for a while after. And use it when deer start browsing established plants.

Consult with the Deer Resistant Flowers List for the flowers that tend to be most deer resistant.

Remember, circumstances change with the deer and the seasons, and they will eat anything if they have to. So back yourself up with deer repellant.

For best success, do NOT rely on:

  • Your dogs: they’re not out there all the time are they? (Is that fair to the neighbors?)
  • You never see deer: a common belief, maybe you don’t see them yet, but they’re all around
  • You’re on a road: they’re very active in the night when traffic is light
  • Soap like Irish spring: it does seem to work for some people…but is it attractive? And it’s not fool-proof
  • Your plants are on a deck: they can climb if you have stairs

I put all my flowers in a deer-fenced area, except for lavender, milkweeds, rosemary, santolina, Crocosmia, and ornamental oreganos. Even then, I do get some browsing sometimes. The rest of my flowers I just don’t want to risk—I keep them in the fenced area.

Deer Fencing Providers

Related Reading

Deer Resistant Cutting Flowers

Some of the most deer resistant cutting flowers I know are:


Ornamental Oregano



Other than these, see my list. Many may work for you. Just keep some repellent handy!

*I earn a small commission when readers purchase the products I recommend. I only recommend products and services I have experience with and feel my readers will benefit from. And this enables me to spend the time needed to give you good information… to grow your flowers!