By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Watching deer is an incredibly enjoyable pastime; however, the fun stops when the deer decide to make a lunch buffet of your garden. Deer resistant gardening is a hot topic amongst gardeners who don’t necessarily want to scare off the deer but also want to keep their lovely gardens intact.
With more and more natural land being taken from deer and in areas where population control is not practiced, deer can definitely become a nuisance. To create a completely deer resistant garden is never 100 percent guaranteed, but the key to keeping Bambi and his clan at a distance lies in understanding which plants deer prefer and which they usually pass over.
Deer Resistant Garden Plants
Although the type of vegetation that deer prefer seems to vary somewhat between different parts of the country, it is still possible to identify deer resistant garden plants that should be safe no matter where you live. Sometimes finding out what your deer will and will not eat becomes a process of elimination. Keep in mind, hungry deer that have been through a difficult winter will eat just about anything. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if even some of your so-called deer resistant plants become a quick snack.
Deer Resistant Plant List
While there are numerous plants that can be used to create a deer resistant garden, a deer resistant plant list of this size would be too extensive to include here. Therefore, the following deer resistant garden plants are considered to be some of the more common.
Deer Resistant Annuals
Popular annual plants that are deer resistant include the following:
- Bachelor buttons
- Four o’clock
- Dusty miller
- Baby’s breath
Deer Resistant Perennials
Deer resistant perennials either have an offensive aroma, texture or taste. Plant these lovely flowers to discourage deer in your garden:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Butterfly weed
- Shasta daisy
Deer Resistant Shrubs
Although deer love to browse on the tips of both evergreen and deciduous shrubs, there are many varieties that they tend to leave alone.
- Wild rose
- Golden currant
Deer Resistant Herbs
Planting a few deer resistant herbs in and around your garden may create a protective boundary for other plants. Deer do not favor any of the following:
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Deer-Proofing Your Gardens: Surefire Ways to Keep the Deer Out
Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.
Deer can quickly devastate an entire crop, your beautiful flower garden or the tomatoes on your porch. As prey animals, they travel quickly through areas, grabbing a bite here and a mouthful there, with no regard for all your hard work. Deer proofing your gardens is possible, but you need to know how to sort the tactics that work from the old wive’s tales that don’t.
I’ve had a lot of experience deer proofing gardens. In a way, I am my own worst enemy. As a wildlife rehabilitator, I raise six fawns a year. After they’re released, they tend to come back to “visit”. Every year they test me as I work to have both happy deer and healthy gardens.
Since I’m something of an expert thanks to all my experience, I’m going to share with you the best tactics and strategies that I’ve found to help you have a thriving garden while not harming your local deer population.
elenaleonova / Getty Images
Allelopathy is a defense mechanism plants use to protect their space by releasing chemicals through their leaves. As a rule, deer avoid these types of plants. The gold, copper, or brass-colored marigold is an annual and a perfect border plant to deter deer from snacking on other less-resistant plants in your garden. They’re easy to grow, work in just about any type of soil, and thrive in hot, dry conditions. Remove dead flowers to encourage continued blooming.
Deer Free Gardening Plans
Row covers and chicken wire cages will be protecting my most vulnerable crops. Trellises and fencing will be placed to impede easy access into the garden. But, most importantly, I will be breaking from past traditions by intermingling crops with herbs and flowers, which had never previously found a home in my vegetable garden.
Forever obsessed with the desire to grow a garden worthy of a magazine cover, my vegetable patch had always been neatly divided into perfectly straight rows and square plots. Like a child demanding their veggies not touch their meat or potatoes, my garden was the outdoor version of a divided plate. Onions grew next to onions, peppers next to peppers, and so on.
This year, my onions will be planted in the spaces between deer delicacies like cabbage, kale and broccoli. Prickly-leaved squash will surround my sweet corn, dill will intermingle with my tomatoes and marigolds will alternate with my swiss chard. This hodgepodge gardening style will reflect the ultimate in deer-resistant companion planting.
To further get the message out to Bambi and her furry friends, clay pots of aromatic perennial herbs will be sunk in and around the finished garden. Planters of lavender, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme can overwinter in place until being pulled the following spring prior to tilling.
Deer Resistant Gardens & Plants
Note: Using plants in this list does not guarantee against deer damage and grazing in your garden. Just like people, deer have different tastes and preferences too. So the best approach is to avoid feeding the deer, use deer resistant plants and environmentally safe repellants, and install fencing.
* Indicates plants most frequently agreed to be deer resistant
Deer Resistant Annuals
Deer Resistant Bulbs
Deer Resistant Groundcovers
Deer Resistant Ferns
Japanese Painted Fern
Deer Resistant Ornamental Grasses
Deer Resistant Vines
Deer Resistant Shrubs
Deer Resistant Evergreen Shrubs
Juniper – Low Growing
Deer Resistant Evergreen Trees
Magnolia ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’
Deer Resistant Sun Perennials
Aster ‘Lady in Red’
Aster ‘Raydons Fav’
Dianthus ‘Baths Pink’*
Dianthus ‘Mountain Mist’*
Stachys ‘Helen Von Stein’*
Deer Resistant Shade Perennials
Plants that Deer Love the Most
Holly – Blue & China
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DEER-RESISTANT FLOWERS (ANNUALS)
Artist® Blue floss flower. Photo by: Proven Winners.
This shade-tolerant annual blooms continuously from late spring through fall. Fuzzy clusters of lavender-blue flowers and rough-textured foliage keep deer at bay. Cultivars are available in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white. Taller varieties, such as ‘Blue Horizon,’ are especially attractive in fresh or dried flower arrangements. For a floss flower that doesn't require deadheading and will bloom throughout summer in hot climates, try Artist® Blue (pictured).
Height/Spread: 4 to 36 inches tall, 6 to 18 inches wide
Zones: 10-11, grown as an annual elsewhere
Tagetes tenufolia 'Lemon Gem'. Photo by: RM Floral / Alamy Stock Photo.
All varieties of marigolds are a turnoff for deer because of their strong, pungent scent. However, the flowers of signet marigolds have a lighter, pleasant citrusy smell and a lemony flavor that makes them popular for culinary use. ‘Lemon Gem’ is one of the best-tasting varieties and features bright yellow petals around a darker yellow center.
Height/Spread: Varies widely, 6 inches to 4 feet tall, 6 inches to 2 feet wide
Zones: 9-10, grown as an annual elsewhere
Superbena® Violet Ice. Photo by: Proven Winners.
Verbenas will reward you with deer-resistant blooms from spring until frost if trimmed back in midsummer. The small five-petaled flower clusters come in a wide range of colors, including white, pink, blue, lavender, purple, dark red, yellow and bicolor. Oblong, toothed leaves are gray-green to dark green.
Height/Spread: Varies, from low-growing to upright.
Zones: 8-11, grown as an annual elsewhere
Rocket mix snapdragon. Photo courtesy Kleft Seed.
Dramatic spikes of flowers in almost every color imaginable make snapdragons a stunning addition to a deer-resistant garden. Snapdragons bloom most profusely in the cooler weather of spring and fall, and come in a variety of cultivars, ranging from dwarf and trailing varieties to lofty 3-foot hybrids with densely packed blooms, such as the multicolored ‘Rocket Mix’.
Height: 6 to 30 inches tall, 10 to 18 inches wide
Zones: 9-10, grown as an annual elsewhere
valery_green / Getty Images
For centuries, people used lamb’s ear as a dressing for wounds, an edible, a wool dye, and as a treatment for colds. Lamb’s ear leaves are silvery-gray colored and fuzzy or green and smooth. Deer are not fans of the fuzzy-leaf varieties. Drought-tolerant and easy to grow, it loves full sun or partial shade. However, this plant is prone to disease in high humidity regions. Spikes covered in tiny pale pink, lavender, or violet-colored flowers bloom in summer. Crush a few leaves for a pleasant, aromatic scent, which is similar to pineapple.