Julie Andrews may sing “Doe, a deer, a female deer” in The Sound of Music but does can have you saying “d’oh!” if they start nibbling your garden. Deer have a reputation for being skittish animals but as people who own gardens will say, they can be incredibly bold when they see plants that they think might make a good snack. For as lovely as deer are, you’d rather they not nibble your garden.
So “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start,” as Julie Andrews assures us in that song, and try to find a way to restore harmony to your garden by keeping deer out.
That brings us to zinnias, which have a reputation for being good deer-resistant plants. Here’s why, other flowers that are deer-resistant, and other ways to keep deer away from your garden.
For those not in the know, zinnias are small, colorful, and bloom quickly, and they are easy to grow. All of that makes them an ideal starter plant to include in your garden if you’re a newcomer to gardening even if you don’t have to deal with deer.
Zinnias come in a variety of different shapes. Single- and double-flowered zinnias have a single or two or more rows of petals respectively, with the former featuring a visible center and the latter not, with semi double-flowered varieties being somewhere in between. There is plenty of variation among the size and shape of the plants as well, ensuring that no matter what your gardening tastes may be, there’s probably a type of zinnia that can fit space-wise and aesthetically within your garden.
Some tips for growing your zinnias better include:
- Make sure that they are spaced a fair way apart, a couple inches to a couple feet
- Zinnia seeds tend to do best when planted relatively shallowly, about a quarter-inch deep
- Zinnias prefer moderate amounts of soil moisture
- A little fertilizer goes a long way so don’t feel compelled to overdo it
- Zinnias tend to grow tall and thin, and can reach up to three feet
- Zinnias prefer lots of sunlight and can handle dry spells reasonably well
Zinnias and Deer
We’ve included zinnias here because they’re deer-resistant, but why is that?
There are two basic reasons, the first being that they simply do a good job of growing back when nibbled. Some flowers are pretty delicate and even the smallest disturbances can destroy their bloom. By contrast, zinnias are pretty hardy, so even if deer nibble part of the plant, it isn’t likely to die off.
However, deer tend not to nibble zinnias very much because they have prickly centers. Just as you wouldn’t take a bite out of a whole pineapple, spiky exterior and all, deer naturally don’t usually feel inclined to eat prickly flowers such as zinnias.
Taken together, the prickly and hardy nature of zinnias make them far and away one of the best flowering plants to choose if you want something that can be resistant to and eventually dissuade deer.
Other Deer-Resistant Plants
In addition to prickliness, there are a variety of deer-resistant plant features that you’ll want to consider when choosing garden plants.
The most obvious defensive mechanism here, after spikes, is poison. Throughout the world, plants pair poison with colorful warning colors to ward off would-be animal munchers. While nobody wants to think of deer getting poisoned, those warning colors and an initial nibble is usually enough to leave them with a nasty taste in their mouths, thus dissuading them from eating more.
Certain daffodils and foxgloves are examples of plants that include toxins. In addition to poison, pungent fragrance can be enough to ward off deer. You wouldn’t want to eat something that stinks and deer likewise tend to wrinkle their noses at odious dishes. That’s not just something that certain plants can use as a defense but as demonstrated below, you can use this to your advantage as well.
Certain herbs and sages, lavender, peonies, and similar highly fragrant flowers and plants are examples of this. As you can tell from that list, while odiferous flowers can ward off deer, the same can be said for ones that are simply highly fragrant. You likely don’t want foul-smelling flowers in your garden so highly fragrant ones can be a powerful substitute.
Finally, just as you likely have taste preferences, deer simply prefer some plants and flowers over others for their dinner. Some other plants that deer don’t like and deer-resistant options include:
- African lilies
- Lilies of the valley
- Bleeding hearts
- Wild ginger
- Bearded iris
While all of these options are good in their own way, the unique combination of color, size, hardiness, how easy they are to plant, and their spikes to ward off deer make zinnias one of the best deer-resistant flower choices.
How to Ward Off Deer
That said, while zinnias and the other flowers listed above can be effective in dissuading deer from treating your garden as their own personal salad buffet, you may wish to be more proactive yourself.
Thankfully, there are many ways to keep deer out of your garden.
Let’s begin with the scent-based methods mentioned above. Spraying scents that are repellent to deer is an easy way to get them to leave your garden alone. There are plenty of professional sprays available that can cover these areas with ease.
That said, you can also turn to a variety of organic DIY sprays. Everything from eggs to natural oils to hot sauce and garlic can ward off deer, as can soap, since it’s a scent that deer aren’t used to. By contrast, deer know the scent of humans pretty well and tend to avoid it for obvious reasons so scattering hair beside your plants can help ward them off as well.
Wind chimes can be a less extreme version of this, though not every deer will be warded off by the more melodious chimes. Meanwhile, the combination of smell and taste some of the more food-based options above can give deer the hint that this isn’t an area to eat.
Then there are motion sensors that can activate and trigger loud noises, flashing lights, spurts of water, and similar measures to scare off deer when they approach. You can also always build a wall, though be advised that deer can jump, making this a far more difficult and often less effective alternative than you might imagine. Instead, you can “wall off” vulnerable plants, especially ones that bear fruit, with some of the sprays and less desirable plants such as zinnias.
Finally, yards with different levels and hedges can dissuade deer by making them think that your yard is a tight space or otherwise difficult to walk through and thus not worth their time.
From sprays to scents to sounds and so much more, there are plenty of ways to ward off deer. Thankfully, zinnias already do a pretty good job of that themselves with their spiky center. Of course, the more hungry deer are, the more willing they’ll be to risk eating even these.
That said, zinnias paired with one or more of these deer repellents can help ensure that “The Hills Are Alive with The Sound of Music” and your gloriously well-grown garden, not deer chowing down.