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Deer-Resistant Plants and Flowers: Keep Deer Out of Your Garden | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Deer-Resistant Plants

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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: there are no absolutely 100% deer-proof plants. If food is scarce enough, hungry deer have been known to eat almost anything. The heaviest browsing by deer will occur from October through February, especially during difficult winter months.

That said, there are many plants that 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 won’t choose your plants unless they’re desperate.

Which Plants 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 Deer Don’t Want to Eat

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

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

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!

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