Deer Repellent

How to keep deer off trees

It is that time of year, the snow starts flying and doesn’t stop. We won’t see turf again for months in the north east and neither will the deer. Deer are a foraging herbivore, meaning they eat plants wherever they can find them, usually turf but with the snow cover they move higher and eat your ornamental plants. Nation wide they damage plants year round but especially in snow covered northern states, where the ground foraging becomes difficult.

Unchecked deer can cause severe damage to plants, even killing them completely in some situations. Some people don’t mind, enjoying the sight of wildlife in their own yards, I’m guessing if you are here reading this that is not you. Thankfully there are deterrents available that can keep deer off trees and drive them into a neighbours yard ( hopefully one that enjoys the view!)

A view of arborvitaes damaged by deer
Arborvitaes damaged by deer. Notice the damage stops just above their reach.

There are two types of deer repellent, natural products and chemical controls. Neither method harms deer, both work by either scents or tastes they do not like, but some people prefer natural methods. I list both organic controls and chemical controls here so you can choose what is best for you, it really depends on deer pressure and personal preference.

Natural Deer Repellents

Proper plant choice-

arborvitaes are prime rib in deer's eyes
arborvitaes are prime rib in deer’s eyes

The most obvious method but the least practical in already established landscapes is choosing plants that are not prone to deer feeding. If you are in a high pressure area then the following plant list should help, please keep in mind that the deer resistant varieties are not full proof, in a hard winter when foraging is tough a hungry deer will eat anything it can.


plants deer love to eat

Plants that are deer resistant

Arborvitaes Pines
Hollies Spruces
Red Cedars Dogwoods
Asiatic Lilies Forsythia
Tulips Silverberry or Oleaster

Some more deer resistant plants:

Paper Birch
Summer Sweet
European Beech
St. Johns Wort
Mock Orange


This is obvious but should be said. Deer can easily leap a four foot fence so to really keep them out six feet or more is required. Also fencing or mesh can be placed around individual plants to prevent foraging. An individual fence should be approximately four and a half feet high to stand above their forage height and wrap around the entire plant. Also electric fences are very effective but are not economical unless protecting nursery stock.

Scent Bags-

This is the most talked about method and for a good reason, it is interesting and it works, or doesn’t, depending on who you ask. Results are mixed and it may not work for you but it is still worth a try if you are determined to do this in a natural way.

The best way to make a scent bag is using an old pair of nylons. Fill up the nylons with the concoction and hang them on the plants you are protecting. Here is where it gets interesting, what do you fill the nylons with? Here is a list of the most effective items:
Human Hair- ask a local barber shop if you can fill up your deer bags with some clippings.
Sacks of blood meal
Irish springs soap shavings- yes, it has to be Irish Springs
Kerosene or creosote soaked rags- use caution when using flammables you only need enough for the scent
Moth balls- these work best in a perforated coffee can hung in the plant


I am guessing that if using a chemical that deer don’t like the taste of strikes an ethical chord within you than killing them won’t sit much better, but it is the most effective way. You can either do it yourself or invite a hunter on to your private land. When hunting you must check with state and local regulations.

Chemical Controls

deer tracks from the woods leading right to my plants
deer tracks from the woods leading right to my plants

Next to killing the deer chemical controls are the most effective method. As I said above these methods do not harm deer but rather deter them through scent and taste. The best products are actually fungicides normally used to prevent plant disease but coincidently have proven to be wonderful deer repellents. Before using a product make sure it is labelled for deer control, which the products I recommend below are, if a product is not labelled for deer repellent then it will not work and should not be used.
To apply a chemical deer repellent use a backpack sprayer or larger for commercial use. Mix at a rate in accordance with the product label. Spray a light coating over the entire plant to a height of about five feet, above where deer can reach is pointless. You do not need to soak plants to a point of run off, but rather just a light coating over all of the foliage.

Below are the three products that I have used, measured results, and can vouch for their success:

Spotrete F

Made by Clearys, the active ingredient is Thiram, a fungicide for plants to control disease especially damping off. It can only be applied by licensed professionals. This product is the best chemical repellent I have ever used, one late fall application lasts all winter and I have never had a breakthrough by deer. It does leave behind a white residue on plants and can be expensive. Here is a link to the clearys site label


This product is made by a small family business in Redding, CT. It is also Thiram, like Spotrete F by clearys, but there is one big difference- it does not leave a white residue. I don’t know how they have managed to prevent the white residue but it is amazing. It works just as well as the clearys thiram product with season long control. They make two formulations as well, one for winter and one for summer.

Here is a link to their page for professionals that explains the product in detail.

Here is a link for home owners to find a contractor that applies this product because it also requires a license

Liquid Fence

Liquid fence is the only product that is registered for home-owner use as well as professionals. I have used this product in the past and it works well but occasionally, in a hard winter, deer will break through, especially for arborvitaes. Repeat applications every four to six weeks to help mitigate breakthrough and because it is so affordable this isn’t a problem.

I link to the product here, on Amazon, for home-owners and professionals to try the product for their own deer repellent needs.

Thanks for reading! If you have any methods you have tried with success please share that in the comments below. I am especially curious to read your own scent bag mixtures!