Do Deer Eat Sunflowers? [+ 9 Ways to Keep Them Out of Your Garden!]

what animals eat sunflowers

Deer are browsers, which means they eat a variety of plants. This includes both broadleaf and coniferous plants, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds. There is no one food that deer will always eat, but they tend to prefer plants that are high in protein and nutrients.

If some of your sunflowers are missing leaves or even the whole flower you’re probably wondering which animals eat sunflowers. Was it that deer that I saw yesterday and thought was so cute roaming around the backyard?

Do Deer Eat Sunflowers?

Not only do deer eat them, but sunflowers are a favorite food of deer.

They’ll eat the seeds, the buds, and sometimes even the leaves if they’re really hungry.

But the extent to which they will eat them varies depending on the time of year and location. In the early spring, deer may consume the new growth at the top of the sunflower plant.

As the plants grow taller, deer will eat the flowers and buds. By late summer and fall, deer will mostly eat the seeds but don’t be surprised if an entire flower head is gone.

Because deer are tall, even some of the larger types of sunflowers don’t stand a chance.

Why Do Deer Love Sunflowers?

Sunflower seeds contain a good amount of oils, protein, and fats that many animals need to survive. And they taste great to deer!

Which means that sunflowers are not deer resistant by any stretch of the imagination.

What Do Deer Generally Eat?

Deer are herbivores, so they primarily eat plants. They will consume a variety of different types of vegetation, but they have certain preferences.

How to Tell If Deer Are Eating Your Sunflowers

There are a few ways to tell if a deer is the culprit eating your sunflowers.

1. Footprints

If the ground is muddy or it recently rained, you might be able to see distinct deer footprints near the scene of the crime (i.e. your sunflower patch).

Deer have hooves that are separated in the middle, like they appear in this picture.

deer hooveprints in mud

2. Flattened Nearby Plants

Deer can weigh up to 150 pounds, so they are not lightweight creatures that can get in and out without leaving some traces behind.

If you have grasses or smaller plants nearby that are just flattened like a human stepped all over them, you’re likely looking at a deer invasion.

3. Whole Plants Are Eaten

While rabbits and other animals take small bites and don’t eat as much, deer will consume a whole plant to satiate its hunger.

If the plants damaged are fully eaten or huge chunks are missing, you are probably dealing with a deer problem.

4. Deer Scat

One of the more obvious ways to tell if deer are eating your plants is to check for droppings nearby. Deer scat is pretty easy to spot. They are usually round and in small piles, as opposed to a continuous trail like rabbit scat.

Check nearby your sunflower patch and see if you can’t find any of this to signal you’re dealing with a deer (or multiple deer).

deer scat

How to Keep Deer Away From Your Sunflowers

Now that we know bambi might be the culprit for your half-eaten sunflowers, how can we keep them from eating more of our sunflower garden?

When plants are young or you’ve transplanted sunflower seedlings outside, they are especially vulnerable, so I’d recommend something like this until they are big enough to stand on their own.

1. Fencing

Putting up a fence is probably the only foolproof way to keep deer away from your plants. However, the fence needs to be at least 8 feet tall. For many, that can be a large expense, so there are other ways to get rid of deer that are cheaper.

deer jumping fence

Make sure to check your fence frequently for weak spots or even a broke fence pole or post.

2. Red Cat Eyes

These solar-powered lights turn on at night and make deer and other animals think there is another predator roaming about. This simulation of a predator can help deter deer, fox, raccoons, skunks, and more.

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  • Fox
  • Raccoons
  • Coyote
  • Skunk
  • Cats
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3. Motion Activated Sprinkler

Motion activated sprinklers are some of my favorite options for keeping unwanted animals out of the garden.

Deer can be very skiddish. Loud noises and sudden movements usually scare them off for at least a little while.

Once this sprinkler goes off, it’ll definitely have them running in the other direction. The nice part about this sprinkler is that it won’t consistently shoot in a way that animals get used to. With deer being pretty clever, they might figure out how to get around this going off, but that feature makes sure they won’t. And, your sunflowers will get watered in the process.

This one even comes with a tripod for more height to scare the deer.

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A motion activated sprinkler works wonders for keeping animals (and people!) out of your yard. It sprays intermittently as it detects continuous motion so animals won't get used to the timing of it.

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4. Deer Repellent Sprays

There are plenty of deer repellant sprays you can try out as well. This is the one that gets the best reviews and is made from natural ingredients including:

  • Peppermint oil
  • Garlic oil
  • Putrefied egg solids

Now, that last ingredient should make it pretty obvious, but a lot of these deer repellent sprays smell awful, even like rotten eggs. After all, they’re trying to keep deer away with a bad scent.

If you’re going to eventually be eating whatever you’re trying to keep the deer from eating, either try another method or make sure you wash everything really good.

You can make your own deer repellants with any combination of chili peppers, garlic, peppermint, and other strong smelling plant extracts. Chili pepper spray is a common one that many people swear by.

deer in the garden

5. Deer Resistant Plants

Another method is to grow some deer resistant plants nearby. Some of the more common plants considered to be deer resistant are:

  • Almost any herb – most have such a strong scent that deer trend to steer clear of them
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Scallions
  • Barberry bush
  • Fragrant sumac bushes
  • Sagebrush
  • Foxgloves
  • Poppies
  • Zinnias

You can also see this full list of deer resistant plants for more ideas.

Remember, that while deer tend not to eat these, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to nature. If a deer is hungry enough, they may just eat some of the ones on that list!

6. Deer Netting

Netting can be a great option for keeping deer and other animals from munching on your sunflower seeds. However, this one is low on the list because you probably don’t want to put some netting on top of the beautiful flowers.

While it can be effective, it might not be the best option.

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Garden netting helps keep animals from ravaging your garden:

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  • Birds
  • Squirrels
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7. Irish Spring Soap

Irish Spring is a common method gardener’s use when attempting to repel deer from their plants. The scent is very strong, and most deer will stay away from something that potent.

You can put a few bars into nylon stockings or old pantyhose and hang them from a stick or fence post.

8. Scarecrow

One of the more tried and true methods of keeping unwanted animals out of your garden is the good old scarecrow! Or fake owl in this case.

Owls are predators, and just seeing one nearby is enough to scare away many birds and even larger animals, like deer.

Plastic Owl Scarecrow Sculpture

Fake owls are great for keeping many animals out of the garden, including squirrels, deer, birds, and more.

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9. Companion Planting

Companion planting is when you grow other plants nearby that help each other, such as helping repel certain insects that can destroy a particular crop.

But you can use the concept of companion planting to help keep deer away as well. Deer do not like garlic, onions, and most herbs. Planting these nearby can help keep deer away, but considering they grow at much low heights than sunflowers, they might not be a great option.

Catnip grows to about 2-3 feet tall and could help get rid of deer from the garden.

You can also grow sunflowers near your raised beds with peppermint or other pungent herbs which would give them some more height as well.

Are Sunflowers Deer Resistant?

One thing is for sure is that many animals eat sunflowers, and deer are definitely one of those animals. They’ll even eat young sunflower plants and can damage the whole plant.

Deer are grazers, and will eat most edible plants that don’t smell bad and aren’t poisonous. It may take some testing and a combination of some of these methods to keep them away from your sunflower plants for good.

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