Spotting Signs of Deer in Your Garden and How to Control Them

What are the most common garden animal pests and signs of their damage and how to control them? This article features deer.

As if insects weren’t bad enough, many gardeners experience an onslaught of animal damage in their gardens throughout the year. Animals pose a different challenge than insects do as well. They are bigger, so they often do a lot of damage really fast (of course that could be said about many insects as well), they are smart so they evade many preventative measures, and they are adaptable- if one food source is off limits, they will likely find a new way to get at new favorite foods or spaces for shelter. Garden animal pests aren’t usually as big of a problem in the inner-city garden as they are in the suburban or rural garden, but they can happen anywhere, to any kind of garden, at any time. Here are some of the most common pests, their damage signatures, and how to control them.


You know you live somewhere barely tamed when a critter like deer become garden pests. Deer are notoriously skittish, normally. But with the gardens of suburbia full of delicious treats, deer have stifled their natural tendency to flee and brave human settlement for tasty treats. In some areas, deer have become downright brazen. Deer can do a lot of damage to plants of all kinds in a short amount of time.

Signs of deer visitation include missing leaves on cleaned stems on the outsides of plants, up to about 6 feet in height, new growth on plants missing (some call it “tipping”), deer scat  (or...poop)  which looks like little black pellets, and of course obvious deer tracks. Go into your garden and neighborhood in the early morning and evening during twilight, and you’re bound to catch deer red-hoofed.

The best method of reducing or eliminating damage done by deer is to simply plant things that deer won’t eat. There are plenty of sprays and contraptions on the market aimed at repelling deer, but these often prove to be minimally effective. Deer are very smart, great jumpers, and adaptable. Eliminating the reason they are trespassing is the only surefire way to minimize the damage. 

And, because deer are smart animals they have their own preferences for plant material. In some areas, deer find rose hips irresistible while in others roses are ignored. In others, the tips of tomato plants are often on the menu. Arborvitae may not be safe in others. There are plenty of alternative plants to the old garden standards that deer love, which are effective everywhere no matter what deer population you have. Here are some deer resistant alternatives to common deer favorites:

  • Instead of hostas, try heucheras! They grow in the same places, have beautiful foliage, and deer plain don’t like them.
  • For evergreen backdrops or hedges, use viburnums, boxwoods, bamboo and nandina. Firepower Nandina is a compact growing evergren shrub that brightens up the landscape and deer won’t eat it.
  • Instead of roses, try peonies, spireas, salvias, or ornamental grasses in the same places. Aphrodite Calycanthus Sweetshrub is an absolutely knock your socks off shrub that will lift up your landscape like roses do without attracting deer, has a long fragrant bloom season, and wonderful foliage.
  • Common spring bulbs become deer candy- most notably tulips. For that fresh spring life of color in the garden, try alliums instead or chives. Alliums are probably the most deer-resistant spring bulbs. They do come in simple purples, whites, and pinks, but their fun round shape, sweet scent, and vigor make them a real favorite for those who try them.
  • Check out our extensive stock of wonderful, deer resistant plants ready to grace your garden. There’s something for every nook and cranny in your landscape- from shade to sun, to rock gardens, and to edible landscapes. There are plenty of choices for gardens that deal with deer.

Deer are an endemic to the United States and are part of a healthy environment. They are special animals that belong in our wild areas, and seeing them is a real treat. But, you don’t have to suffer at their hooves. Your garden can be beautiful while the deer pass through harmlessly. We hope this list of alternatives helps you create a deer resistant garden

Read our other article on How to Control Deer Damage that will be of further help in creating a deer free yard.