Welcome! This article contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you.

Sunflowers make a beautiful display in a summer garden, but flowers and deer do not always mix! So, do deer eat sunflowers, or is your sunflower crop safe from these elegant garden visitors? Let’s find out!

Do Deer Eat Sunflowers?

Mule Deer doe, in mountainous alpine habitat surrounded by wild sunflowers

Deer can and will eat sunflowers, so unfortunately any visiting deer may cause damage to sunflowers growing in your garden. Certain parts of the sunflower plant are highly nutritious to deer, and they will be more attracted to this crop when other food sources are scarce.

Do Sunflowers Attract Deer?

A young Whitetail buck with a group of does in a field of flowers

Deer have a hugely varied diet and will browse many different plants throughout the day. Contrary to what many people think, grasses are not a major food source for deer, and they prefer the leaves, seeds, and soft shoots of herbaceous plants and trees.

This means it is very hard to tell what plants attract deer the most – for example, whitetail deer are known to eat over 400 different species of plants!

But some plants get eaten time and time again by deer, and sunflowers are one of them. Listed as “Occasionally Severely Damaged” by Rutgers, many gardeners and farmers find deer damage a problem when it comes to growing sunflowers.

What Part of Sunflowers Do Deer Eat?

Beautiful yellow sunflowers

Deer can eat all parts of the sunflower plant, including the flower, leaves, stem, and seeds. The seeds in particular are highly nutritious to deer, providing essential energy at a time of year when other food sources are becoming scarce.

Unfortunately, most sunflowers won’t make it to the point of setting seed if deer are around, as they are particularly partial to tender young sunflower plants!

When food is plentiful, deer will select the tastiest and easiest food sources, favoring the young shoots and leaves of sunflower plants. Sunflower seeds are commonly sown as part of a deer food plot in late summer, to allow them to browse on the emerging shoots.

If plants make it through to the mature stage, they become less attractive to deer. However, during the colder months when food becomes scarcer, deer will fill themselves up with less palatable food, such as the tougher fibrous stems and leaves of mature sunflower plants.

They will also eat the dried seeds of sunflowers but have some stiff competition from birds as to who eats them first!

Will Sunflowers Grow Back After Deer Eat Them?

The frustrating thing about deer is they often selectively eat the tenderest part of a plant, and in the case of sunflowers, that is normally the growing tip! They will also eat the young leaves and the developing flower buds of sunflowers.

So, if this happens in your yard, will the sunflowers grow back? Or is it better to cut your losses and sow some more?

Well, it depends on the extent of the damage and the variety of sunflowers. The type most people are familiar with grows just one large flower on the head of a single stem.

In general, if this stem is damaged beyond repair, the plant will continue to grow leaves lower down on the stem but may not develop any more flower buds. If you are lucky, it might grow a new flower-bearing shoot, but this is not commonplace.

Some varieties of sunflowers grow multiple flower heads. These plants send out flower buds from multiple points on the stem. That way, they are more likely to recover and produce another flower if deer eat them.

The great thing about sunflowers is the speed at which they grow. So, if your sunflowers are badly damaged, it is worth sowing another crop. Just remember to take steps to protect them from deer this time around!

Are Perennial Sunflowers Deer Resistant?

Perennial Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
Perennial Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

If you are a fan of sunflowers, you may feel quite despondent when you realize these beautiful flowers are a tasty snack for deer.

But don’t give up hope, as there is a variety of perennial sunflowers that deer tend to steer clear of!

Most sunflowers grown in home gardens are annuals, grown from seed every year. Perennial sunflowers grow back year after year and can make a stunning addition to a flowering garden.

One perennial sunflower, Helianthus maximiliani, is native to North America and rarely eaten by browsing deer. This is a remarkable and useful plant for any homestead. Both the seeds and root tubers are edible for humans!

It also attracts beneficial pollinating insects to your yard, as well as provides an abundance of yellow flowers from summer right through to the first frosts of winter.  

How Can I Keep Deer From Eating My Sunflowers?

The obvious solution to keeping deer from eating your sunflowers is to build a deer-proof fence, but not everyone wants a huge fence around their boundary.

To keep deer at bay, a fence needs to be at least 8 feet tall. The most common type of fencing is wire mesh attached to wooden or metal posts. Alternatively, electric fencing can be an effective deer deterrent.

One interesting idea for keeping deer out of your yard… Create a boundary of rocks instead of a fence! Hooved animals are not always keen on clambering over rocks and will take an easier route instead.

In rural areas, wild deer tend to be quite nervous. They can be deterred using audio deterrents such as wind chimes. They quickly get used to new sounds. However, it can be enough to keep them at bay for long enough for your young sunflower seedlings to get established.

As sunflowers are such tall plants, it can be difficult to disguise them with a barrier of deer-repellent plants. If you are planning on harvesting your sunflowers for seeds, a good short-term measure can be to erect a barrier of netting supported by wooden poles around the plants.

What Plants Keep Deer Away?

Closeup of Rosemary in Terracotta Pot to keep deer away from sunflowers

Utilizing plants that repel deer is another method that may help to keep your sunflowers safe. Deer will most likely still wander in for a browse. However, if they are faced with a row of plants they dislike, they should move on to tastier pastures.

Deer will avoid plants with fuzzy or hairy foliage. They will not eat spiny, prickly stems or thick, leathery leaves. They also have a very sensitive sense of smell. We can use this to our advantage by confusing deer with strong, overpowering smells.

Many of the woody, perennial herbs, such as mint, sage, and rosemary, can be used to repel deer. They dislike the taste of these plants. When trampled on, the herbs release a strong aroma which will make it harder for deer to seek out more palatable food.

What Can I Spray to Keep Deer Away?

To keep deer away, you can make a homemade deer repellent spray. Or, you can opt for a commercially produced version instead. The advantage to the latter is that these sprays tend to last longer. They also do not need to be reapplied so frequently.

One of our favorite deer repellent sprays is produced by Nature’s Mace. Long-term use of this product can help to change the browsing behavior of your visiting deer. It can help to encourage them to move on elsewhere.

Thank you for visiting Deer Gardener! Keep reading:

Similar Posts