Deer-Resistant Plants, Flowers, and Shrubs: Deer-Proof Your Garden!

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Which Plants Deer Won't Eat (Unless Desperate!)

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Oh, dear! Do you have problems with deer eating your garden plants? See our list of deer-resistant plants to encourage Bambi to walk on by. Think salvia, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, poppies, globe amaranth, lantana, and cleome. Choose the right plants, and you can have color despite the darn deer! 

Let’s be frank: No plant is absolutely 100% deer-proof. If food is scarce enough, hungry deer have been known to eat almost anything. Deer’s heaviest browsing occurs from October through February, especially during the difficult winter months.

That said, many plants are much less palatable to deer. Would you eat your least favorite food if your favorite sweets were around the corner? Well, don’t grow deer’s favorites (like tender hosta)! Instead, get to know which plants are NOT deer’s top choice on the menu so the hungry herds walk by to choose more appetizing choices. They will only choose your plants if they’re desperate.

Which Plants Deer Like to Eat

Some plants 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 Deer Don’t Want to Eat

Not surprisingly, deer tend to stay away from poisonous plants. Daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers 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 is the beautiful bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, aka Dicentra spectabilis). 
  • Astilbe are also deer-resistant plants that grow well in the 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 September.
  • 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

Research has shown which plants are less likely to be eaten by deer and can be labeled “deer-resistant.” Here’s a list of 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 nameCommon name
Achillea filipendulinaYarrow
Aconitum sp.Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianumAgeratum
Allium sp.Onion
Amelanchier laevisAllegheny Serviceberry
Antirrhinum majusSnapdragon
Armoracia rusticanaHorseradish
Artemisia dracunculusTarragon
Artemisia sp.Silver Mound
Arisaema triphylumJack-in-the-pulpit
Asarum canadenseWild Ginger
Asparagus officinalisAsparagus
Aster sp.Aster
Astilbe sp.Astilbe
Berberis sp.Barberry
Borage officinalisBorage
Buddleia sp.Butterfly Bush
Buxus sempervirensCommon Boxwood
Helleborus sp.Lenten or Christmas Rose
Cactaceae sp.Cactus
Calendula sp.Pot Marigold
Caryopteris clandonensisBlue Mist Shrub
Centaurea cinerariaDusty Miller
Centaurea cyanusBachelor’s Buttons
Cleome sp.Spider Flower
Colchicum sp.Autumn Crocus
Consolida ambiguaLarkspur
Convallaris majalisLily of the Valley
Coreopsis verticillataThreadleaf Coreopsis
Corydalis sp.Corydalis
Cytisus sp.Broom
Daphne sp.Daphne
Dicentra spectabilis 
now classified as Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Bleeding Heart
Digitalis purpureaCommon Foxglove
Dryopteris marginalisWood Fern
Echinacea purpureaPurple Coneflower
Echinops ritroSmall Globe Thistle
Endymion sp.Bluebell
Eranthus hyemalisWinter Aconite
Euphorbia marginataSnow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’)Spurge
Festuca glaucaBlue Fescue
Fritilaria imperialisCrown Imperial, Fritilia
Galanthus nivalisSnowdrops
Gypsophila sp.Baby’s Breath
Heliorope arborescensHeliotrope
Hyssopus officinalisHyssop
Ilex opacaAmerican Holly
Ilex verticillataWinterberry Holly
Iris sp.Iris
Lantana sp.Lantana
Lavandula sp.Lavender
Limonium latifoliumStatice
Lobularia maritimaSweet Alyssum
Marrubium vulgareHorehound
Melissa officinalisLemon Balm
Mentha sp.Mint
Monarda didymaBee Balm
Myosotis sp.Forget-Me-Not
Myrica pensylvanicaBayberry
Narcissus sp.Daffodil
Nepeta sp.Catmint
Ocimum basilicumBasil
Pachysandra terminalisPachysandra
Paeonia sp.Peony
Perovskio atriplicifoliaRussian Sage
Picea glauca ‘Conica’Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Pimpinalla anisumAnise
Ranunculus sp.Buttercup
Rhus aromaticaFragrant Sumac
Rosmarinus officinalisRosemary
Rudbeckia sp.Black-Eyed Susan
Ruta sp.Rue
Salvia officinalisGarden Sage
Stachys byzantinaLamb’s Ear
Syringa vulgarisCommon Lilac
Tanacetum vulgareCommon Tansy
Teucrium chamaedrysGermander
Thumus sp.Thyme
Viburnum dentatumArrowwood Viburnum

Credit: Outwitting Deer by Bill Adler Jr.

Note: 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.

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

What are your favorite deer-resistant plants?

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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