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. When preferred types of food are in short supply, deer will (and do) eat almost any kind of garden plant and shrub. Nevertheless, here are some of the plants that deer (usually) do not like to eat:
- Deer tend to stay away from poisonous plants. Daffodils, foxgloves, monkshood, 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 that deer tend to avoid.
- Deer do not like plants that are fuzzy, such as lamb's ear, or prickly such as spirea or roses, unless they are desperate.
- Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are popular with us, but not deer.
A State-by-State Resource for Deer-Resistant Plants
Just about every state has a University Cooperative Extension Service that can provide 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. Other sources also have lists of deer-resistant plants for your landscape.
- Deer Resistant Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Better Homes & Gardens
- Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants, The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service
- Deer, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service
- Deer Resistant Plants for Colorado, Garden Centers of Colorado
- Deer Resistant Plants, Woodstock Conservation Commission: Woodstock, CT
- Deer Resistant Plants, Delaware Department of Natural Resources
- Deer Resistant Plants, University of Georgia College of Agricultural
- Top Deer Resistant Plants of the Mountain West and High Plains, Better Homes & Gardens
- Gardening with Perennials, University of Illinois Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants for Homeowners, Purdue University
- Deer Resistant Landscaping, Iowa City Website (A somewhat limited list, but it's a beginning.)
- Deer Resistant Plants, Maine.gov
- Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer, Maryland Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
- Deer Resistant Plants for Homeowners, Michigan State University
- Deer Resistant Plants, University of Minnesota Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants for the Landscape, Savvygardener.com from Missouri Department of Conservation
- Deer Gardening, Missouri Department of Conservation
- Minimizing Deer Damage to Residential Plantings, Montana State University Extension Service
- Plants Deer Will Not Eat, University of Nebraska Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants for Northern Nevada, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistant Native Plants, New Hampshire Extension
New Jersey / Pennsylvania
- Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance, Rutgers Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants, High Country Gardens
- Deer Resistant Plants, Cornell University
- Deer Resistant Plants, North Carolina Cooperative Extension
- Deer Resistance Rating for Landscape Plants, Gardening in Deer Country
- Deer Resistant Plants for Central Oregon, Oregon State University Extension Service
- 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" Plant List, University of Virginia Extension
- Deer Resistant Plants, Dakota Garden
- Deer Resistant Plants, Plant Friendly
- Deer in the Urban Landscape, Texas A & M Extension
- Minimizing Browsing Damage by Deer, Utah Division of Wildlife Management
- Deer Resistant Plants, Washington State University Extension
- Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage
West Virginia University Extension Service
- Deer Resistant Plants in Wisconsin, Garden Guides
- Deer Resistant Plants, High Country Gardens