If there's one thing we have in common as gardeners, it's the need to ward off unwelcome wildlife. For many that means deer. If the best defense is a good offense, then it makes sense to start by choosing deer resistant plants.
Plants Deer Like to Eat
Deer love narrow-leaf evergreens, especially arborvitae and fir, and show a preference for hostas, daylilies, and English ivy. The heaviest garden browsing is from October through February.
Many growers note that deer seem to prefer plants that have been fertilized.
Plants Deer Do Not Like to Eat (Usually)
Bear in mind that the first rule of deer-proofing is that there are really no plants that are completely deer-proof. Nevertheless, here are plants that deer (usually) do not like to eat:
- Deer tend to stay away from poisonous plants. Daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies are common flowers that have a toxicity that deer avoid.
- Deer turn their noses up at fragrant plants with strong scents. Herbs such as sages, ornamental salvias, lavenders, peonies, and bearded irises are among these “stinky” plants.
- Deer do not like plants that are prickly (unless they’re desperate), such as lamb’s ear.
- Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are popular with us, but not deer.
A State by State Resource for Deer-Resistant Plants
Just about every Extension Service has put together a list of plants that are generally less popular with visiting deer.
Unfortunately no one can claim a plant is totally deer resistant - it seems the deer themselves do not read these lists.
- Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants, The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service (two for one)
- Deer Resistant Plants, University of California Cooperative Extension
- Deer-Resistant Plants for the Sierra Foothills, Compiled by Cooperative Extension Nevada County (CA) Master Gardeners
- Deer-Resistant Plants, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants, Woodstock Conservation Commission: Woodstock, CT
- Deer Resistant Plants, University of Georgia College of Agricultural
- Deer Resistant Landscaping, Iowa City Website (A somewhat limited list, but it's a beginning.)
- Deer Resistant Plants for the Landscape, Savvygardener.com from Missouri Department of Conservation
- Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer, Maryland Cooperative Extension
- Plants that Deer Don’t Usually Eat, Minnesota State Horticultural Society's Northern Gardener® magazine
- Minimizing Deer Damage
Montana State University Extension Service
New Jersey / Pennsylvania
- Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance, Rutgers Cooperative Extension
- Plant Recommendations for Deer-Infested Gardens, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Source: Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY. (Compiled by the gardeners who learned the hard way.)
- Preventing and Controlling Deer Damage 404, Ohio Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistance Rating for Landscape Plants, Gardening in Deer Country
- Deer Resistant Plants, Penn State Cooperative Extension (Another brief listing, but a start.)
- Plants Least-Preferred by Deer, Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management
- Deer Resistant Plants for the Grand Strand, Clemson University Extension
- Deer in the Urban Landscape,The Texas A&M University System
- Deer Resistant Perennials, University of Vermont Extension System
- Deer Resistant Plants, Washington State University Extension
- Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage
West Virginia University Extension Service