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

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By: Chenell - Lead Writer and Gardening Advocate
Published:

If some of your sunflowers are missing leaves or even the whole flower you’re probably wondering if it was that deer that you 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.

Deer eat sunflower seeds, flower 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.

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!

This means that sunflowers are not deer resistant by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, I’d venture to guess that your sunflower patch might actually attract deer.

How to Tell If Deer Are Eating Your Sunflowers

There are a few ways to tell if a deer is the one 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.

If you already have a fence up, make sure to check your fence frequently for weak spots or even a broke fence pole or post.

For many, a fence can be a large expense or just unrealistic given where they live. Thankfully, there are other ways to keep deer away from your sunflowers without putting up a fence.

2. 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.

I set this one up in my yard to test it out and its been a few weeks of testing now. No deer eating sunflowers over here! Plus, it scares the crap out of squirrels, who will also eat your sunflowers.

It’s not perfect, but it will definitely catch a deer roaming around your garden beds.

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.

Plus, your sunflowers will get watered in the process. 🙂

3. 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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4. Deer Repellent Sprays

There are plenty of deer repellant sprays you can try out as well. This one and this one get 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. But these seem to work wonders on flower patches and hostas.

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.

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 tend 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, it 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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7. Irish Spring Soap

Irish Spring is a common method gardeners 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. Human Hair

Some people swear by this method because of the scent it will put off when a deer gets close. You can go to the local barber and ask if they have a bag of fresh-cut hair. While they might look at you strange, I’m sure they won’t mind getting rid of it.

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.

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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.

Marigolds seem to work wonders when planted as a border around a garden bed. Some even say these can help keep squirrels away as well. While it’s not a foolproof solution, it can and has worked for a lot of folks.

Deer do not like garlic, onions, and most herbs. 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?

The answer to your question is no. 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.

It may take some testing and a combination of some of these methods to keep them away from your sunflower plants for good.

chenell

AUTHOR

Hi - I'm Chenell! I'm on a mission to learn how to grow my own food, and help other people do the same.

I lived in the city for almost a decade, but after moving to the suburbs, I started making my Iowa blood proud and growing all kinds of food 🌽 I started this website to help keep track of the journey while teaching others the mistakes and things I'm learning along the way. You can follow along with the journey and learn more here.

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