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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 the 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 will only choose your plants if they’re desperate.
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 are bleeding hearts (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.
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 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.
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.