Do Deer Eat Milkweed? Learn How to PROTECT Your Plants and Pollinators in 2023

As a nature lover and passionate deer enthusiast, I have often wondered: do deer eat milkweed? It turns out that despite being known as deer-resistant, milkweed plants are indeed a favorite food source for these animals. However, with a few simple strategies, you can protect both your plants and the important pollinators they attract.

Deer are known for their selective feeding habits, typically avoiding plants that contain high levels of toxins. However, despite being known as deer-resistant, milkweed plants are not immune to the appetites of deer. The leaves and flowers of the milkweed plant are particularly attractive to deer, as well as various bugs, insects, and larvae. In fact, the toxicity level in milkweed plants does not generally affect deer, making them a possible food source for these animals.

Do Deer Eat Milkweed?

Wildlife, such as deer, often find milkweed plants to be a tasty treat. Although deer usually avoid eating plants that contain harmful toxins, milkweed seems to be an exception. It is important to note that whether or not deer consume milkweed will depend on where you live and the type of deer that inhabit the area. However, if you plant milkweed in a location that deer frequent, it is likely that they will take a nibble as they pass by.

Is Milkweed Deer Resistant?

Although milkweed plants have natural toxins that make them unpalatable to most wildlife, it doesn’t mean that they are completely deer-resistant. Some varieties of milkweed plants can be a tasty treat for deer, while others are generally avoided. It’s essential to know which types of milkweed plants are more deer-resistant if you want to attract pollinators to your garden while also keeping your plants safe. For example, swamp milkweed is a great choice for deer-friendly flower gardens.

Deer Damage to Milkweed and Pollination

Deer‘s fondness for milkweed flowers can cause significant damage to the plant and reduce their capacity to attract pollinators. Deer often eat the flowers and fruits of the milkweed plant, which diminishes their overall reproductive success. The sweet nectar and pollen in milkweed might taste great to deer, but it is crucial to understand that milkweed plants are crucial to the survival of monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Thus, it’s essential to take steps to prevent deer from feeding on milkweed plants.

Effectiveness of Prevention Measures

Various measures can prove useful in keeping deer from feeding on milkweed plants. A deer fence around your garden can be a great way to protect your plants from large deer herds. As an alternative, using repellents and scents that deer don’t like can help keep them at bay. However, some of these prevention measures might not always be effective. So, it’s necessary to observe the impact of your deer prevention measures and make modifications as necessary.

Attracting Pollinators to Milkweed

Milkweed plants play an essential role in supporting the life cycle of monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Planting milkweed plants in your garden can be a great way to attract pollinators. It’s important to choose the right variety of milkweed plants, depending on the type of pollinators you want to support. Common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed are attractive to a wide range of pollinators. You can also add a range of other native perennials that bloom throughout the growing season to attract more pollinators.

Growing Milkweed in Gardens

For optimal growth, milkweed plants require specific conditions. When planting milkweed in your garden, choose a spacious, sunny and well-draining site. While milkweed plants are generally drought-resistant, they can benefit from occasional watering during long dry spells. Mulching around your milkweed plants can also help retain moisture and reduce weed growth. It’s important to note that different species of milkweed plants are suited to different regions. Therefore, it’s essential to choose the right milkweed variety for your climate zone.

Ideal Conditions for Optimal Growth

To thrive, milkweed plants need well-draining soil, full sun, and lots of space to grow. They prefer a slightly alkaline soil pH between 6.4 and 8.2. You can amend poor soil conditions with compost or organic soil amendments to improve drainage and provide nutrients. Maintaining a regular water supply can help support the growth and health of milkweed plants.

Milkweed Varieties for Different Regions

Choosing the right milkweed variety for your region can help ensure optimal growth and blooming. For example, common milkweed is suited to North America, while tropical milkweed is ideal for southern regions with warm, humid climates. To find which milkweed variety is best suited to your region, check with your local nursery or Cooperative Extension Service. They can provide you with information on the best types of milkweed plants to grow in your area.

How to Deter Deer from Your Garden

Here are the most effective ways to keep deer out of your yard:

1. Fences

A sturdy fence is the most effective way to keep deer away from your garden. Go for a fence at least 8 feet high and a solid structure to prevent deer from digging beneath it.

  • Pros: Fences act as a physical barrier that effectively keeps deer out.
  • Cons: Fences can be expensive and require maintenance.

2. Deer-Resistant Plants

Planting suitable deer-resistant plants like daffodils, lavender, marigolds, or sage has been known to keep deer from munching on your plants.

  • Pros: These are low-cost and low-maintenance solutions.
  • Cons: There’s no guarantee that these plants won’t be eaten.

3. Netting or Covers

Using covers or mesh netting is a good way to protect specific plants from deer damage. This provides a secure barrier to prevent deer from accessing your plants.

  • Pros: These methods work well to protect plants directly from deer damage.
  • Cons: They can be tricky to install correctly and unsightly to look at.

4. Use Deterrent Sprays and Repellents

Repellents like mothballs, garlic sprays, and predator urine give off smells that deer despise. These are cost-effective solutions that keep deer away from your plants.

  • Pros: Cost-effective solutions that can work well in some situations.
  • Cons: These sprays and repellents need to be reapplied regularly and may not work in all situations. They may also have a strong odour.

5. Lights and Sounds

Deer are highly sensitive to noise and light. Installing motion-activated lights or using noise-makers like wind chimes, around your garden, can be effective in keeping deer out.

  • Pros: Affordable solutions that can be effective in some situations.
  • Cons: May not work with all deer, and could be bothersome to neighbours.

6. Eliminate Possible Food Sources

Deer are attracted to a garden because it provides them with a food source. Removing bird feeders or fallen fruit from the ground can help reduce deer visits to your garden.

  • Pros: Eliminating food sources is a free and straightforward solution that can help reduce deer visits.
  • Cons: It may be difficult or impossible to eliminate all possible food sources, and they may return if there is not enough food elsewhere.

7. Oscillating Sprinklers

Deer are afraid of being sprayed, and oscillating sprinklers know how to make it rain. They keep your plants hydrated while acting as an effective natural deterrent.

  • Pros: Offers a natural solution that keeps your plants hydrated while keeping deer out.
  • Cons: It may promote overwatering, which could lead to other problems.

8. Plant a Border

A border of tall and dense plants can serve as a natural barrier to prevent deer from navigating their way into the garden.

  • Pros: The natural and attractive way to keep deer out, also offering shade and charm.
  • Cons: The width of the border garden may be too narrow, making it easy for the deer to jump over.

9. Dog House and Bone Meal

Protecting your garden perimeter with a dog house or sprinkling bone meal in your garden can create the illusion of predator presence, which can deter deer from hanging around.

  • Pros: Dogs are excellent at deterring deer. Bone meal has proved effective in some situations.
  • Cons: Dogs need to be trained to patrol the perimeter, and bone meal attracts dogs to dig up the garden soil.

10. Combine Them

Combining methods can be the most effective strategy to keep deer away from your garden. For instance, using a fence with deer-resistant plants, netting and deterrent sprays; it’s like an all-out war on the deer, and your garden is going to come out as the reigning champion.

  • Pros: This multi-dimensional approach works effectively, and different methods target different senses in deer.
  • Cons: Combining methods can be costly.


So, do deer eat milkweed? The answer is a resounding yes. Despite being known for their selective eating habits, deer cannot resist the attraction of milkweed plants. In fact, the toxicity level in milkweed plants does not generally affect deer, which makes them a common delight for these animals.

However, just because deer love to eat milkweed doesn’t mean we have to give up on protecting these plants and the pollinators that depend on them. With the right measures, we can still enjoy the beauty of milkweed in our gardens while keeping the deer at bay. Stay tuned for our upcoming guide on how to protect your milkweed plants and pollinators in 2023!

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