How to Make Natural Deer Repellent
Keep Deer out of Garden and Away from Trees
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Perhaps your garden had some unwelcome attention from foragers last year, and your crops suffered. Maybe you have tender, young trees on the property and worry about deer stripping bark from their trunks in the cold, bare days of early spring, or pushing them over as they rub the velvet from their antlers in the fall. Learning how to make natural deer repellent will help to prepare you for this growing season to protect your trees and cold weather crops.
You can learn how to make homemade deer repellent from a variety of substances, including essential oils and vinegar, as well as common household goods like scented soaps and dryer sheets. For a natural deer repellent, try mixing 10-20 drops each of cinnamon, clove, and mint essential oils in a bottle of water with one cup of vinegar, a tablespoon of light cooking oil, and a teaspoon of dish detergent. Because essential oils are volatile and will evaporate quickly, the added oil helps to hold the scents onto the surface of the plants longer. The dish detergent allows all of the ingredients to mix together in the spray bottle in solution. This method of natural pest control is simple, accessible, and cost-efficient, as well as effective at deterring deer from your plants.
Another simple way to repel deer from your garden is the use of strongly scented household goods such as soaps and fabric softener sheets. Some people report good luck with cutting fabric softener sheets into strips and tying to the branches of vulnerable plants and sapling trees. This may be a solution for small areas or single plants, but obviously it would make a lot of work for a garden of larger size. Another possible deterrent: bars of strongly scented commercial soap. In this case it is the perfume — the “human” smell — that is driving the deer away. Some choose to tie chunks of fragrant soaps on strings around plants, but I find it much simpler to pare away chunks of soap from the bar directly onto the ground of the garden around the plants I want to protect. In this case, the smellier the soap is, the better. The soap will eventually dissolve in the rain and will have to be replaced from time to time.
When it comes to prevention of future deer problems, fall and winter are both good times to plan your spring garden to include deer-repellent elements to help protect your plants. Consider planting chrysanthemums, daisies, and strong-smelling herb plants around the perimeter of the garden to deter deer. Deer don’t care for the odors of lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, or many other herbs. Lastly, a lovely idea for living with your garden pests — plant a “forager garden” near woods or a property line, in an area convenient for wild animals to forage safely without having to go to your “main” garden. This small, sacrificial garden can help to deter a lot of animals from your main garden bed, making it a very useful technique for those who have the space.
To help in protecting trees from deer, the best methods tend to include caging and deer fencing. Even a small amount of caging or fencing work will deter deer and cause them to look for more accessible trees to forage or rub. The use of netting, loosely wrapped around trunks or thrown over lower branches, is enough to frustrate most deer. For the smallest of trees, trunk collars or even large pool noodles can be used as winter protection from deer damage.
Lastly, using a combination strategy of strong-smelling herbs and flowers, plus a forager’s garden in a remote corner of the yard, is my favorite approach for dealing with deer as well as other common foraging animals. The forager’s garden can contain a simple assortment of vegetables and plants that deer like to eat, while the main garden can be much more of the same, with a protective boundary of herbs and flowers producing a less-than-hospitable zone for the unwanted nibblers. Because the forager’s garden is in a remote and quiet area, it will quickly become preferred by the wildlife. As an added benefit to planting deer-unfriendly plants and herbs, you get lots of fresh herbs and flowers from your garden and your meals in exchange.
This article has covered several methods of deterring deer from causing foraging and rubbing damage on your homestead plants. Used in combination, these methods can yield even more effective results than when used one at a time. For the most protection from deer foraging in your gardens, the one-two approach of inhospitable border plantings and an easily accessible forager’s garden provide distraction and redirection for your garden visitors. Other vulnerable plantings can be individually protected with repellent sprays and other odorous deterrents. With a little preparation, your next garden could be practically deer-free.
Natural Deer Repellent Spray
10-20 drops each:
Clove, cinnamon, and mint essential oils
1 cup plain, white vinegar
1 tablespoon light, liquid cooking oil
1 teaspoon dish detergent
Water to fill bottle
Mix all ingredients well and pour into spray bottle.
Shake well before each use.
How do you deter deer from ruining your plants and trees? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Originally published in the May/June 2020 of Countryside and regularly vetted for accuracy.