I’ll never be mistaken for a master gardener, and it really doesn't bother me. Beyond borrowing the neighbor’s tiller and breaking up the ground, I lose interest in the garden even before the first spuds are planted.

But I also fully understand the pride many gardeners take in their summer produce, as time is measured in weeks and months rather than hours.

While gardeners toil in the soil in anticipation of garden fresh fare, from the first radish to the last tomato and everything in between, I hear grumblings of the damage caused by deer and other wild garden thieves.

There are ways to minimize these problems. I won’t say cure, or end, however, as dealing with wildlife involves few guarantees. As you plan your garden, take several factors into account.

First, if your goal is to protect your garden at all costs, an 8-foot-high, completely enclosed, mesh or chicken wire fence is the best deterrent. A less costly alternative is dividing your garden into smaller subplots with four-strand, smooth-wire fence. Deer can easily jump over such a barrier, but they’re less likely to take the leap if they’ll wind up in a small enclosure.

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The list of homemade or commercial deer repellents is long and includes such things as rotten eggs, human hair, soap-on-a-rope, blood meal and many others. Some even suggest planting desirable vegetables such as squash, beans and peas in with food deer dislike.

Keep in mind, deer have plenty of time to investigate your garden, and these methods are seldom completely effective.

Deer don’t just nibble on garden fodder; they eat young trees, flowers and fruit, as well. One way to deter deer from eating things around your yard, besides putting up barriers, is to plant varieties that deer do not find desirable.

It’s much easier and more efficient to plan as your garden is established and before the first greens emerge, instead of after the deer and other animals set their sights on the fruits of your labor.

The following plant lists are divided into categories based on studies of deer preference to aid in reducing depredation on your trees, bushes and garden. But don't forget, I'm not saying anything other than an exclusionary fence will be strongly effective.

Trees and shrubs

  • Deer generally prefer to eat: Apple (fruit trees in general), basswood (linden), birch, bur oak, chokecherry, cotoneaster, dogwood, English ivy, green ash, hackberry, hydrangea, larch, maple, rhododendron, sandberry, serviceberry, Siberian crab, viburnum, weigela, white cedar (Arborvitae), white pine, willows.

  • Deer sometimes eat: Amur maple, azalea, black cherry, boxelder, bush honeysuckle, cottonwood, elm, forsythia, hazelnut, highbush cranberry, ironwood, mountain ash, oak, rose, Scotch pine, spirea, sumac, white pine, wild plum.

  • Deer generally dislike: Barberry, buffaloberry, currant (gooseberry), honeysuckle, juniper, lilac, mountain laurel, Nanking cherry, nannyberry, Ponderosa pine, potentilla, raspberry, Russian olive, St. John’s wort, spruce, western yellow pine, western red cedar, wormwood (artemisia).


  • Deer generally prefer to eat: Crocus, daylily, hawkweed, hosta, hyacinth, iris, lily, meadow rue, phlox, rose, sedum, strawberry.

  • Deer generally dislike: Achillea (yarrow), ajuga, allium, anemone, bittersweet, bleeding heart, buttercup, clematis, columbine, cinquefoil, coneflower, coral bell, coreopsis, cranesbill, daffodil, ferns, feverfew, flax, forget-me-not, gayfeather, goldenrod. Joe-Pye weed, lamb's ear, lavender, lily-of-the-valley, lupine, monkshood, pachysandra, penstemon, pennyroyal, peony, poppy, primrose, ribbon grass, rosemary, sage. snow-on-the-mountain, speedwell, tansy, thistle, toadflax, yucca.

Annuals and biennials

  • Deer generally prefer to eat: Hollyhock, impatiens, pansy, sunflower.

  • Deer generally dislike: Alyssum, begonia, dahlia, dusty miller, flax, forget-me-not, four-o'clock, geranium, heliotrope, lobelia, marigold, mint, morning glory, mullein, periwinkle, polygonum, primula, salvia, snapdragon, verbena, zinnia.

Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.