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Flowers and Shrubs That Deer Won't Eat

Updated on January 17, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Where deer are concerned, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that no plant is 100% deer proof. The good news is that there are plants that deer will only eat as a last resort.

In general, deer tend to avoid strongly scented plants like herbs, plants with thick or leathery leaves such as yucca and thorny plants such as holly and thistle. Bear in mind though that fawns will sample everything as they learn which plants are most palatable. There are also regional differences in which plants deer eat and don't eat. And within the same geographic location, there can be differences in diet between herds of deer.

You can test plants by putting them out for a few days before planting to see if your local herd has a taste for them. Larger, established plants usually recover from mild browsing. Plants that are nibbled by deer during winter dormancy generally recover in the spring.

So, what can you plant? For early springtime color, try daffodils, hyacinths and Crown Imperials. A note of caution: don't plant the Crown Imperials too close to your house. The bulbs have a very strong odor even underground. Later in the spring you can use old-fashioned favorites like bleeding heart, columbine, lily of the valley and foxglove. For summer-long color, annuals such as calendulas, marigolds, nasturtium, sweet alyssum and zinnias are good choices. For perennials, try peonies and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans).

If you have a shady yard, don't despair. Hostas may be deer candy but ferns are rarely eaten. There are many to choose from ranging from the small but colorful Japanese Painted Fern all the way up to the elegantly tall Ostrich Fern. If you want color, astilbe are seldom bothered by deer.

Surprisingly, there are ornamental grasses that deer tend to stay away from. The brightly colored Japanese Blood Grass is a popular choice. If you enjoying making dried flower arrangements, you will want to plant Northern Sea Oats.

When it comes to shrubs, who doesn't love lilacs? Deer, that's who! They also avoid butterfly bushes, boxwood, forsythia and Rose of Sharon.

Your local extension office can provide you with a comprehensive list of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees rated for deer resistance in your area.

© 2008 Caren White


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    • profile image

      Jluther 5 years ago

      Sorry, but deer ate up my new lilac bush. The do avoid the rose of Sharon, though.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Neat read with good tips on discouraging deer from our gardens. Would like to link this hub to mine on hosta if you have no objection. Thanks!

    • profile image

      deer heards in my yard 6 years ago

      Deer Love Lilacs so that article is wrong there.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 7 years ago from America

      I have deer all over our yard, day and night. Good information.

    • profile image

      Cat Coleman 7 years ago

      I looked out my windoe this morning and the deer had totally eaten my beautiful geranium, impatian and another flowerin plant I had just purchased and not long ago ate all of my hostas. I put a large boston fern there and they haven't eaten that

    • CindiSummers profile image

      CindiSummers 7 years ago

      Nice list of deer-resistant plants! I'll have to plant some of these since deer eat my shrubs every year. I just started using Deer Off II, which has remedied the situation. It's also approved for organic use, so I can use it around my organic garden.

      Here's the repellent I'm talking about:

    • profile image

      berinij 8 years ago

      You are incorrect about the Rose of Sharon, my deer shred mine

    • profile image

      Kateria Hintz 8 years ago

      Hey, Thanks for info. We get deer in bkyard. My service dog died 2 1/2 weeks ago. as family we decided to bury her in bk yard in her favorite spot. We have a big yard. Next day Mom and I went to get bleeding hearts and forget me not. Well we left camping for 2 weeks. Came back bleeding hearts were doing GREAT!! forget me not was eating up.. So we are looking for a flower that means a special meaning and deer will not eat. Thanks for info

    • C.M. Vanderlinden profile image

      C.M. Vanderlinden 9 years ago from Metro Detroit

      Great hub, OldRoses. I'm lucky (?) to be in an urban area where I don't have to deal with deer, but they drive several of my relatives nuts. I'll be passing this along to them :-)

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 9 years ago from New Brunswick

      Good information, thanks.