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Do deer eat pumpkins? Yes, they most certainly do! Thankfully, pumpkins aren’t bad for deer and we have many solutions for keeping deer out of your pumpkin patch.

When summer first began, many of us set out gardens and pumpkin patches in the hopes of having fruits this fall.

For many people, the largest pest they have to contend with is bunny rabbits. For those of us living in rural areas, deer are a common sight in the garden. Deer aren’t fussy eaters, they have an appetite for over 700 species of plants! They will visit your garden if there’s a tasty treat to be found.

Although it can be tricky to peacefully garden with visiting deer, it’s certainly possible. Let’s take a look at the question ‘do deer eat pumpkins’ and then we’ll take a look at protecting our pumpkin plants. And who knows, we may be able to grow enough to share!

Do Deer Eat Pumpkins?

Yes! Deer love to eat pumpkins. Every part of the pumpkin plant is edible to them and it’s full of nutrients. Deer usually prefer the fruit of the plant, meaning the actual pumpkins. Though they prefer to eat the fruit itself, they will eat the vines, flowers, and leaves of the plant.

Baby deer eating pumpkins from a feeder in winter.

Do Dear Eat Pumpkin Plants or Just the Fruit?

Deer will eat every part of the pumpkin plant that is available to them. If you have only vines and leaves, as is common in the summer, deer will focus on those parts of the plant.

While small, green pumpkins are edible, they are not as flavorful as the larger ripe pumpkins. During the spring and the early growing stages of your pumpkins, deer will eat the leaves, flowers, and vines of your plants.

In the fall, when the fruit is ripe or nearly ripe, deer are likelier to eat only the fruit and leave the vines and leaves alone. They will still eat them if they are still hungry, of course, but the fruit will be their first choice. They may come back later for what’s left of the plant!

A major problem with deer visiting your pumpkins is they may trample your patch. They may only visit for the fruit, but destroy the vines in the process.

Do Whitetail Deer Eat Pumpkins?

A whitetail deer snacking on a tasty pumpkin

Whitetail deer certainly do eat pumpkins. It does not matter what kind of deer it is, they enjoy pumpkins! Pumpkins are a source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for the deer. The timing of pumpkin ripening is beneficial for deer as well.

Most pumpkins ripen in the early to mid-fall, a time when food is starting to get scarce for many animals. For animals that do not hibernate, like deer, it is important to build up fat reserves in the fall by eating all they can find. Pumpkins help deer to build up their fat stores to make wintering easier.

What Kind of Pumpkins Do Deer Like?

Deer are not particularly picky when it comes to the type of pumpkin that they eat. They will eat just about any pumpkin variety.

They will eat the vines, leaves, flowers, and fruit. Deer are opportunistic when it comes to their scavenging and when it comes to the foods that they eat. As we mentioned above, they love to eat over 700 different varieties of plants!

Deer eat what they have access to, and they eat what they can get. If your pumpkin patch is unprotected and pumpkins are growing, they will eat them completely.

How Do I Keep Deer From Eating My Pumpkins?

A beautiful, effective deer fence around the vegetable garden.

The best way to keep deer from eating your pumpkins is by preventing access. If you can fence in your patch with a high fence, this is the best method for natural protection. A fence is a great way to keep other critters out at the same time.

If you cannot fence in your pumpkin patch, there are some other options that you can use. Motion-activated sprinklers work a treat. No animals like getting sprayed, especially if it appears unexpectedly.

Electric fences can be effective as well, although deer aren’t as susceptible to shock due to their thick insulation. The practice of ‘baiting’ deer to touch the electric wire with their nose makes an electric fence more effective.

You may have success with homemade or commercially-available deer repellents. These repellents may help to reduce deer damage, but they’re considered ineffective for a determined deer (or if you applied the repellent after the deer had a taste!). Repellents have to be applied all the time and re-applied regularly.

A comparison of commercially-available deer repellents is available from the Department of Agriculture.

In addition to repellents, you can try to ‘hide’ the plants deer love with plants they do not like to eat. A few plants that deer don’t usually go for are:

  • Daffodils
  • Lavender
  • Mountain mahogany
  • Anise
  • Forget me not
  • Sage
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon balm

And many others. A full list of deer-repellent plants is available from Rutgers University. The more you hide the tasty plants, the better this will work!

You can try the opposite as well. Plant out lots of varieties deer love to eat (similar to a food plot) – in an effort to steer them towards that area instead of your vegetable garden. This will only work in conjunction with some of the methods above but it can certainly help.

You can also use something called mechanical deterrents. Things that make noise, motion-activated lights, and even simulated eyes can help to deter deer from coming into your garden.

Will Pumpkin Plants Grow Back If a Deer Eats Them?

Unfortunately, probably not. Pumpkin plants aren’t the most resilient plant when it comes to weathering damage.

If a deer eats your pumpkin plant right down to the root, it’s unlikely that your plant will grow back. Your pumpkin will probably grow back if only some of the leaves or a few flowers are eaten. This only applies if the roots weren’t damaged – sometimes the ‘tugging’ action can affect the pumpkin’s growth.

If a deer eats just the fruit of your pumpkin plant, the plant may very well grow another pumpkin. The pumpkin’s chances of recovery depend on how late in the season it is. If the damage is sustained very late in the season, it is less likely to recover. There just isn’t enough growing time left.

If the plant is fully eaten or trampled, it is unlikely that it is going to recover from the damage. A bit of damage is something that a pumpkin plant can recover from, major damage is not.

Feeding Pumpkins to Deer

One important note about feeding pumpkins to deer – most experts agree that this practice can do more harm than good. Make sure you obtain information from government agencies in your area before feeding deer. In some areas, feeding deer is illegal. New York is an example of this legislation.

If you do decide to feed pumpkins to deer, make sure the pumpkins aren’t rotted, covered in wax, or painted with toxic paint. Other than that, pumpkins are generally considered safe for deer to eat.

Be careful introducing new foods to animals. A large amount of new food can cause stomach upset or digestive issues, so it’s safer to introduce it as a seasonal snack.

Powhatan School recently planted out a food plot for deer which included pumpkins. They did so because a Delaware State University study showed that pumpkin seeds can act as a natural dewormer in goats, which may mean they act similarly in other livestock and wildlife.

Verdict: Are Pumpkins Deer Resistant?

No, pumpkins are not deer resistant. If you live in an area where there are deer, you will need to take precautions to ensure deer don’t eat your pumpkin plants. A fence can work wonders, or you can try natural deterrents to discourage deer from eating your patch.

Thanks so much for reading! We hope this article helps you grow a bountiful harvest of pumpkins.

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