After being away for work last week, I was in for a surprise when I checked my game cameras. It seemed like my deer population had grown significantly. Now, I’m quite fond of these deer, but they can pose problems for homeowners who cherish their gardens and landscapes. The issue is that these beautiful ornamental plants in our landscapes are a prime source of nutrition for deer. They provide calories, protein, and even water, which can be a real headache, especially when the deer’s natural food sources are scarce.

Dealing with deer searching for a free meal can be a tough and expensive task for homeowners. We typically recommend following the H-E-R-L method, which stands for Habitat modification, Exclusion, Removal/Repellents, and Lethal control. In the world of deer deterrence, not all methods are created equal. While some individuals rely on household and commercial repellents to keep deer away, these solutions don’t guarantee foolproof protection. The hitch with repellents lies in their adaptability. Once animals grow accustomed to them, their effectiveness diminishes. Similarly, lethal control methods, although effective, come with their own set of challenges. Deer hunting season is not a year-round affair, and depending on your location, local regulations might impose restrictions on firearm use. This leaves homeowners in a bind, especially during off-season periods when deer populations continue to pose a threat.

Fencing the animals out, trapping, or relocating them are alternative strategies that some consider. However, these methods come with their own drawbacks. Installing comprehensive fencing systems can be financially burdensome, and even then, they might not be foolproof. Trapping and relocating deer may seem like a humane solution, but in reality, it can cause harm to the animals and isn’t always effective in curbing their presence.

One of the most effective options within the H-E-R-L framework for deer control is habitat modification – essentially, planting ornamental plants that deer dislike. It’s important to note that there are no completely deer-proof plants. If deer are hungry enough, they’ll eat almost anything. However, deer tend to steer clear of plants with strong smells like lantana, catmint, chives, mint, sage, or thyme. They also avoid plants with prickly or rough leaves and those with a bitter taste. Sometimes, deer may nibble on new growth but avoid the same plants once their leaves mature.

Fall is an ideal time to plant and acclimate new plants before the next spring. If you’re looking to select landscaping plants, do some research. It’s crucial to match the plant’s needs, like soil and drainage, sunlight requirements, and space, with the area you’re planting them in. UGA has a publication featuring deer-tolerant trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials that may be good options for including in your landscape. For the sake of brevity, I won’t include them all here, but they can be found at There are a lot of other lists available online, however keep in mind that most of the suggestions you’ll find are based on trial-and-error and observations, not on any scientific backing.

 If you need help selecting a plant, feel free to contact your local Extension office for help. The Lincoln County office can be reached at 706-359-3233 or

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