The deer have no fear and can drive gardeners crazy. Photos by Doug Oster

Gardening Green with Doug 

Damn Deer

By Doug Oster


June 3, 2024

My heart sank as I walked through the gate of my vegetable garden after being gone for 12 days. Deer had broken through the fence and left the garden in ruins, as if a gang of angry teenagers from an apocalyptic movie had ravaged the area. Tomato cages were toppled, hosta leaves were gone, beloved lilies were beheaded, and hydrangeas were stripped of their foliage.

The fenced veggie garden has become a haven for plants the deer love, taking more and more room from the edibles each season. Seeing those plants trampled and eaten would make any gardener disheartened. It’s a combination of anger and frustration that gardeners feel when deer attack the landscape. Let your guard down for just a minute and the deer will make you pay. In my case, once the deer figured out the fence was compromised, they must have spent days coming and going, browsing on their favorites, but leaving some plants unmolested.

The plants that were left teach us a valuable lesson about what these four-legged marauders are after. The first line of defense is a physical barrier; it could be a sturdy seven-foot fence or some deer netting around a plant. Next step is using a repellent and there are many. I use Bobbex, a smelly liquid spray. The deer have never touched a plant that’s sprayed with the product. It will last on the plant for a few rains, but then must be reapplied religiously. Just like the case of my broken barrier, the day a plant is not sprayed, it will be eaten. There are many different granular and liquid repellents that will be just as effective; in fact, it’s a good idea to mix things up with a variety of different products.

A good friend of mine swears by coyote urine which can be purchased as a liquid, granular or in dispensers that are hung about five feet off the ground.

The third part of the trilogy is trying to grow things that the deer are not as interested in. That’s a challenge, as when hungry, deer will eat just about anything. The other maddening twist is that each herd eats differently. Young deer will drive gardeners insane as they have to try everything learning what’s edible. All I can tell gardeners are the plants that the deer don’t enjoy in my garden. That doesn’t mean they won’t eat the variety in your landscape.

Surveying the vegetable/flower garden revealed some untouched plants like nasturtiums, basil, flowering tobacco, marigolds, and a few others. There are lots of plants growing outside the protected zone of the fenced garden that have been safe. Perennials like ligularia, meadow rue, leucothoe, salvia, Siberian iris, aralia, hibiscus, hellebores, Corydalis lutea, hardy bananas, ornamental grasses, salvia, and others have never been touched by deer in my garden.

Shrubs that have been left alone include spirea, bottlebrush buckeye, kerria, boxwood, viburnum, forsythia (although they would eat it to the ground in my mother’s garden), juniper, cedar, false cypress, elderberry, weigela, potentilla, and many others.

As far as annuals go, salvia is my go-to plant in unprotected spots, but cannas, lantana, sweet alyssum, cleome, cosmos, begonias, torenia, strawflower, snapdragons, dusty miller, and a host of other plants should be safe from deer. When I walked into the vegetable garden after my trip, I felt defeated and demoralized. As I looked more closely, many of my tomatoes, peppers, and other plants either were untouched or should rebound. After the anger faded away, calm prevailed, knowing that it’s not the deer’s fault, as a gardener I need to figure out every way I can to keep my plants safe. I’m not giving up and you shouldn’t either.

Even though nasturtiums are edible for us, the deer don’t seem to like them.
Spirea is a great deer-resistant shrub.
Perennial hibiscus is a late summer-blooming, deer-resistant plant.
Perennial and annual salvia plants have never been touched by deer in my garden.
Tomatoes were eaten in the garden while I was gone for 12 days.
Hostas are the deer’s favorite food, which was evident when they broke through the fence of my vegetable garden.


Doug Oster writes a column for The Green Voice Monthly Newsletter. He is also the host of The Organic Gardener Radio Show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio 1020AM.

To see more garden stories, photos and videos go to