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Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is not a food deer choose to eat if there are tastier, less-prickly foods around. This includes whitetail deer, which have the deserved reputation of being voracious plant-eaters. This is mainly due to cucumber’s rough texture – not something deer prefer. The cucumber plant also has fine, irritating hairs. You may have noticed this yourself when gardening!
However, deer will eat pretty much anything if they are hungry enough. In other words, deer usually won’t go after the cukes growing in your garden, but they will eat them if they can’t find another food source. The plant’s tips, in particular, are popular. Most likely because the irritating hairs are less prevalent on the tips.
You may find that smooth-skinned cucumbers become a favorite of your local deer herd. Not all cucumbers are rough-textured!
Much of what makes cucumbers unappetizing to deer doesn’t affect humans, but humans’ attempts to make the edible parts of the plant sweeter can be an issue if starving deer are around. If the cucumbers have smooth skin and an absence of bitterness, the deer could potentially aim for the cucumbers instead of other “famine-food” plants.
In This Guide:
Do Deer Eat Cucumber Peels?
You know how sometimes you bite into a cucumber slice only to find it has a weird, bitter taste to it? Cucumber peels tend to be where much of that bitter taste collects. The ends of the cucumber also tend to be more bitter than the middle of the cucumber.
Deer don’t like bitter foods, spiky foods, hairy foods, and so on. Anything that isn’t smooth and sweet to them (again, to them. Which means you can’t assume that something you find distasteful will repel deer) doesn’t make good eating.
So, cucumber peels aren’t the food of choice for them. If you find bite marks in cucumber peels in your garden, and the local deer aren’t starving, then something else made those marks. Groundhogs and rabbits are potential culprits, as are crows, coyotes, and raccoons.
Is Cucumber Good for Deer?
About 95% of a cucumber is water! Cucumbers are a good hydration source for deer but not much more than that. Cucumbers do offer some minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. They also contain vitamins such as K, A, and C.
Cucumbers aren’t bad for deer. As in, they’re not poisonous or toxic. When you consider the hydration and small levels of nutrients, cucumbers are good for deer. They just don’t gain much energy from them.
Cucumbers might give deer some calories in times of famine, but cucumbers are not very nutritious for them. They do not contain enough nutrients to sustain deer for a long time. In fact, a whole cucumber weighing around 10 oz contains only 30 calories. Hardly enough to keep a big animal like a deer going all day!
How to Keep Deer From Eating Cucumber Plants
In times with regular or abundant water and food for deer, they likely won’t touch your cucumber plants because of the texture and taste of the plant.
That being said, you never know when changes will occur that suddenly reduce the food supply for the local deer population. It’s an excellent idea to assume deer will try to get to the cucumbers at some point and to prepare your garden accordingly.
Exclusion is your best option. If you can install a fence (and even better, a fence and netting over the plants) that is tall enough to prevent the deer from jumping over, do that. That’s going to give you the most peace regarding deer and what you’re growing.
If you can’t install a regular fence, either because your HOA forbids it or you’re not allowed to install one tall enough to prevent deer jumping over, look into an electric fence.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst recommends baiting the fence with peanut butter on a metal tab. When the deer try to eat the peanut butter and get a shock from the fence, it should help train them to stay away from the area. This only works if you have a resident deer herd – traveling deer herds won’t ‘learn’ to stay away from your electric fence.
You also have to look at repellents. Creating borders and fields of deer-resistant hedges and flowers can be excellent. You’re not relying on the flowers for your own food, and deer won’t relish picking their way past thorny hedges. Try creating a combination of plantings from this list from Rutgers University.
Does Cucumber Grow Back If It Gets Eaten?
Cucumber plants are annuals, meaning that if the plant portions above the soil are destroyed, that’s it for the plant for the season. If hungry deer manage to rip apart most of the plant, you can assume that the plant is not growing back.
However, if a deer eats a few leaves or a cucumber or two, the plant will keep going as long as its growing season allows it to. Of course, if deer are so hungry that they’re eating that much of a cucumber plant, they might come back to finish it.
Deer-Resistant Cucumber Varieties
You want to look for two features when choosing cucumbers that you want to be more deer-resistant than others: spiky peels and more cucurbitacins.
Varieties made for pickling tend to have lumpy, bumpy skin that isn’t very smooth, which deer won’t like. These varieties include ‘Bush‘ and ‘Wisconsin SMR 58,’ according to Taste of Home. Remember that pickling cucumbers can be either pickled or eaten fresh.
If you don’t want to grow pickling varieties, look for varieties with slightly higher levels of cucurbitacins. These compounds give cucumbers that bitter taste, although poor growing conditions encourage increased cucurbitacins.
Because less-bitter varieties are usually more welcome in the garden, it’s hard to find a list of varieties with more cucurbitacins. But varieties like ‘Jazzer‘ and ‘Holland‘ tend to have fewer cucurbitacins, according to Harvest to Table, so if you’re hoping for bitterness to drive off deer, avoid those varieties.
Look into rarer, less-known varieties of cucumbers, too. The maroon cucumber (Cucumis anguria) bears small, very spiky fruit. The African horned cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus) is another variety not on a deer’s favorite foods list.
If you want to eat those cucumbers, peel them to remove most of the bitterness.
Verdict: Is Cucumber Deer-Resistant?
Do deer eat cucumber plants? They will, if hungry enough. However, they won’t eat them if more palatable or tasty food is around. You can treat cucumbers as somewhat deer-resistant, with the caveat that low food supplies will make deer attempt to eat even the plants they usually wouldn’t.