22 Best Deer-Resistant Perennial Plants

Delphiniums standing tall amidst a mass of other flowers in a courtyard garden.
Clive Nichols/Getty Images

When you call certain plants deer-resistant perennials, it does not mean that Bambi never eats them. Rather, the term is meant to call attention to plants that deer find less attractive than the other choices on its menu. But do be aware that deer will eat just about anything when they are starving, lest you be lulled into a false sense of security.

This tactic in deer control simply allows you to play the odds through smart plant selection. If you grow plants that deer are less likely to eat, you increase your chances of escaping pest damage. All of the 23 perennials listed here are considered deer-resistant and are hardy to at least USDA planting zone 5 (unless otherwise noted).

Poisonous Perennials

Some deer-resistant plants should not be eaten by humans or other animals, either; beware the following poisonous plants:

  • Foxglove
  • Oriental poppy
  • Delphinium
  • 01 of 22

    Common Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

    Dicentra spectabilis "Bleeding Hearts"

    Tiger Lily/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    The most widely grown bleeding heart is Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly known as Dicentra spectabilis). This deer-resistant perennial can become quite large under the right growing conditions. When that happens, it is a spectacular plant, as the species name suggests.

    But even as a smaller plant it can be a real looker, as your attention is drawn to the uniquely shaped individual flowers. It is hard to think of a cuter and more aptly named plant. The shape of a bleeding heart's flower lives up to the plant's common name, right down to the little droplet dripping out from the bottom.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile, well-drained, slightly acid
  • 02 of 22

    Fringed Bleeding Hearts (​Dicentra eximia)

    Dicentra eximia - fringed bleeding hearts

    Jason Hollinger/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Fringed bleeding heart is a smaller plant than its showier cousin, Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Some gardeners prefer the smaller plant for not only its size also its attractive fern-like foliage lasts through the summer heat, unlike that of common bleeding hearts.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile, well-drained
  • 03 of 22

    Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

    Picture of Dicentra cucullaria. Also known as Dutchman's breeches, it's a spring ephemeral.

    Andrew C/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Yet another plant in the Dicentra genus is Dutchman's breeches. One look at this plant's unique flowers tells you where it gets its common name. Another distinctive feature of this deer-resistant perennial is its short seasonal life. Its leaves do not hang around for very long at all, and soon after it is done flowering, the whole plant (above ground) disappears. You will not see it again until the next spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich, well-drained, acid
  • 04 of 22

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

    Picture of Little Titch catmint flowers. Little Titch is a dwarf catmint.

    Jim/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Catnip is perhaps the best-known of the catmint plants. Botanically speaking, any plant listed as being in the Nepeta genus is considered to be a catmint. Catnip's botanical name is Nepeta cataria, which means it is a type of catmint.

    Catnip is a long-blooming perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and has white flowers that bloom from May to September. Deer hate the smell of these plants, so they generally don't eat them. Cats, on the other hand, famously love the leaves of this perennial herb. All you have to do is harvest the leafy stems, hang them up to dry, then crush the dried leaves for your cat.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, dry to medium moisture
    Continue to 5 of 22 below.
  • 05 of 22

    Yellow Alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis)

    yellow alyssum
    David Beaulieu

    You may know yellow alyssum better by such common names as "Basket of Gold," a reference to both the abundance of its flowers and their striking color. This yellow alyssum, when planted in masses and displayed to best advantage, will give your landscape jaw-dropping beauty in spring. Aurinia saxatilis is a short, mat-forming plant, making it an effective ground cover. Its blue-grey leaves only add to its value.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, poor
  • 06 of 22

    Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

    foxglove flowers

    Kristine Paulus/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Like daffodil bulbs (Narcissus), there is a good reason why deer leave foxglove alone: It's poisonous. Digitalis plants are tall, slender perennials at 2 to 5 feet tall and just 1 to 2 feet wide. Their height makes them good choices for the back row of a layered flower bed. Meanwhile, as plants that tolerate dry shade, they are useful for filling up spots in your landscaping where many other plants would be unhappy.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, loamy, acid to alkaline
  • 07 of 22

    Salvia (Salvia spp.)

    Salvia plant

     

    agatchen / Getty Images 

    Salvia, or sage plants, include a range of species, most of which are considered deer-resistant for the same reason that deer do not eat catmint and bee balm: They stink. Deer generally stay away from aromatic herbs and other plants, such as sage, rosemary, and lavender. However, if they do eat one of these plants, they'll likely go for the flowers before the foliage.

    Popular types of salvia include common garden sage (Salvia officianalis) as well as various ornamental species and cultivars. Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' boasts splendid variegated leaves in three colors: white, green, and purple. If you prefer blue flowers, grow any of the blue-flowering salvias. Caradonna salvia is a favorite for its dark, graceful flower spikes.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, dry to medium moisture
  • 08 of 22

    Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)

    Bearded Iris
    David Beaulieu

    It is not just poisonous plants and plants with strong, sharp odors that deer mostly avoid. For some reason, ornamental grasses are not a favorite food, either. And, in addition to plants with unpleasant odors, deer do not eat plants that smell perfumy.

    That works out well for people who love to grow perennials with sweet-smelling flowers, such plants in the Iris genus. Not all irises are equally fragrant. When in doubt, try to find the old-fashioned bearded varieties.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Variations: Red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, brown, white, black, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy or gravelly, well-drained, medium moisture
    Continue to 9 of 22 below.
  • 09 of 22

    Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

    Lamb's ear plant

     

    Massimiliano Finzi / Getty Images

    Lamb's ear is another case of a deer-resistant perennial that is hard to figure. It is easy to see why deer would not want to eat prickly plants; it is not so easy to figure out why deer are turned off by the velvety leaves of lamb's ear. Maybe they are too dry (like eating wool)?

    Lamb's ear spreads easily, making it an effective ground cover. A drought-tolerant perennial, it also works well in rock gardens. Its soft, silver leaves provide a nice backdrop for companion plants.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, dry to medium moisture, slightly acid
  • 10 of 22

    Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

    Lavender flowers (image) are used in sachets. The herb is primarily non-culinary.
    David Beaulieu

    Lavender is one of the classic perennial herbs or subshrubs that are grown for their smell. And that's precisely why deer tend to avoid them. Ants also dislike the smell of lavender, which has made this deer-resistant perennial useful for organic ant control.

    English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most commonly grown type and is hardy to zone 5. If you live in a warm climate, you can consider growing Spanish (L. stoechas) or French lavender (L. dentata), which are hardy to zone 7.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9, depending on species
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, moderately fertile
  • 11 of 22

    Wall Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys )

    What germander looks like.
    David Beaulieu

    Wall germander is another perennial herb or subshrub that deer tend not to eat. This perennial for zones 5 to 9 does wonders in the knot gardens of traditional formal landscapes, since you can grow it in rows to form "living edging." Wall germander is not as well known as it once was, but it's making a comeback as a plant that attracts bees.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, dry to medium moisture
  • 12 of 22

    Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

    Lenten Rose ( Helleborus orientalis)

    titanium22/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Lenten rose is one of those spring flowers that bloom early in the season. For this reason, it is much-valued by those who must endure long bouts of cabin fever every winter.

    Technically, the showy feature of this deer-resistant perennial is called a "sepal," as opposed to a true flower petal. Call this feature what you like, but what is impressive is how long the plant retains it, giving you something interesting to look at in the garden for months.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Variations: Purple, red, yellow, green, blue, lavender, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained
    Continue to 13 of 22 below.
  • 13 of 22

    Peony (Paeonia lactiflora)

    Peony

     

    Liubov Yashkir / Getty Images

    The splendid peony has large, beautiful, fragrant flowers. It does not need to be fussed over (for example, it does not need to be divided). These flowers live a long life; your peonies may outlive you! If you have never given them a try before, you now have an excuse to do so if you are seeking deer-resistant perennials.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid
  • 14 of 22

    Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

    Oriental poppy

     

     Judepics / Getty Images

    Large, brightly colored flowers with the texture of crepe paper have long made oriental poppies a favorite in the garden, especially for those seeking cut flowers. Like some of the other deer-resistant perennials, this classic cottage garden plant is toxic.

    This is a specimen you will want to locate somewhere where you can fully appreciate the beauty of its flowers during the blooming period (May or June, depending on where you live). Oriental poppies put on a spectacular, although brief, floral show. Dry the pods left over after the blooming period for craft projects.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, fertile
  • 15 of 22

    Veronica (Veronica spp.)

    Royal Candles speedwell
    David Beaulieu

    This long-bloomer, also known as speedwell, begins flowering in late spring to early summer and continues for the rest of the growing season with a little help from you. You can make its display of blue flowers last longer by shearing.

    There are many kinds of speedwells. One of the most popular among home gardeners is a cultivar called Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'. From a distance, the plant looks a bit like small blue salvia.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purplish-blue, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 16 of 22

    Jack Frost Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost')

    Jack Frost Brunnera

    Esther Westerveld/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost is one of those plants that you grow primarily for its foliage (so-called foliage plants). Such plants are like true friends: You can count on them to be there for you after many a fickle flower has deserted you.

    Jack Frost Brunnera bears small blue flowers in spring, but it's coolest feature is its variegated silver leaves with green veins.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist
    Continue to 17 of 22 below.
  • 17 of 22

    Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)

    Yellow columbine flower
    David Beaulieu

    Columbine plants display colorful flowers against a backdrop of attractive, clover-like foliage. They come in many different colors, including bi-colored varieties. Columbine is truly one of the stars of the spring garden. It's not only deer-resistant, it's also drought-tolerant and is attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, white, red, blue, pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained
  • 18 of 22

    Columbine Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium)

    Columbine meadow rue
    David Beaulieu

    If you like the foliage of columbine, then you would probably also enjoy a plant called Columbine meadow rue. It is called that because of its columbine-like leaves, which make it attractive long after its flowers have disappeared. The plant can produce white, purple, or mauve flowers. This is a tall plant, reaching about 3 feet in height. Columbine meadow rue is a great choice for woodland gardens because it likes a little shade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, purple, mauve
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained, loamy, medium moisture
  • 19 of 22

    Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

    Rose Campion flowers

    Ruth Hartnup/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Rose campion has silver foliage, and that's probably why deer tend to pass it by. It blooms in late spring with vibrant rose magenta flowers that last for a long time. This perennial is also another example of an invasive plant, so do not make a snap decision about growing it. It is a plant with nice foliage and the kind of floral color that sends some people swooning. But many gardeners find that they have to go around the yard and pull it up from places it does not belong. To help contain the plants, deadhead the flowers as soon as the bloom is over to prevent the natural spreading of seeds.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist to dry, well-drained
  • 20 of 22

    Delphinium (Delphinium spp.)

    Delphiniums standing tall amidst a mass of other flowers in a courtyard garden.
    Clive Nichols/Getty Images

    Delphinium is another old-time favorite for cottage gardens. Plant it next to a south-facing fence with companion plants sprawling at its feet, and let its graceful flower stalks shoot skywards. In addition to their deer-resistance, these perennials are valued for their true-blue flowers. For some types, the sky-blue color is as stunning as it is on the blue morning glory vines (Ipomoea tricolor).

    One of those interesting terms you come across in the world of gardening is used to describe the center of a delphinium's flower: the bee. It has nothing to do with the insect. These bees are sometimes white or black, and they may or may not be distinct.

    Delphiniums are a "live fast, die young" kind of plant. They shoot up quickly and stand head and shoulders above most other flowers but are very short-lived for a perennial.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Blue, white, pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained, evenly moist
    Continue to 21 of 22 below.
  • 21 of 22

    Rodgers Flower (Rodgersia pinnata)

    Rodgersia pinnata

     

    Mark Turner / Getty Images 

    Rodgersia pinnata is one of those deer-resistant perennials that you can categorize in a number of ways. Some gardeners think of it mainly as an outdoor foliage plant (even though it does produce a plume of flowers), but it is also a shade plant and a good plant to grow in wet areas.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained
  • 22 of 22

    Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

    Jack-in-the-pulpit hood with stripes.

    Masahiro Nakano/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Jack-in-the-pulpit is not grown for its flowers. The "pulpit" is a hood-like structure that sits atop this perennial. "Jack" is the little spike that stands up within this hood and contains the insignificant flowers (which you do not really see). If you like plants that are cute and funky, this North American native could be a good one for you to grow. You have an extra reason to grow it if your yard suffers from deer attacks.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, damp, acid

Find What Works in Your Area

Learning about deer-resistant plant types is a good start, but local gardeners and extension services will give you even more ideas for plants that thrive locally and are generally avoided by deer. So ask around!