Deer Resistant Plants for Your Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Deer Resistant Plants for your garden

As sweet as Bambi is in the movies, catching sight of a deer in fall is even more delightful.

However, watching them eat your apples or roses isn’t. I have a love-hate relationship with these four-legged buffet munchers, so I’ve developed numerous strategies to deter them from my garden – full of roses and daylilies – which are two of their favorite foods.

One solution? Plant things they don’t like to eat. However, expect deer to still graze upon young plants in early spring when deer are hungry from winter. On newly planted trees, deer eat foliage, and rub against trunks and limbs. Tree guards can save young trees. Many deer resistant plants have a prickly or hairy leaf texture, are poisonous, or have a distinctive foliage scent so when choosing plants, look for these attributes.

Tap and Maddie

Get dogs that stay outdoors at night. Seriously, if you have a dog that patrols your garden, you won’t need to worry much about deer. My Maddie, a mixed breed from the local pound, makes it her mission to keep all four-legged creatures other than her friend, Tap, our Labrador, out of the yard.

If you don’t want an outdoor dog, try a Scarecrow motion-activated sprinkler. Several of my gardening friends successfully use these. However, you must have enough sprinklers to cover your area, and it’s best if they are on a timer so you don’t head out to get your mail and get blasted by cold water. Also, move the sprinklers around to keep deer off track.

agaves

What about repellents? Repellents work, but I always forget to spray the peaches or apples just about the time the deer decide they are ripe.

As for vegetable gardens, I can only suggest a dog, or a deer-proof fence of the type that deer cannot jump, and these are expensive. Before I had dogs, deer ravaged my vegetable patch. They barely enter our yard now. However, I must still deal with my dear dogs that get into the gardens mid-summer to lie in the soft dirt. It’s difficult to persuade them to stay out while the weather is hot, but we all do our best, and I’ll take my pups over deer any day.

Mexican sage

The following are some plants grown in the South that deer find less attractive. However, if a deer is hungry enough, he or she will eat nearly anything.

Grasses and alliums

Trees:
Cedrus atlantica, Atlas Cedar, a tree I use a lot in my unfenced landscape. I’m very fond of ‘Horstmann.’
Juniperus scopulorum 'Wichita Blue' is a beautiful selection.
Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold.’ Any reason to buy a non-fruiting ginkgo is a good one.

hummingbird shrub

Shrubs:
Caryopteris x clandonensis, blue mist shrub
Ilex spp., hollies
Buddleia davidii, butterfly bush
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’
Spireas, including S. x. bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’
Cornus stolonifera 'Farrow' Arctic Fire™ red-twig dogwood
Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii (hummingbird shrub) shown above in a closeup.

Sea of savlia, Russian sage and grasses

Perennials:
Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage
Salvias, like S. greggii, S. nemorosa ‘May Night’ and ‘Sensation Rose.’ A sea of salvia, Russian sage and ornamental grasses at the Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago is show above.
Hellebores
Agastache spp. (hummingbird mint)
Ajuga reptans (bugle weed)
Agaves, only hardy in southern climates.
Gaura lindheimeri (wand flower)
Helianthus angustifolius--there are now several selections of this perennial sunflower including pale yellow ‘Matanzas Creek’ and ‘Low Down’ that flowers at twelve inches high.
Tecoma stans 'Gold Star' or ‘Orange Jubilee’ (only reliably hardy in Zone 8-10).

Tecoma stans 'Orange Jubilee'

Bulbs:
Deer won’t touch daffodils (narcissus), crocus, alliums, fritillaria, Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow) or Iris reticulata. Most of these bulbs are also resistant to voles.

Chionodoxa forbesii 'Pink Giant'

Grasses:
Most ornamental grasses, both perennial and annual, are not favored by deer. They don’t seem to like the movement of grasses or their texture. I once saw a daylily garden planted by a hybridizer surrounded by tall, ornamental grasses. She said she used them as a living fence to discourage deer, and it worked.

For an excellent listing of plants based upon deer resistance, see Rutgers University, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Plants are listed according to common and botanical names.

Although you can’t create a garden that is deer proof, you can make it less hospitable by employing these tactics. Bambi may be a cutie, but you don’t want to encourage him or his family to set up residence where you live too.