Sunflowers are grown for their seeds, and vast fields of their yellow bobbing flower heads are a common sight in many warm climates during the summertime. All too often an entire crop can be compromised by pests, and since deer are often seen as agricultural pests, people ask do deer eat sunflowers.
In today’s article, I’ll be uncovering how deer can affect sunflowers, how to keep deer from eating these lovely summer flowers, and what is attractive to deer to sunflowers in the first place.
- Why Repellents Aren’t a Long-Term Solution
- What About Introducing New Species
- Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden
Do Deer Eat Sunflowers
Yes, deer eat sunflowers regularly, and they’re especially attracted to young sunflowers. Among other herbaceous plants, the sunflower is categorized as a frequently damaged plant.
Deer are known to eat all parts of a sunflower with the exception of the stem – they’ll eat the seeds, the leaves, and the flowers. Sunflower seeds are rich in protein, making them a great nutritional snack for deer.
While munching on flowering crops, deer are known to trample and destroy rows upon rows of sunflowers, which is actually the primary reason they’re seen as pests.
It can be argued that nothing bad will happen if ten sunflower plants are eaten out of a field of thousands. The problem is that deer will eat ten and destroy fifty more as they walk.
Is It Safe for Deer to Eat Sunflowers
All parts of a sunflower are non-toxic to deer and so unless pesticides have been sprayed on a crop of sunflowers they’re entirely safe for deer to eat.
This is also the case for people and other wild animals such as Boar. Wild boars in particular are known to love eating sunflowers. Since these animals are often heavier than deer, they too can cause massive damage to sunflower crops.
Will Sunflowers Regrow After Deer Eat Them
Sunflowers are surprisingly hardy plants and they can continue growing if deer only eat the leaves and don’t touch the stem or the head. If deer eat the head, the situation is a bit trickier.
A sunflower with its head bitten off can still grow another head, but this depends on the general health of the plant and the weather. A well-fed sunflower in good soil will typically survive and reflower.
There can be remaining dormant buds in the leaves (if any are left) and another flower might grow, but if it’s too late in the season, you might as well write them off.
On the positive side, if a deer bit the head off of one of your sunflowers early in the season, chances are high that the head will regrow.
When it comes to breaking the stem and trampling the plants, a sunflower likely won’t heal from this.
Are There Deer-Resistant Sunflowers
Although results are mixed, there are indeed deer-resistant sunflower varieties. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- Mammoth Grey Stripe
- Henry Wilde
- Dwarf Double Sungold
- Evening Colors
- Italian White
Although they’re categorized as deer resistant, keep in mind that no plant is truly deer resistant; a starving deer will eat a prickly cactus if that’s what it takes to survive.
How to Keep Deer from Eating Sunflowers
To keep deer from eating your sunflowers, the most effective method is to prevent them from entering your garden as a whole.
You can also plant native and unpalatable species or use repellents, but they’re not as effective as some of the methods commonly used. Read on to find out more.
Why Repellents Aren’t a Long-Term Solution
Firstly, you’d need to apply repellents to every single one of your sunflower plants. This is doable if you only have ten plants, but it’s impossible to do it regularly if you have an entire field of sunflowers.
The second issue is that repellents evaporate over time and you need to replenish them constantly. They’re also washed away by rain – you could end up spending too much money on this because it simply isn’t a long-term method of repelling deer.
As a side note that is more relevant to other deer-loving crops, repellents don’t work in freezing temperatures (below 0° Celsius). Wintertime is usually when deer are at their most active.
So, while repellents are effective with deer for a short while, they’re a terrible long-term solution.
What About Introducing New Species
It’s true that you can deter deer by selecting plants that deer won’t eat (such as cedar, fir, barberry, boxwood, etc. – see the full list here). This is basically like planting a fence but using plants instead of an actual metal fence.
While this method is somewhat effective, as deer can’t really see or smell the sunflowers because of other plants, it’s also prone to failure. A deer can still pass through the plant fence you set up and locate the sunflowers if they are hungry or curious enough.
This method is also costly as you have to plant potentially hundreds of new plants. Here are some more options to consider if you are looking to protect your entire garden from deer.
Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden
By far the most effective methods of protecting your property from an invasion of deer is fencing and scare mechanics.
Deer can jump very high, but they can’t jump over a 7-foot-tall fence. Building a strong fence will almost guarantee a deer-free garden.
However, many gardeners find this investment too expensive and there are some cheaper solutions that can be employed.
The cheapest scare method is letting a dog in your garden. It probably won’t hurt your sunflowers, while a deer won’t go anywhere near a garden that has a dog inside. Even if a deer invades your garden, it’ll quickly run away from the inquisitive protective nature of a dog.
You don’t need to worry about a deer hurting your dog as they’re not confrontational animals. They will simply dart away from whence they came rather than hanging about to pick a fight.
Another option is installing motion-activated systems. Sprinkling water, playing loud noises over speakers, and starting bright lights is something that will definitely deter deer as they’re naturally afraid of it.
Motion sensors ensure that this method works both day and night. There are expensive integrated systems you can find online, but you can also make your own if you’re handy with electronics.
Making Home-Made Deer Repellent
Instead of opting for store-bought repellents, it’s possible to make your own repellent at home.
Smells That Repel Deer
While many smells deter deer – pepper, garlic, chili flakes, predator smells – no repellent is more effective than putrid eggs. It’s the best base for homemade deer repellent.
How to Make Home-Made Deer Repellent
Quick and easy, here’s the best recipe for making a homemade deer repellent.
All you need is warm water and an egg.
Step 1 – Blend the Egg and Strain It
Put the egg in a blender with water and blend it thoroughly. You have to strain it too, as it will clog the spray bottle if you don’t.
For added impact, you could also add hot pepper oil or tabasco sauce to this mix, but it’s not essential or necessary.
Step 2 – Spray It
Spray this mixture on the foliage of your sunflowers. You don’t have to spray it on the entire field of sunflowers, just the outer rows to deter the deer. Make sure to reapply every two weeks.
Verdict: Do Deer Eat Sunflowers
Unfortunately, deer are a pest when it comes to sunflowers and you’ll have to find a way to keep them away from your crop if you want the best chance of a bumper harvest.
The positive thing is – they’re large animals and they can be kept at bay with mechanical obstacles such as motion sensors that will light up or make a sound when deer come too close.
Repellents can work for a short while, but they’re no good as a long-term strategy.
Alternatively, building a large fence or introducing non-edible plants is the best long-term and most effective (but also the most expensive) way of keeping them out.
And finally, if you have a dog, put it to good use and use it as a scare tactic to keep deer off your property and force them away.