Deer-Resistant Perennials

Plants Bambi Won't Eat, Usually

When we call certain plants "deer-resistant" perennials, we don't mean that Bambi never eats them. Rather, the term is meant to call attention to plants that Bambi finds less attractive than the other choices on his menu. But do be aware that deer will eat just about anything when 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 perennials on this list are hardy to at least USDA planting zone 5 unless otherwise noted.

  • 01 of 23

    Common Bleeding Hearts

    Dicentra spectabilis "Bleeding Hearts"
    Tiger Lily/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    The most widely grown bleeding heart is Dicentra spectabilis. This deer-resistant perennial can become quite large, under the right growing conditions. When that happens, it's 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's 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 drop of "blood" dripping out from the bottom.

  • 02 of 23

    Fringed Bleeding Hearts

    Dicentra eximia - fringed bleeding hearts
    Jason Hollinger/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Fringed bleeding heart is a smaller plant than its showier cousin. As lovely as Dicentra spectabilis is, some prefer fringed bleeding hearts (​Dicentra eximia). There are at least two reasons for this:

    • The fern-like foliage is more attractive.
    • And those leaves last through the summer heat, unlike those of D. spectabilis.
  • 03 of 23

    Dutchman's Breeches

    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 (D. cucullaria). The shape of its flower matches its common name as perfectly as does "bleeding hearts" for D. spectabilis and D. eximia.

    But, in one respect, Dutchman's breeches couldn't be any more different from D. eximia: The leaves don't hang around for very long at all. Shortly after it's done flowering, the whole plant (above-ground) disappears. You won't see it again until the next spring.

  • 04 of 23

    Catmint Plants

    Picture of Little Titch catmint flowers. Little Titch is a dwarf catmint.
    Jim/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Catnip plants are catmint plants, but not vice versa. A look at the botanical names in question will clear up any confusion:

    • Any plant listed as being in the Nepeta genus is considered to be a catmint.
    • So when you see that the botanical name for catnip is Nepeta cataria, you know it automatically qualifies as a type of catmint.
    • The cataria part of that name should remind you that this is the one best known for exciting cats.
    • But there are other deer-resistant perennials in the Nepeta genus that are grown for their ornamental value. They are long-blooming perennial plants. Nepeta racemosa Little Titch is an example of one.

    Bambi hates the smell of these plants, causing him to avoid eating them.

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  • 05 of 23

    Yellow Alyssum

    Unlike white alyssum, yellow alyssum, pictured here, is a perennial. It's good for stone walls.
    David Beaulieu

    You may know yellow alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis) 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 landscaping 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.

  • 06 of 23

    Foxglove

    Picture of foxglove flowers. Foxgloves are poisonous plants.
    Kristine Paulus/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Like daffodil bulbs (Narcissus), there's a good reason why Bambi leaves 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're useful for filling up spots in your landscaping where many other plants would be unhappy. Another plant that Bambi will leave alone and that tolerates partial shade is wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides).

  • 07 of 23

    Salvia Plants

    Salvia plant
    NicoleMariePhotoworks/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Like the related garden sage plants (Salvia officinalis), ornamental salvias are not eaten by Bambi for the same reason that deer don't eat catmints: They stink.

    Grow Salvia officinalis Tricolor if what you desire is a splendid foliage plant. Its variegated leaves boast three colors: white, green, and purple.

    But if it's flowers you want, grow any of the blue-flowering salvias. Caradonna salvia is a favorite, as gardeners adore its dark, graceful flower spikes. If you want something spiky but you don't like salvia, grow Red hot poker plants (Kniphofia): They aren't one of Bambi's favorites. Unlike with salvia, their spikes come in flashy, warm colors.

    Deer find a number of herb plants stinky, especially ones in the mint family, such as bee balm (Monarda didyma).

  • 08 of 23

    Bearded Iris Flowers

    Image: "black" iris.
    David Beaulieu

    It's not just poisonous plants and plants with strong, sharp odors that Bambi mostly avoids. For some reason, ornamental grasses aren't one of his favorite foods, either. And, in addition to plants with unpleasant odors, deer don't eat plants that smell perfumy, for the most part.

    That works out well for us humans, as most of us love to grow perennials with sweet-smelling flowers such as many of the plants in the Iris genus. But Bambi finds these just as stinky. Go figure.

    Not all irises are equally fragrant. When in doubt, try to find the old-fashioned, "bearded" varieties.

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  • 09 of 23

    Lamb's Ear

    Lamb's ear photo.
    Sonny Abesamis/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) is another case of a deer-resistant perennial that's hard to figure. It's easy to see why Bambi wouldn't want to eat prickly plants; it's not so easy to figure out why he wouldn't wish to eat the velvety leaves of lamb's ear. Maybe they're 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 give a nice backdrop to companion plants.

  • 10 of 23

    Lavender Plants

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

    Since we have talked about aromatic plants, you probably figured we would eventually get around to Lavandula eventually. Lavender is the poster child for perennial herbs/subshrubs grown for their smell. Let's thank our lucky stars that Bambi isn't a fan of potpourri!

    Ants, too, dislike the smell of lavender, which has made this deer-resistant perennial useful, traditionally, for organic ant control.

  • 11 of 23

    Wall Germander

    What germander looks like.
    David Beaulieu

    Teucrium chamaedrys is another perennial herb/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." Meanwhile, the related T. fruticans, which is also deer-resistant, is great for sculpting topiary creations, although it does have the drawback of being hardy only in zones 8 to 10.

  • 12 of 23

    Lenten Rose

    Lenten Rose ( Helleborus orientalis)
    titanium22/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Helleborus orientalis is one of those spring flowers that bloom early in the season. For this reason, it's much-valued by those of us 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 impresses us is how long the plant retains it, giving you something interesting to look at in the garden for months.

    Lenten rose is, in fact, a fascinating plant all the way around, from the look of its leaves to the origin of its name. If, instead, you're looking for a late-blooming perennial that deer don't eat, try Montauk daisy (Nipponanthemum nipponicum).

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  • 13 of 23

    Peonies

    The 'Red Charm' peony can become so deep a red as to be almost burgundy in color.
    Red Charm is a burgundy-colored peony. David Beaulieu

    The splendid peony rightly lays claim to:

    • Large, beautiful, fragrant flowers
    • Not needing to be fussed over (for example, they don't need to be divided)
    • A long life (your peonies may outlive you)

    If you've never given them a try before, you now have an excuse to do so if you're seeking deer-resistant perennials.

  • 14 of 23

    Oriental Poppy

    Oriental poppy flowers (image) add zest to landscaping. The ones here are orange.
    David Beaulieu

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

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

  • 15 of 23

    Tansy

    Tansy photo
    Randi Hausken/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Just because a plant is listed as a deer-resistant perennial, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should grow it. Research all plants carefully before deciding to grow them. You may find that their bad qualities outweigh their good qualities, in some cases.

    Such can certainly be the case with tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Yes, it is a deer-resistant perennial. But tansy is also:

    Those are two truly bad qualities, especially if livestock grazes in an area near where you garden.

  • 16 of 23

    Veronica Plants

    Royal Candles speedwell (image) is a perennial. It looks like Blue Hill salvia.
    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. Make its display of blue flowers last longer by shearing.

    There are many kinds of speedwells. Some grow a cultivar called Veronica spicata Royal Candles. From a distance, the plant looks a bit like a small blue salvia.

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  • 17 of 23

    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.

    Not that Jack Frost is flowerless. It bears small blue flowers in spring. But Jack Frost's really cool feature is its silver leaves. Those leaves are made even more interesting by being variegated.

  • 18 of 23

    Columbine Flowers

    Image of yellow columbine flower.
    David Beaulieu

    Columbine plants display colorful flowers against a backdrop of attractive, clover-like foliage. They come in yellow, white, red, blue, pink, or purple. Some are even bi-colored. Columbine is truly one of the stars of the spring garden.

  • 19 of 23

    Columbine Meadow Rue

    Image of columbine meadow rue.
    David Beaulieu

    If you like the foliage of columbine, then you'd probably also enjoy a plant called "Columbine meadow rue" (Thalictrum aquilegifolium). It's 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 since it likes a little shade. But if your "meadow" is in full sun, a better Bambi-buster would be coneflower (Echinacea).

  • 20 of 23

    Rose Campion

    Rose Campion flowers
    Ruth Hartnup/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Here's another pattern you may have observed: Deer often seem to leave plants with silvery foliage alone. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is yet another example.

    Rose campion is also another example of an invasive plant, so don't make a snap decision about growing it. It's 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 to which it has spread, where it doesn't belong.

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  • 21 of 23

    Delphinium

    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. You will adore it, but it's not at the top of the list of Bambi's favorites.

    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: "bee." It has nothing to do with the insect. These bees are sometimes white or black; other times, they're not really that distinct, though.

    Delphiniums hold to the expression, "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse." Well, maybe the third part of that saying doesn't quite apply. But they do shoot up to stand head and shoulders above most other flowers and are very short-lived for a perennial.

  • 22 of 23

    Rodgers Flower

    Rodgers flower image.
    David Beaulieu

    Rodgersia pinnata is one of those 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's also a shade plant and a good plant to grow in wet areas. Of course, it makes the present list because it can be categorized in one more way, as well: as a deer-resistant perennial.

  • 23 of 23

    Jack-in-the-Pulpit

    Jack-in-the-pulpit hood with stripes.
    Masahiro Nakano/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Nor is Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) 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 don't 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.

    Deer aren't the only cute-but-troublesome pests lurking out there. If your area is plagued by rabbits, avoid growing plants that rabbits eat; opt instead for rabbit-proof flowers.