Deer-Resistant Plants

Deer-Proof Your Garden Naturally

March 4, 2020
Deer
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Oh, dear! Do you have problems with deer eating your garden plants? See our list of deer-resistant plants, flowers, and shrubs to keep the hungry herds away from your garden!

Let’s be frank: there are no absolutely deer-proof plants. If food is scarce enough, deer have been known to eat almost anything. The heaviest browsing by deer will occur from October through February.

That said, there are plants that are much less palatable to deer. So, we want to grow plants that are not the deer’s top choice on the menu.

Note that even “resistant” varieties can be vulnerable in the first few weeks after planting, when their leaf tissue is especially nitrogen-rich. If you have major deer problems, we recommend spraying new plants with a deer-repellent for 3 to 4 weeks after planting to prevent them from being nibbled on and damaged. Even if they are feasted on, as long as the root systems of the plants are not damaged, the plants should survive.

Research has shown which plants are less likely to be eaten by deer and can be labeled “deer-resistant.” See the list below.

Which Plants Do Deer Like to Eat?

Some plant qualify as “deer candy.” We certainly don’t want to be laying out a deer buffet with our hard-earned dollars.

  • Avoid planting narrow-leafed evergreens, especially arborvitae and fir.  
  • Deer also show a particular preference for hostas, daylilies, and English ivy, according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island, who have studied white-tailed deer damage to nurseries.

Interestingly, several participants in the study noted that deer seem to prefer plants that have been fertilized to those that haven’t.

Which Plants Do Deer Dislike?

  • Not surprisingly, deer tend to stay away from poisonous plantsDaffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers with a toxicity that deer avoid.
  • Deer also tend to turn their noses up at fragrant plants with strong scents. Herbs such as sagesornamental salvias, and lavender, as well as flowers like peonies and bearded irises, are just “stinky” to deer.
  • Would you want to eat something prickly? Neither do deer (unless they’re desperate). Plants such as lamb’s ear are not on their preferred menu.

Deer-Resistant Plants for Shade

  • One of our favorite deer-resistant perennials are bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, aka Dicentra spectabilis). 
  • Astilbe are also deer-resistant plants that grow well in shade. Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’, ‘Visions’, and ‘Fanal’ make a nice mix.

coreopsis and echinacea
Coreopsis and Echinacea purpurea

Deer-Resistant Plants for Sun

  • Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ attracts butterflies but not deer and offers a long season of bloom from May through Sepember.
  • Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ or Blazing Star is also a sun-loving perennial that isn’t a popular choice on the deer buffet.
  • Echinacea purpurea is one of our favorite native flowers and a magnet for pollinators!
  • Another sun-lover is Salvia x sylvestris or Wood Sage.
  • Finally, the popular Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’ is a popular variety of Shasta Daisy that deer do not favor.

List of Top Deer-Resistant Plants, Flowers, and Shrubs

Here’s a list popular plants that deer rarely or seldom severely damage. Again, keep in mind that the first rule in deer-proofing is that there are no completely deer-proof plants.

Botanical name Common name
Achillea filipendulina Yarrow
Aconitum sp. Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum Ageratum
Allium sp. Onion
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon
Armoracia rusticana Horseradish
Artemisia dracunculus Tarragon
Artemisia sp. Silver Mound
Arisaema triphylum Jack-in-the-pulpit
Asarum canadense Wild Ginger
Asparagus officinalis Asparagus
Aster sp. Aster
Astilbe sp. Astilbe
Berberis sp. Barberry
Borage officinalis Borage
Buddleia sp. Butterfly Bush
Buxus sempervirens Common Boxwood
Helleborus sp. Lenten or Christmas Rose
Cactaceae sp. Cactus
Calendula sp. Pot Marigold
Caryopteris clandonensis Blue Mist Shrub
Centaurea cineraria Dusty Miller
Centaurea cyanus Bachelor’s Buttons
Cleome sp. Spider Flower
Colchicum sp. Autumn Crocus
Consolida ambigua Larkspur
Convallaris majalis Lily of the Valley
Coreopsis verticillata Threadleaf Coreopsis
Corydalis sp. Corydalis
Cytisus sp. Broom
Daphne sp. Daphne
Dicentra spectabilis 
now classified as Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Bleeding Heart
Digitalis purpurea Common Foxglove
Dryopteris marginalis Wood Fern
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Endymion sp. Bluebell
Eranthus hyemalis Winer Aconite
Euphorbia marginata Snow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’) Spurge
Festuca glauca Blue Fescue
Fritilaria imperialis Crown Imperial, Fritilia
Galanthus nivalis Snowdrops
Gypsophila sp. Baby’s Breath
Helichrysum Strawflower
Heliorope arborescens Heliotrope
Hyssopus officinalis Hyssop
Ilex opaca American Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Iris sp. Iris
Juniperus Juniper
Lantana sp. Lantana
Lavandula sp. Lavender
Limonium latifolium Statice
Lobularia maritima Sweet Alyssum
Marrubium vulgare Horehound
Melissa officinalis Lemon Balm
Mentha sp. Mint
Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Myosotis sp. Forget-Me-Not
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Narcissus sp. Daffodil
Nepeta sp. Catmint
Ocimum basilicum Basil
Osmunda Fern
Pachysandra terminalis Pachysandra
Paeonia sp. Peony
Papaver Poppy
Perovskio atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Picea glauca ‘Conica’ Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Pimpinalla anisum Anise
Pinus Pine
Potentilla Cinquefoil
Ranunculus sp. Buttercup
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary
Rudbeckia sp. Black-Eyed Susan
Ruta sp. Rue
Salix Willows
Salvia officinalis Garden Sage
Stachys byzantina Lamb’s Ear
Syringa vulgaris Common Lilac
Tanacetum vulgare Common Tansy
Teucrium chamaedrys Germander
Thumus sp. Thyme
Yucca Yucca
Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood Viburnum
Zinnia Zinnia

Source: Outwitting Deer by Bill Adler Jr.

Click to read more tips on how to deter deer in the garden!

Source: 

This page was first published in 2008 and is regularly updated.

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Reader Comments

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Plants deer don't eat

The deer eat everything except my Primrose. They have NEVER bothered them. They eat my Hosta, my Black-eyed Susan's and my Reblooming Daylilies.

Deer love our hot peppers!

We bought starter peppers that we thought were mild bell peppers. They weren't. We have Scandinavian roots and we can't tolerate too much heat in our peppers, but we tried. These peppers grew really well and we tried to bake and stuff them, put them in soups, pair them with cheese...nothing helped the hotness... but one morning...they were all gone from the garden - like, 30 hot peppers! The deer ate them! We laughed at the image. Do you think it was deer? Or something else?

Repellent help

One thing you can use to help repel deer, squirrels, etc. is spraying your plants with a hot sauce! Every mammal has heat receptors in their mouths, and so they don't like hot sauce. The only thing is you have to reapply it after it rains. A version of this will also work to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders. Just mix the seeds with a hot chili powder. Birds don't have heat receptors, so it won't bother them but it will the squirrels.

Squirrels/Rabbits

Do you have any suggestions for squirrel and rabbit resistant plants. My squirrels ate everything they are not supposed to eat last year. Would love any suggestions before I start planting this year.

Deer

Deer eat my husbands muscadines (Southern style grapes). They mature late in the summer. Do you think planting these deer resistant plants below the vines would run them off. Would the odor drift up to the muscadines? Thanks

Deer-resistant Plants

Deer here in Pittsburgh will eat the holly, prickles and all. They also trim the arborvitaes into ice-cream cones. They seem to eat anything young, but may leave it alone once it's older. Of course, once the sprouts are older, usually the grass is up and they can graze that, instead.

Our local garden center made an (inadvertent?) funny on this subject. They have permanent overhead signs in their yard to help locate things. Last year, under the sign for Deer-Resistant plants, some worker with a forklift had left a pallet of boulders. Hm-m-m.

Deer don't eat plants

You list, deer won't eat lilacs. Well, I'm watching deer eating my lilacs right now & they keep coming back. And it has not been a bad winter. It's been warm & hardly any snow. But here they come to eat my lilacs and my Holly bushes too, another one you say they don't eat, well yes they do, they eat the Holly bush but spit out the red berries!

Deer rersistant plants

I have maintained a small ornamental conifer nursery in Northern Vermont for the past 35 years and the only unfriendly deer product that hands down deer avoid is Leadnus Vulgare. I have found one ounce slugs work best with #9 shot. You are wasting your time with any of the plant matter discussed.

Deer eating everything

I wonder how many of us consider that the biggest problem is that we keep pushing our remaining wildlife into smaller and smaller areas where they cannot forage enough? Mesnwhile we continue to expand and consume without thought to the other species we share the planet with. No matter, at the present spiralling extinction rate they will soon be gone....and then so will we.

Apparently the deer in my are haven’t read this article yet....

I have to agree that there are certain plants they do seem to avoid but there are numerous ones on this list that they have a particular liking for. American Holly...yup...they feasted on it like it was a delicacy. They also love barberry, boxwood, bachelors buttons, pachysandra , yucca and Black-eyed Susans. Don’t even get me started on all those “ fuzzy-leaved” plants they’re supposed to avoid...like hollyhocks. They attack them until there is nothing but a green, leafless and flowerless stalk left. Maybe this list is okay in a more urban setting??....but in a rural area....not so much.

MY DEER EAT EVERYTHING!

Even though I'm more of a perennial gal, I've always planted zinnias in the summer because they added pop to my garden and the deer never touched them--until this year. All the zinnia flower buds were chomped off within a few days after I planted them. Same with my salvia and bee balm--deer never touched them before but this year they've eaten the tops of them off. I've had to put them behind a deer fence or spray them. Something eats my echinacea every year but I'm beginning to suspect its rabbits since they aren't eaten once they manage to get past a certain height...

did you know deer "resistant" isn't a thing?

I am figuring out that "deer resistant" means it's not their first choice of meal. I planted a landscape that was listed on this site for 3 seasons blooming. I used bee balm instead of a listed perennial and that was the first thing they went after, flower, leaves and stem. They also love Bleeding Heart, Weigela, Delphinium, Black Eyed Susan, apple tree leaves, cherry tree leaves. The good news is, they haven't touched my Black Lace Elderberry, Coral Bells (yet). Maybe we just have mutant deer that don't know they're eating deer resistant plants but it's very disheartening not to mention expensive.

Deer eat plants

Do deer eat Mandeville plants?

mandevilla

The Editors's picture

Unfortunately, many varieties of mandevilla are not deer-resistant.  “Mandevilla laxa” is considered deer-resistant, though not deer-proof. The leaves are smaller and less succulent than Mandevilla sanderi which is less deer-resistant.

Neighbors who feed deer

I used to be able to grow Hollyhocks, Petunias, Pansies, and numerous other flowers without deer ever touching any of them UNTIL our neighbors started feeding them. Ever since then, I haven't been able to keep deer out of my garden, and I NEVER fed them! It really irritates me how inconsiderate some people can be of their neighbors who put a lot of time and work, not to mention money, into their gardens. Some folks don't realize that once they start feeding deer, they are forever attracted to every garden in the area. Other neighbors do know this, and simply don't care. They do what they want to do, regardless of the consequences for anyone else. Very, very selfish and insensitive!

Your list of deer resistent plants

You have Zinnia listed at the last plant on your list that deer (supposedly) rarely eat. I have news for you. They eat, eat, eat Zinnias! I grew Zinnias from seed in last year's garden, and deer ate every last one that came up, before it ever had a chance to bud or bloom.

You have also listed coneflower among their typical leave-alones. Not so! When I grew coneflower, deer kept eating off the buds and blossoms.

This didn't just happen once in awhile. It happened regularly. These two plants are NOT deer resistant, in the least.

Just thought you should know.

Deer-Resistant Plants

I have had the same experience as Jan. Deer have eaten virtually ALL of my echinacea purpurea. You might want to take that off the list of deer-resistant plants. They are NOT deer resistant.

Agree on the coneflowers - I

Agree on the coneflowers - I had a mass of the 'Pow Wow Wild Berry' that I had to move from front to back yard because deer ravage them. I live in NJ.

Deer resistant plants

So far in our area, we've found the only things the deer won't eat are Lambs Ear and lavender. Roses seem to be a favorite! I wish the weeds were tastier......

I think it really depends on

I think it really depends on the deer in your area. My zinnias weren't touched last year, but they certainly loved eating my rhubarb and tomato plants, which I've read are both supposed to be deer resistant.

Roses!

Yes deer loves my rose bushes. You would think the sharp thorns would turn them away but they love the leaves.

Rabbits

Do you have a list of Rabbit Resistant Plants and Flowers. Last summer the rabbits eat most of our vegetable garden, with a 6 foot fence around it. Are there maybe herbs that deter rabbits? Really need advice before planting our garden this year.

Bury the fence

Rabbits can and will dig. Bury the fence 6 inches to a foot, and bend the buried portion away from the plants to prevent them from getting to your garden.

Rabbit-Resistant Plants

The Editors's picture

There are quite a few lists of rabbit-resistant plants out there on the web, but they can vary quite a bit in which species they recommend. Some of the more commonly mentioned plants include: Aster, Columbine, Daylilies, Coreopsis, Yarrow, and Daffodils. Here’s a great list from Pennsylvania State University: Rabbit-Resistant Plants

It’s unlikely that a hungry rabbit can be deterred outright, but planting strongly-scented herbs like Lemon Balm, Mint, Lavender, or even Geraniums could help to mask the scent of more tasty leaves.

Deer

I thank you for republishing the Deer Resistant plants. In Victoria, BC Canada we have herds of deer. I love flowers so when my neighbour planted Cosmos and said the deer won't eat them I immediately planted many Cosmos. Last summer I had a nice display of colour along with Alyssum. So you can safely add Cosmos to your list. If anyone else has found a flower that deer don't nibble, please post it.

Deer resistant flowers

I have found Dianthus, the little carnations seem to be left alone in my garden so far. Keeping my fingers crossed.

aster

something just ate the crap out of my aster last night so i would say it isn't deer or rabbit resistant

named my yard "Bountiful Buffet"

While neighbors may delight in feeding deer here close to the lake in NW Arkansas, I would rather just watch them do their own thing in the woods while I tend to my flowers and look at the lake. No such luck! The deer all want to top off their meal in my yard with tasty tidbits of Hosta, Hibiscus, Roses, Hens and Chickens, Boston Fern fronds, Wandering Jew, Elephant Ears, Rose Moss, 4 O'Clocks, and our Japanese Maple (which is a dwarf tree that stand only 4 ft tall) I also have a succulent garden that does not seem to offend or stop them, I have also tried lavender, marigold and sage, no luck. Will try some of the others. Our deer seem to be "non-plant offenders".

STAY AWAY FROM BARBERRY!!

Barberry plants, esp. Japanese Barberry, hide loads of ticks that cause Lyme Disease. Do NOT plant these in your yard, or anywhere near you!

Barberry

Japanese and other barberries are also on the invasive species list in many states. Ticks (yuck) and the environment-two reasons to skip them. T

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