By Victoria Lee Blackstone

Your perfectly maintained hosta (Hosta spp.) garden may look like an inviting salad buffet to grazing deer. Deer enjoy eating hostas so much that they may pass by other plants to devour succulent hosta leaves. Thwarting their attempts is no simple task, and it may require you to incorporate several strategies to save your prized plants. Hostas are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Hostas in Bloom Along Garden Path
credit: JPLDesigns/iStock/Getty Images
Deer typically eat hosta foliage and flowers but sometimes leave the stems.

Telltale Signs

Deer are among many animals that feed primarily at night. If you see signs of feeding damage to your hostas, identifying the culprit is the first step toward preventing damage. Unlike rabbits and rodents, which nibble at hostas and leave clean 45-degree-angle cuts, deer pull on plants and twist them as they eat. This leaves ragged, shredded edges because of the distinctive pattern of a deer's teeth. Unlike rabbits and rodents, which have upper middle teeth and sharp incisors, deer do not have teeth in the middle of their upper jaw.

Prevent Their Access

Excluding deer from your garden prevents them from eating your hostas, but it can be a costly project if you construct fencing to keep them out. Because deer are adept jumpers, vertical fences must be at least 8 feet high. Slanted fences, which can be only 5 feet high, confuse a deer's field of vision, but they must face outward at a 60-degree angle. As an alternative, you can cover your hostas with netting or floating row covers, but this is a daily task that requires covering the plants at night and uncovering them during the day. The edges of the netting or fabric must be secured so wind does not remove it.

Offend Their Senses

Repellents that are offensive to a deer's smell or taste have varying degrees of effectiveness and may be only temporarily successful. Repellents typically are sprayed on hostas, or around them, and require repeat applications. Products generally are reapplied every one to two weeks and more often if rain or irrigation dilutes them. Common ingredients for repellents include red pepper, eggs, garlic and animal proteins in the form of meat meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service notes that the most effective repellents are those that emit sulfurous odors.

Frighten Them Away

Scare tactics are often effective for deterring deer, but you may need to change tactics as a deer's comfort level with one method renders it ineffective. Deer spook easily from visual deterrents, such as aluminum pie plates hung from trees that move in the wind. Motion-activated sprinklers shoot a stream of water as interlopers enter the sensor's field. The most reliable deterrent is a dog that patrols the yard and barks at the deer.