Deer in Northern California


Digging Deep-Gardening with Cynthia Brian

“They run like deer, jump like deer, and think like deer.” Charles Barkley
The back gate had been left open. He walked right in to help himself to dinner leaving his telltale droppings and the roses beheaded. “Bummer” I whispered to myself as I locked the gate satisfied that he would not return to devour my prized agapanthus.
The next evening as I went outside to check the nightlights, I thought I saw the gigantic buck in my upper garden. When I blinked, he was gone. “I’m being paranoid”, I thought to myself. “There’s no way a deer could jump this eight foot fence.”
Making my morning flower rounds, there he stood in my cutting garden, proud as a Poppa, fearless of my presence. He gazed at me with those huge brown eyes as if to say, “Hi Cynthia! Aren’t I smart. I came to visit you!”
I was stunned to see him inside my high walls. In case he could understand me, I shouted at him to get out as I ran to open the locked gate. For a moment he didn’t budge, then, ever so slowly he ambled to the formal rose garden and with one effortless leap, hurdled the fence. 
Years ago I purposely planted extra crops outside the barrier to make sure that our enclave remained a sanctuary for my private plantings. This season, two bucks along with a doe and her twins have been dining on the plums, prunes, apricots, apples, and Asian pears in the orchard. They pay me no heed when I’m weeding as they munch away. As long as they stay outside my interior boundaries, I am happy to co-exist with them.  I reason that the wildlife inhabited this region first, while I’m the interloper. Although we are surrounded by open space with all the endemic feral animals roaming the hills and visiting our pastures, in the more than two decades that we’ve lived here, no creature has ever traversed the fence.  
This was TROUBLE in all capitals.
It was time to dig into my bag of tricks. In my book, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, I chronicled a humorous true story about a garden plagued by a marauding moose.  I hoped to utilize a few of those antler deterrents for my uninvited buck. I began by attaching dryer sheets of Bounce on all of my major plants plus tacking them to the outside of the white pickets every 6 inches. The smell supposedly deters deer.  I also installed waving flags and a burlap barrier on the areas where he leapt.
Didn’t work. He returned for dinner that night.
Next, I bought bars of Irish Spring soap to scrape around the property. The dirt and plants smelled as fresh as the Emerald Isle.  He basked in the clean fragrance of the leprechauns, leaping with glee.
The third night I installed motion detection lights. He reveled in the spotlight. The star jumped in.
The fourth night, I blasted the radio tuned to a raspy rap station. Mr. Buck grooved and pranced in my backyard.
The fifth night, frustrated, I ventured to the garden center where I met other gardeners deluged with deer. We commiserated while comparing notes. I bought several different animal repellents.  Following directions, I sprinkled the granules of hot peppers and sprayed the mixture of rotten eggs formulated to drive critters away with a mild irritation to their nasal passages.  The smell gagged me, but the aroma aroused him. He ate my agapanthus.
On the sixth night, I positioned wooden pallets and garbage cans around the perimeter to discourage his high jump. He’s an Olympian.
One week of exasperation ended with the sprinklers spraying. He enjoyed his shower, and probably used the remaining Irish Spring soap to irritate me further.
The eighth evening I waited outside the fence until Mr. Buck ambled within a few feet of me. He was ready to spring when I roared like a mountain lion. Being a big cat was the best and least expensive solution.  Hurrah, one victory for me!
My triumph was temporary.
As I write this, we are on night fourteen of battling the buck. None of the prescribed remedies have worked, and the deer has become a nightly nuisance. I have yet to attempt an electric fence, but stringing fishing wire from post to post did not arrest his soaring either. Since I don’t know where to buy “panther piss” and although suggested, a venison dinner is not an option, my long-term remedy is to build higher fences.  
Suggestions from my dear deer ordeal:
  • ⎫ Don’t intentionally feed the deer.
  • ⎫ Pick up fallen fruit from trees.
  • ⎫ Yell, scream, and wave your arms to keep the deer away. Once they become unafraid of you as they are of me, they may just jump your fence.
  • ⎫ Let your dog be the night guard.  
  • ⎫ Water drought-resistant plants just enough to keep them alive. When they get too healthy, deer devour new growth.
  • ⎫ Block the paths of invading deer to confuse their routine routes.
  • ⎫ Before planting a plethora of new flowers, consider planting a single plant in a deer test garden. If it survives two weeks without being munched, it’s probably going to be safe. What I’ve learned from this experience is that not only are there no deer proof plants, but in our area, like us, deer are gourmet foodies.. 
  • ⎫ The only guaranteed full proof resolution is to build a fence tall enough that deer can’t catapult over it.
Here’s a list of the major plants eaten. If you have a population of deer on your property, don’t plant these or plan on putting chicken wire or netting around them. 
  • ⎫ Gladioli
  • ⎫ Agapanthus
  • ⎫ Asiatic Lilies
  • ⎫ Roses
  • ⎫ Hydrangeas
  • ⎫ Firecracker Lily
  • ⎫ Blueberries
  • ⎫ Cherry tree leaves
  • ⎫ Dahlias
  • ⎫ Grapes
  • ⎫ Mock orange
  • ⎫ Fuchsia
  • ⎫ Camellias
  • ⎫ Johnson Blue Geraniums
  • ⎫ Jacobina
  • ⎫ Bergenia
  • ⎫ Purple Loosestrife
  • ⎫ Wisteria
  • ⎫ Sweet Potato
  • ⎫ Hollyhocks
  • ⎫ Mexican Primrose
These are the plants touted as extremely deer resistant, but my antlered visitor ate them, to my surprise.
  • ⎫ Osteospernum 
  • ⎫ Marigolds 
  • ⎫ Gaura 
  • ⎫ Snapdragons 
  • ⎫ Lamium 
  • ⎫ Purple Loosestrife
  • ⎫ Wisteria
  • ⎫ Sweet Potato
  • ⎫ Dianthus 
  • ⎫ Sunflowers 
  • ⎫ Fennel 
I noticed that deer on my land avoid grey leaved plant varieties. These are plants my guy didn’t eat and are probably safe to plant in your garden.
  • ⎫ Foxglove
  • ⎫ Lavender
  • ⎫ Peony
  • ⎫ Sage
  • ⎫ Society Garlic 
  • ⎫ Artemis
  • ⎫ New Zealand Flax
  • ⎫ Portulaca
  • ⎫ Boxwood
  • ⎫ Pink Bower Vine
  • ⎫ Begonia
  • ⎫ Calla Lily
  • ⎫ Four O’Clocks
  • ⎫ Yarrow
  • ⎫ Star Jasmine
  • ⎫ Muscari
  • ⎫ Ferns
  • ⎫ Naked Ladies
  • ⎫ Bearded Iris
  • ⎫ Birds of Paradise
  • ⎫ Ornamental grasses
  • ⎫ Hellebore
  • ⎫ Columbine
  • ⎫ Gazania
  • ⎫ Primrose
  • ⎫ Daffodil
Keep in mind there are no deer proof plants.  As graceful and beautiful as deer are, they are extremely destructive.  I was totally astonished by many of the 
flowers consumed, especially since my plants are surrounded with specimens like spearmint, scented geranium, and lamb’s ear that deer normally avoid. Vegetation they don’t eat in my neighbor’s yards, they are devouring in my garden. With no prescription for success, one size does not fit all when it comes to deterring deer. You will need to be diligent, watchful, and experiment with all the suggestions, then hope to buck the system of deer raiders.
If only we could run like deer, jump like deer, and think like deer, we could solve the grazing dilemma. As humans, we don’t want a buck buddy in our fenced backyards. Although I wish he would move on to greener pastures, for now, the buck stops here. 


Cynthia Brian is the producer and host of the popular empowerment radio hour, StarStyle® Be the Star You Are!® heard on the Voice America Network LIVE Wednesdays 4-5pm PT/7-8pmET. Mor details available at She also produces the teen program, Express Yourself!™ for the Voice America Kids Network broadcasting Tuesdays at NOON PT on or for photos, descriptions, links, and more visit . Cynthia is also the New York Times best selling author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul as well as Be the Star You Are!®, Be the Star You Are!® for Teens, Miracle Moments®, The Business of Show Business, and The Blessings of Love and Relationships.




Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
Cynthia is available as a speaker and consultant.