How to choose repellents to control garden pests

deer, rabbit and chipmunk

If you’re frustrated with the damage that insects and wildlife do to your garden, consider repellents that can be sprayed directly onto plants or around plants.

Before you spray repellents in your garden, identify the pests that are causing problems. You may also want to consider other pest management strategies, like fencing, before using repellents. While using repellents may reduce the impact that pests have on your plants and flowers, note that repellents aren’t 100 percent guaranteed to work. In addition, some repellents are poisonous so be cautious when using them.

Below are some repellents for deer, rabbits, chipmunks and insects that can be purchased or made at home with simple ingredients.

Deer repellent

Contact repellents are applied directly to plants, making them taste bad to deer. Area repellents are applied to the problem area. Their foul smells keep deer away.

According to University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science, mixing one part hot sauce to 16 parts water will work as a repellent. Or, five tablespoons of cayenne pepper and one tablespoon of olive oil can be added to one gallon of water. Either of these mixtures can be sprayed directly to plants. Keep in mind that they might deter beneficial pollinators, and that they’ll need to be reapplied after it rains.

Rabbit repellent

Penn State University Extension recommends using repellents at the first sign of rabbit damage. Hinder is one repellent that can be used to deter rabbits as well as deer. Hinder contains ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids. It must be applied before fruits appear on plants or after they have been removed. Products that contain capsaicin, the hot ingredient in hot sauce, can be used as taste repellents.

Chipmunk repellent

Cornell University Cooperative Extension Rockland County states that some taste repellents can be applied to flower bulbs, seeds and foliage. These repellents include products that contain bitrex, thiram or ammonium soaps of fatty acids.

Just like deer and rabbit repellents, chipmunk repellents will have to be reapplied.

Insect repellent

Purdue University Extension says that the garden vegetables that almost always suffer some insect damage are broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, potato, squash and sweet corn. Sometimes, asparagus, bean, pepper, spinach and tomato plants are damaged by insects. Carrots, green onions, lettuce, peas and radishes usually aren’t bothered by insects. Insects can be picked off of plants by hand, but natural repellents can be sprayed onto plant leaves and stems to keep them away, too.

Some botanical insecticides include Neem, Limonene, Capsaicin and Pyrethrum, according to Clemson Cooperative ExtensionUniversity of Florida St. Lucie County Extension offers a list of homemade repellents that can work to control insects on your plants.

One repellent can be made using 6 tablespoons of baby shampoo per 1 gallon of water. Note that this repellent shouldn’t be used on hairy or waxy leaves.

A homemade oil spray consisting of 2 tablespoons cooking oil, 2 tablespoons baby shampoo and 1 gallon of water can help to control aphids, spider mites, thrips and several other insects. This spray can harm plants with hairy or waxy leaves.

An all-purpose bug spray can be made by mixing 2 tablespoons vinegar, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons of Murphy’s oil soap and 3 tablespoons of baking soda into 2 gallons of warm water.

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Katie Woods grew up in Columbiana, Ohio. Katie likes reading, writing, enjoying the outdoors and DIY projects.


  1. All great suggestions. Natural repellents definitely are effective and, best of all, aren’t toxic to humans and animals. On the same topic, I use a natural insect repellent made by a company in Maine called Frenchies. It is made from cedar and citronella and other essential oils. It works like a charm – very potent…I spray it on and the bugs leave me alone. It’s called “Maine Woods Bug Dope.”


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