- Stay Alert When Driving
- Do Not Feed the Deer
- Choose Deer-Resistant Plants
- Install Fencing
- Deer Repellents
- Scare Tactics
- Deer Management FAQs
Below are tips for living with deer and a variety of non-lethal deer management strategies which can be used to lessen deer damage to property.
Drivers should review the Iowa DNR’s reminders for avoiding deer collisions. Stay alert to minimize the chance of a vehicle-deer collision:
- Slow down and stay alert when deer may be most active around roadways: dusk and dawn, after dark, and during the months of October - January (mating and hunting seasons) and May - June (fawns). Deer "funnels" are areas where deer are more likely to be encountered along the roadway, including tall grasses, creeks, and fence lines. Be aware of these areas.
- If you spot one deer crossing or along the roadway, be advised there are likely more nearby.
- Use your headlights: Use high-beam lights at nighttime when it is safe to do so and minimize light inside the vehicle to improve visibility. Watch for shining eyes -- you can sometimes spot a deer when your car's headlights reflect off their eyes.
- If you encounter a deer on the roadway, stay calm and brake but do not swerve into other lanes or risk losing control of your vehicle.
The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach recommends never feeding deer due to the risks of the deer transmitting chronic wasting disease. According to wildlife experts, deer who are fed by humans tend to become dependent on these easy food sources and are more susceptible to starvation, predation, disease, and vehicle collisions. It is against a deer’s natural biology to be fed by humans.
On September 15, 2020, Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance which prohibits the feeding of deer, which includes putting out grain, fodder, salt licks, fruit, vegetables, nuts, hay or other edible materials (including bird feed), which may be reasonably expected to result in deer feeding. Households with gardens or who display bird/squirrel feeders should follow the tips provided below to safely continue these practices:
- Bird/squirrel feeders should be displayed at least 5’ feet from the nearest ground surface and feeding structures should make it difficult or impossible for deer to access the feed. Tube feeders, hopper style feeders, and cage style suet feeders are all good options.
- Thistle seed, suet, and hummingbird nectar are feed options that are less attractive to deer than corn or sunflower seeds.
- Keep the area around your feeders clean, including cleaning up spilled seed.
Deer Resistant Plants
If you have experienced problems with foraging deer, try making your yard and garden less appealing to deer by choosing plants that deer find less desirable. While there is no way to completely “deer-proof” your garden, you can choose species that are less desirable. In general, deer prefer plants with lush foliage and high-water content (i.e. hostas), early spring plants like tulips and forsythia, and fruiting and berry-producing plants and vegetable gardens. Deer tend to be less attracted to herbs and strongly flavored plants, heavily scented foliage, plants with fuzzy or hairy leaves, prickly plants, ferns, and grasses. There are various online resources for deer-resistant plants that are adapted to Iowa (it is recommended to research plants' adaptation to the area before purchasing and planting. Local nurseries and the ISU Extension may be able to help you choose the right plants):
- Resistance of Trees and Shrubs to Deer Damage (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)
- Deer-Resistant Plants (Farmer's Almanac)
- 21 Deer Resistant Shrubs, Plants, and Flowers (Happy DIY Home)
If you are interested in having a plant that Is not deer resistant, careful planning can still allow you to enjoy them into your garden. Placing plants closest to doors or frequented areas, placing plants in containers in a secure area, or creating small fenced plots are all good options for protecting your plants from damage caused by deer.
Deer-Resistant Landscaping Design
Deer-resistant design used in gardens and landscaping is an alternative to fencing to minimize deer damage and camouflage inevitable deer damage. This concept is based on a comprehensive strategy of careful selection and design of hardscape features, deer-resistant plants, a variety of plant species, layers, and heights to create 'barriers,' and restrictive design/spacing around deer-attracting plants and produce.
- Listen to the "Deer-Resistant Design: Fence Free Solutions to Protect the Plants You Love" podcast by Joe Lamp'l/Gardener (link includes an article with tips and photos)
If you have persistent deer causing damage to your yard or garden, installation of fencing may be an option. Deer will rarely jump over a fence that is at least 8’ foot high or into a space that they perceive to be an enclosure. Fencing must be maintained of any holes or failures, however, because once a deer discovers the tasty crops inside it will be difficult to keep them out again even after the fencing has been repaired. If you are considering installing a fence within Iowa City, please review the Fences, Walls, And Hedges standards in the City code (14-4C-2, part L) and contact Neighborhood and Development Services (319-356-5120) to find out if you need a fence permit.
- Snow Fencing: Lattice type snow fencing can be used successfully around small garden plots, but deer may still jump the fence if too large of an area is surrounded. Snow fencing is cheaper than some other options and can easily be removed and reused from season-to-season.
- Angled Fencing: Deer have poor depth perception. A fence top angled at 45 degrees toward the outside will often deter a deer.
- 8-Foot Deer-Proof Fencing: Fencing constructed of woven wire and at a minimum of 8’ is best suited to keep deer out of a small, highly valued crop for an extended period. Please note that City code requires a fence permit for fences taller than 6’ or walls taller than 4’.
- Read: "Pros and Cons of Popular Deer Fencing" (The Spruce).
- Examples of decorative deer fencing (Houzz)
Deer repellents can be used in areas where damage pressure is light to moderate and the aesthetics of the planting cannot be compromised. However, deer repellents often need to be reapplied after repeated exposure to weather and they can lose their effectiveness as deer learn to tolerate them and when other food sources are in short supply. Repellents do not prevent or eliminate deer browse on plants, but only reduce it. Deer repellents are often ineffective at deterring antler rubbing by deer.
- Commercial Repellents: Much like insect spray, commercial deer repellents can be purchased at many nurseries, home and garden stores, some hardware stores, and at various online websites. If you wish to use repellent on edible plants, be ensure the product you purchase is safe for that type of use.
- Homemade repellents: DIY deer deterrent homebrew, mesh bags of human hair hung at least 3’ apart (replace monthly), or bars of strongly-fragranced soap hung from trees or placed near damaged plants, no more than 3’ apart (weathering actually makes the soap more effective!).
Use of visual or auditory deterrents can be temporarily effective, however, solutions such as strobe lights or noises may cause some complaints from neighbors. Sprinklers or motion-sensor lights may be less intrusive to the neighborhood and help deter some deer. However, deer can often quickly become accustomed to these tactics.
Deer are remarkably adept at becoming quickly habituated to human activity and urban life. This means that some non-lethal strategies are effective as part of a larger deer management plan, but cannot solely and completely address the ecological and societal impacts of deer overabundance. Please view our Deer Program FAQs page to learn more about different deer management techniques and ideas.