Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Deer-Proof Your Garden Naturally
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 plants. Daffodils, 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 sages, ornamental 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.
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|
|Amelanchier laevis||Allegheny Serviceberry|
|Artemisia sp.||Silver Mound|
|Asarum canadense||Wild Ginger|
|Buddleia sp.||Butterfly Bush|
|Buxus sempervirens||Common Boxwood|
|Helleborus sp.||Lenten or Christmas Rose|
|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|
|Convallaris majalis||Lily of the Valley|
|Coreopsis verticillata||Threadleaf Coreopsis|
now classified as Lamprocapnos spectabilis
|Digitalis purpurea||Common Foxglove|
|Dryopteris marginalis||Wood Fern|
|Echinacea purpurea||Purple Coneflower|
|Echinops ritro||Small Globe Thistle|
|Eranthus hyemalis||Winer Aconite|
|Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’)||Spurge|
|Festuca glauca||Blue Fescue|
|Fritilaria imperialis||Crown Imperial, Fritilia|
|Gypsophila sp.||Baby’s Breath|
|Ilex opaca||American Holly|
|Ilex verticillata||Winterberry Holly|
|Lobularia maritima||Sweet Alyssum|
|Melissa officinalis||Lemon Balm|
|Monarda didyma||Bee Balm|
|Perovskio atriplicifolia||Russian Sage|
|Picea glauca ‘Conica’||Dwarf Alberta Spruce|
|Rhus aromatica||Fragrant Sumac|
|Rudbeckia sp.||Black-Eyed Susan|
|Salvia officinalis||Garden Sage|
|Stachys byzantina||Lamb’s Ear|
|Syringa vulgaris||Common Lilac|
|Tanacetum vulgare||Common Tansy|
|Viburnum dentatum||Arrowwood Viburnum|
Source: Outwitting Deer by Bill Adler Jr.