How to Landscape Your Yard with Deer-Resistant Plants

Barberry
Barberry is a popular deer-resistant shrub. (Holoborodko/Getty Images)

If you live in an area with foraging deer, you’ve likely watched with dismay as some of your favorite plants disappeared overnight. But before you give up on gardening altogether, try making your yard less appealing to deer by choosing plants that deer find less appealing.

The Deer-Proof Garden

It’s important to remember that unless you build a very tall fence, there is no such thing as a deer-proof garden. Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough, and they can adapt and eat plants that are considered “resistant.” However, they do have their favorites, and they’re more attracted to places where their favorite food is easily available.

The idea behind deer-resistant gardening is to fill your yard with plants they don’t prefer, in hopes the deer will simply give up and go someplace more appetizing.

Lavender
Add herbs, such as lavender, to discourage deer. (Baz251286/Getty Images)

In general, deer prefer:

  • Plants with lush foliage and high water content, such as hostas
  • Early spring plants like tulips, crocuses, and forsythia
  • Fruiting and berry-producing plants, including vegetable gardens
  • Native plants

Deer are less likely to be attracted to:

  • Herbs and strongly flavored plants
  • Heavily scented foliage
  • Plants with fuzzy or hairy leaves
  • Prickly plants
  • Ferns
  • Grasses

If you’re planting a new border or garden, start with heavily scented and deer-resistant plants on the outside perimeter. Once you’ve established an area and encouraged the deer to browse elsewhere, you can add other plants inside the perimeter.


Rosemary
Rosemary is an evergreen herb that works well in flower gardens, too. (webentwicklerin/pixabay)

List of Deer-Resistant Plants

Always check with local gardeners and your cooperative extension service to find out what has (and hasn’t) worked for gardeners in your area. The following is a list of plants that research has indicated are less appealing to deer:

Herbs and Scented Plants

Most herbs are great choices for deer-resistant gardens, such as:

  • Chives, ornamental (Allium sp.)
  • Garlic, ornamental (Allium sp.)
  • Ginger (Asarum sp.)
  • Lavender (Lavandula sp.)
  • Onion, ornamental (Allium sp.)
  • Mint (Mentha sp.)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage, ornamental and culinary (Salvia sp.)
  • Thyme (Thymus sp.)

GrassBush
Deer generally leave ornamental grasses alone. (Sima_ha/Getty Images Signature)

Ornamental Grasses

Most ornamental grasses are deer-resistant, including:

  • Fescue (Festuca sp.)
  • Flame grass (Miscanthus sp.)
  • Fountain Grass (Pennisetum sp.)
  • Giant Reed (Arundo donax)
  • Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana)
  • Purple Moor grass (Molinia caerulea)
  • Sedge (Carex sp.)
  • Silver grass (Miscanthus sp.)
  • Zebra grass (Miscanthus sp.)

Fern
Most species of ferns are also considered deer-resistant. (MattGush/Getty Images)

Ferns

Most species of ferns, including:

  • Christmas fern (Polystichum arcostichoides)
  • Hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
  • New York fern (Thelyptens noveboracensis)
  • Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
  • Osmanthus (Osmanthus sp.)
  • Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
  • Wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis)

Annual Vinca
Annual vinca is less appealing, although annuals are often devoured. (Supersmario/Getty Images)

Annuals

  • Ageratum (Ageratum sp.)
  • Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
  • Dusty Miller (Centaurea cineraria)
  • Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sp.)
  • Poppy (Papaver sp.)
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
  • Strawflower (Helichrysum)

Lamb's Ear
Lamb’s ear has fuzzy leaves that discourage deer. (Joe_Potato/Getty Images Signature)

Perennials and Groundcovers

  • Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Artemisia (Artemesia sp.)
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra sp.)
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
  • Catmint (Nepeta sp.)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea sp. & Rudbeckia sp.)
  • Coreopsis (Coreopsis sp.)
  • Daffodil (Narcissus sp.)
  • Epimedium (Epimedium sp.)
  • Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sp.)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)
  • Iris (Iris sp.)
  • Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus sp.)
  • Ligularia (Ligularia sp.)
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.)
  • Monkshood (Aconitum sp.)
  • Pachysandra (Pachysandra sp.)
  • Potentilla, Cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.)
  • Rock-Cress (Arabis caucasica)
  • Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)
  • Russian sage (Perovskia sp.)
  • Spurge (Euphorbia sp.)
  • Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium sp.)
  • Tarragon (Artemesia sp.)
  • Thistle (Echinops sp.)
  • Yarrow (Achillea sp.)
  • Yucca (Yucca sp.)

Creeping Juniper
Creeping juniper is a popular groundcover shrub. (Luara Shapranova/Getty Images)

Shrubs and Trees

  • Barberry (Berberis sp.)
  • Birch (Betula sp.)
  • Blue mist shrub (Caryopteris clandonensis)
  • Boxwood (Buxus sp.)
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.)
  • Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
  • Holly (Ilex sp.)
  • Juniper (Juniperus sp.)
  • Lilac (Syringa sp.)
  • Mahonia (Mahonia sp.)
  • Maple (Acer sp.)
  • Peashrub (Caragana sp.)
  • Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
  • Spruces (Picea sp.)
  • Sumac (Rhus sp.)

Further Reading

9 COMMENTS

  1. A great book on this topic is Creating a Deer & Rabbit Proof Garden by Peter Derano

    Features coverage on over 160 plants with 400 full color photo’s.
    Great tips

  2. One deer resistant perennial missing from the list is Aurenia saxitalis – basket of gold. I planted various supposedly deer resistant perennials that were immediately eaten, but the deer – 3 mothers with fawns came thru daily – did not touch these. Planted to drape over the edge of a low stone retaining wall. The leaves are bluish green and hairy/fuzzy, which deer don’t normally like, so I assume that’s why they passed these by. These bloom prolifically in bright yellow for weeks in mid spring – Northern NJ.

  3. Many of these plants are invasive and should NEVER be planted. They do harm to local ecosystems and creat food deserts for wildlife. I would recommend not selling Miscanthus, Vinca, Barberry, Butterfly bush, or Russian olive. Research noxious weeds and invasive plants and you will find them. Certain states restrict the planting of some of these plants because of the harm they do. If you have them, get rid of them

  4. Absolutely agree with Tracy. Barberry is particularly invasive in the Northeast and can harbor high populations of deer ticks.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Carol!
      As with any gardening advice, it’s best to consider your location and check with area master gardeners on whether a plant species would be invasive.
      Better safe than sorry. 🙂

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here