Geraniums, also known as pelargoniums and storksbills, are flowering plants with over 280 recognized species. Since they can be grown fairly easily, some gardeners wonder do deer eat geraniums and what are the best ways of preventing deer from eating these popular ornamental perennials.
Today, I’ll be exploring what – if anything – makes geraniums just so attractive to deer and how to prevent deer from getting anywhere near them in the first place.
Do Deer Eat Geraniums
While some geranium species are rarely browsed by deer, most species can be described as severely damaged on a regular basis. Unfortunately, geraniums are attractive to deer.
If you have geraniums in your garden, you’re going to have to take measures to protect them. However, since geraniums are toxic, deer are likely to stop eating them soon after they try them for the first time.
Is It Safe for Deer to Eat Geraniums
According to ASPCA, geraniums are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses (we’re interested in the latter since they are most closely related to deer). Geraniums contain geraniol and linalool, which can cause severe gastrointestinal, skin, and mental issues such as vomiting, cramping, but also dermatitis, and even depression.
Geraniol is alcohol (but not the drinkable kind) often found in citronella oil. It is characterized as a D2B toxic material – it is mutagenic, causing irritation of the skin and the eye, as well as chronic toxic effects.
However, the effects of these materials are temporary and the symptoms pass quickly. If ingested in large quantities, though, delayed chronic illnesses could appear – such as cancer, allergies, and changes to the genes.
Linalool, on the other hand, is alcohol often found in flowers and spice plants. It’s often used for the production of insecticides, but it’s not used for deer repellents (unfortunately). If inhaled or eaten in large enough quantities, it can cause irritation, pain, and allergic reactions.
Unfortunately, despite these effects, deer still seem to come back to geraniums once they recover. Call it stubbornness or persistence – geraniums are definitely a target for deer, despite clearly being painful.
Will Geraniums Regrow After Deer Eat Them?
Depending on how much of the plant the deer ate – there’s a possibility that the plant won’t regrow. If the deer eats the flower, leaves, and stem – it’s highly likely that you won’t see a new plant grow in your garden.
However, these plants are perennial flowering plants – their flowers will regrow if they’re eaten early enough in the season. In the wild, geraniums are eaten by deer, caterpillars, and beetles.
They can’t survive the winter – even the species adapted to European climates (which is a stark difference from their native African weather) become dormant in the winter. Once the sun shines and the ground thaws in the following Spring though, they come back from dormancy and their flowers soon start growing.
To sum up – there’s nothing to worry about if a deer ate a few flowers, but you might be in trouble if they ate the stem.
Are There Deer Resistant Geraniums
All geraniums are deer resistant to a certain degree. They’re all toxic to deer, and while the toxicity itself isn’t that dangerous for deer, it’s unpleasant enough to drive them away.
One cultivar of geraniums, though, deserves a special mention. The scented-leaved geranium is a cultivar known for its scent. This scent is released by the plant when it’s touched – some species of this cultivar release scents that are very unpleasant to deer.
Deer seem to dislike all scents, even ones pleasant to the human nose, while the same scents attract insects that pollinate the plant.
How to Keep Deer from Eating Geraniums
In my opinion, the most effective way of keeping deer away from your geraniums is to plant scented-leaved geraniums. These plants aren’t only unattractive to deer because of their scent, but just like all geraniums – they cause short-term medical issues.
As I explained earlier in the first section, though, this often isn’t enough – deer still return to geraniums despite the pain they cause. This is why the additional step you’ll have to take is keeping deer out of the garden.
Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden
Figuring out how to keep deer out of the garden is an issue that bugs more gardeners and farmers than you’d think. It’s especially common with gardeners that grow squash, pumpkin, and sunflowers, but flowers aren’t safe from them either.
There are three basic methods to keeping deer out of the garden – mechanical obstacles, deterrents, and scare strategies.
Although normally the first thing I’d recommend is installing a fence around your entire property boundary, you could also consider building a metal cage around your geraniums. It’s easier than it sounds and it has a great chance against deer (as they are not known for their lock-opening skills).
However, if deer turn away from your geraniums, chances are they’ll turn to some other plant in your garden and that is far from ideal.
This is why rural landscaping experts recommend the installation of really tall fences. Deer can’t jump fences that are 2.4 meters tall or taller (about 7 feet and 10 inches), while even that is an extreme example and most deer can’t reach that height.
Installing a tall metal fence is almost a guarantee that deer won’t invade your garden.
Unfortunately, this option isn’t without its drawbacks. Firstly, it’s a lot of work – especially if you have a very large garden. Secondly, a metal fence of that size is going to cost a lot, which makes it impossible if you’re on a budget.
If you buy a weaker fence that provides less resistance, deer will likely find a way to power through it, so that isn’t an option.
Here are the alternatives.
Repellents can be a great solution for a while, but they’re not without their faults. While they initially seem effective, as deer smell them or take a bite of a plant and start to detest it, it’s often found that deer become accustomed to it.
Just like all living beings, they learn to ignore the things they come in contact with often, and that pepper-based repellent is all of a sudden useless.
On top of that, repellents (both homemade and industrial-grade) need to be reapplied. They’re water-based, after all, and they’re either washed away by rain or they evaporate.
Not all is negative, though! Repellents provide you with a sort of shock value for deer – the deer used to browsing your garden will be surprised to smell something new and is likely to leave it alone for a short while.
While motion-activated sprinklers, lights, and sudden loud noises are all sound scare strategies (they’re also inexpensive), there is no better scare strategy than a guard dog.
A deer will never risk its life for food by entering predator territory – and this should be underlined when the predator is a large, barking dog. If a deer does somehow end up in your garden, your dog will chase it out!
You may also like to read Do Deer Eat Zinnias
Making Home-Made Deer Repellent
Commercial deer repellents are effective, but there’s no need to waste money when you can make your own deer repellent at home. All ingredients you need are easily found in every home.
Smells That Repel Deer
Deer are repelled by predator scent (another reason why dogs are effective), but more importantly for our topic – you can use tabasco, pepper, mint, thyme, garlic, and most importantly – rotten eggs.
The most effective ingredient for homemade deer repellent seems to be boiled eggs that have been left to rot for a few days.
How to Make Home-Made Deer Repellent
Making homemade deer repellent is very easy, but know in advance that this process is, quite frankly, disgusting if you’re using rotten eggs. Think about how bad it will smell to the deer, though, as their sense of smell is much stronger than ours.
All you need is water and any one of the nasty-smelling ingredients I mentioned above.
Step 1 – Grind the Ingredients
Take a blender and grind the ingredients you chose to make the repellent with. You can add tabasco in literally every combination as animals naturally hate spiciness.
Step 2 – Mix with Water
Mix the blended ingredients with water and make sure to filter out the small pieces so you don’t clog the sprayer.
Step 3 – Apply the Mixture
Now, all that’s left is to spray this all over your plants and watch for the results. Keep in mind that you’ll have to reapply this and that deer could get used to it with time.
Verdict: Do Deer Eat Geraniums
Unfortunately, studies prove that deer do not stray away from geraniums. However, they most likely don’t have a good time afterward, as geraniums are toxic to all animals. The symptoms are short-term, though, and it’s possible that they’re not strong enough to deter deer on their own.
This is why it’s necessary to protect your garden from deer. Do this by choosing scented leaved varieties of geranium. Alternatively, you could install a fence, let your dog freely roam, or use repellents.
Don’t forget that deer aren’t confrontational animals (in 99.9% of cases), so shooing them away yourself is always an option too.