The Best Deer-Resistant Plants and Flowers for Your GardenIf you have a garden full of plants and flowers that deer love to eat, replace them with these attractive, easy-care alternatives
Deer love to graze on many types of groundcovers, especially when new, tender growth emerges in the spring.
The ornamental plants and shrubs in your garden should be a feast for the eyes, not a banquet for the local deer population. Although it’s impossible to make a backyard completely deer-proof, you can fill it with plants deer hate and minimize deer damage. For a natural look, this deer-resistant wildflower mix is great, otherwise check out the suggestions below.
“You can still have a lush, thriving garden by making smart choices. Many stunning plants are unpalatable to deer because of their poisonous compounds, fuzzy or aromatic leaves, and tough, spiny, or bristly textures,” says Ruth Rogers Clausen, author of 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants. We’ve included some of Clausen’s smart choices, along with a few top picks of our own, in this list of deer-resistant plants.
- DEER-RESISTANT FLOWERS (ANNUALS)
- DEER-RESISTANT SHRUBS
- DEER-RESISTANT PERENNIALS
- DEER-RESISTANT GROUNDCOVERS
- DEER-PROOFING TIPS
- ONLINE LEARNING
- ELDERBERRY VARIETIES
DEER-RESISTANT FLOWERS (ANNUALS)
This shade-tolerant annual blooms continuously from late spring through fall. Fuzzy clusters of lavender-blue flowers and rough-textured foliage keep deer at bay. Cultivars are available in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white. Taller varieties, such as ‘Blue Horizon,’ are especially attractive in fresh or dried flower arrangements. For a floss flower that doesn't require deadheading and will bloom throughout summer in hot climates, try Artist® Blue (pictured).
Height/Spread: 4 to 36 inches tall, 6 to 18 inches wide
Zones: 10-11, grown as an annual elsewhere
Learn more about growing floss flower.
All varieties of marigolds are a turnoff for deer because of their strong, pungent scent. However, the flowers of signet marigolds have a lighter, pleasant citrusy smell and a lemony flavor that makes them popular for culinary use. ‘Lemon Gem’ is one of the best-tasting varieties and features bright yellow petals around a darker yellow center.
Height/Spread: Varies widely, 6 inches to 4 feet tall, 6 inches to 2 feet wide
Zones: 9-10, grown as an annual elsewhere
Learn more about growing marigolds.
Verbenas will reward you with deer-resistant blooms from spring until frost if trimmed back in midsummer. The small five-petaled flower clusters come in a wide range of colors, including white, pink, blue, lavender, purple, dark red, yellow and bicolor. Oblong, toothed leaves are gray-green to dark green.
Height/Spread: Varies, from low-growing to upright.
Zones: 8-11, grown as an annual elsewhere
Learn more about growing verbena.
Dramatic spikes of flowers in almost every color imaginable make snapdragons a stunning addition to a deer-resistant garden. Snapdragons bloom most profusely in the cooler weather of spring and fall, and come in a variety of cultivars, ranging from dwarf and trailing varieties to lofty 3-foot hybrids with densely packed blooms, such as the multicolored ‘Rocket Mix’.
Height: 6 to 30 inches tall, 10 to 18 inches wide
Zones: 9-10, grown as an annual elsewhere
Boxwoods are among the most versatile broadleaf evergreens for a deer-resistant garden. They come in numerous shapes and sizes and take well to pruning, making them ideal for formal hedges, borders, and topiaries. Deer seem to shun the attractive glossy, green foliage because of its strong scent.
Height/Spread: Varies, from 1 to 20 feet tall, 2 to 8 feet wide
Learn more about growing boxwood plants.
One of the best flowering shrubs for season-long color, with saucer-shaped blooms from June through September. Deer tend to find the finely textured blue-green foliage unappealing. Popular cultivars include the low-growing ‘Lemon Gem’, which can be used as a hedge or groundcover; ‘Sunset’, with reddish-orange blooms that fade to yellow; and Happy Face® (pictured), a long-blooming white variety with dense, dark green foliage.
Height/Spread: Varies, from 3 inches to 4 feet tall, 6 inches to 5 feet wide
Learn more about growing cinquefoil plants.
If you want to fend off deer while attracting bees and butterflies to your garden, butterfly bush is the perfect choice. Pollinators are drawn to the large panicles of honey-scented blooms from summer through fall. Flower colors are typically deep purple, pink, or white, although some hybrids have orange and gold blooms. For smaller gardens, try Pugster, a space-saving dwarf variety that produces full-sized blooms on compact 2-foot plants.
Height/Spread: Varies, 18 inches to 7 feet tall, 18 inches to 5 feet wide
Learn more about growing butterfly bush.
It’s a bit of a mystery why deer avoid spirea, but their aversion is good news for gardeners who love its abundant clusters of flowers in late spring and summer. A wide array of sizes are available, ranging from 2 to more than 6 feet tall. Most have finely textured green or blue-green leaves, but an interesting choice is Double Play® Candy Corn® (pictured), with foliage that emerges bright candy apple red and matures to pineapple yellow.
Height/Spread: 6 inches to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Note: Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica) is invasive in parts of the U.S. and Canada; see where.
Learn more about growing spirea plants.
Junipers have many different uses in the garden, from groundcovers and accent plantings to topiaries and privacy screens. Not only do they repel deer because of the volatile oils in their needles, they also are drought tolerant and have few pest problems. Try growing taller junipers in a tight hedgerow to create a deer-proof botanical barrier in lieu of fencing. Attractive options include ‘Moonglow, ‘Wichita Blue’ and Gin Fizz™, all of which have upright pyramidal forms and dense foliage.Height/Spread: Varies greatly, 6 inches to over 100 feet tall, 1 to 25 feet wide
Learn more about growing junipers.
The finely-cut silvery foliage of Russian sage makes it an eye-catching filler plant in a sunny perennial garden. In July, tiny lavender-blue flowers form on tall stalks, producing lovely plumes of color. The flowers will often last as long as 15 weeks, well into October, making Russian sage a good companion for other fall-blooming perennials.
Height/Spread: Varies, 2 to 4 feet tall & wide
Learn more about growing Russian sage.
FRINGED BLEEDING HEART
Fringed bleeding heart is one of the few native woodland plants that deer don’t go for. Although a bit less showy than the common bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), its attractive fern-like foliage persists throughout the growing season and flowering often continues throughout the summer, especially in cooler climates. The diminutive heart-shaped flowers, which dangle from long leafless stems, range in color from white to various shades of pink.
Height/Spread: 1 to 3 feet tall & wide
Learn more about growing bleeding heart.
Despite monkshood’s notoriety as a poisonous plant (see 12 Poisonous and Notorious Plants), it has a captivating beauty that few other perennials can match. The exotic indigo-blue flowers resemble the figure of a hooded monk and rise on spikes above deeply divided dark green leaves. Monkshood blooms from late summer through fall, providing a welcome display of late-season color.
Height/Spread: 2 to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Prized for their large, fragrant blooms, peonies have many attributes beyond their breathtaking beauty. They are tough, reliable, long-lived, and virtually pest-proof. “Pests and diseases are few, and deer, unimpressed with their strong scent, seldom browse them except for a bloom or two,” says Clausen.
Height/Spread: Varies, 1 to 3 feet tall & wide for shrub varieties; 4 to 7 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide for tree peonies.
Learn more about growing peonies.
Also called black snakeroot and bugbane, this plant’s showy bottlebrush-shaped flower spikes add drama and architectural interest to a shade or woodland garden. The creamy white flowers open gradually along the spikes from the bottom upward, creating fluffy spires up to 2 feet long rising above deeply lobed dark-green foliage. Although the spikes can grow as tall as 7 feet, they rarely need staking. The flowers have an unpleasant odor and bitter taste that repel deer.
Height/Spread: 4 to 6 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide
Grown primarily for its attractive silvery-gray foliage, dusty miller has a felt-like coating that deer find unappetizing. Varieties to look for include ‘Silver Dust,’ which has finely cut lacelike leaves, and ‘New Look,’ which features large, heavily felted foliage that resembles oak leaves.
Height/Spread: Up to 2 feet tall & wide
This popular shade-tolerant groundcover is primarily grown for its foliage, which spreads quickly via underground runners to form a dense carpet of glossy green leaves that retain their color throughout winter. As an added attraction, attractive spikes of tiny white blooms emerge from the creeping shoots in early spring. ‘Variegata’, a cultivar with white markings on its leaves, is especially effective at brightening up shady locations.
Height/Spread: 3 to 4 inches tall, spreads 7 to 8 inches
JAPANESE PAINTED FERN
Deer ignore most ferns, including this stunning low-growing variety distinguished by its silver-gray fronds delicately painted with brush strokes of green and mauve. The fronds hold their color all season, and look lovely when intermingled with other shade-loving groundcovers, such as lily-of-the-valley. Like other ferns, it spreads freely by creeping rhizomes, but not aggressively.
Height/Spread: 1 to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Clusters of tiny chartreuse flowers held on long stems like frothy sparklers make lady’s mantle a garden favorite. The broad scallop-edged leaves, which resemble a lady’s cloak, are covered with soft hairs that deer find objectionable. This easy-care perennial thrives in sun or part shade and is often planted in masses for use in borders or as a tall groundcover.
Height/Spread: 1 to 2 feet tall & wide
LILY OF THE VALLEY
Lily of the valley is a shade-loving, deer-resistant groundcover is one of Garden Design’s spring flowering all-stars. Its dainty bell-shaped flowers perfume the air with a heavenly fragrance in early spring. Bright red berries form on the plant after flowering, and the attractive lance-shaped leaves last all summer, serving as an attractive groundcover.
Height: 6 to 18 inches tall
Learn more about growing lily of the valley.
Sedges are clump-forming grasslike plants that make excellent groundcovers for moist, shady areas. Cultivars with variegated green and white foliage, such as ‘Ice Dance’ and ‘Silver Sceptre’, are particularly stunning in the shade, providing a luminous glow. Japanese sedge spreads slowly by underground rhizomes to create a dense noninvasive groundcover that remains evergreen in warmer growing zones. Like most species of sedges and ornamental grasses, it is not favored by deer.
Height: 12 to 24 inches tall
GROUNDCOVERS TO AVOID
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Lilyturf (Liriope)
- Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
See more deer-resistant plants
- Deer are often frightened away by loud noises and sudden movement. Keep them on edge by hanging wind chimes from the branches of trees and shrubs or by placing wind spinners throughout your garden. If that doesn’t work, try startling them with a sudden spray of water by installing a motion-activated sprinkler, such as ScareCrow from Ortho.
- Interplant aromatic perennial herbs throughout your garden that have scents that deer hate, such as mint, thyme, French tarragon, lavender, chives, sage, and rosemary.
- Deer love the tender new leaves and shoots of groundcovers when they first emerge in the spring. To eliminate the temptation, treat the area with a strong-smelling deer repellent or something that also doubles as a chemical-free fertilizer, such as blood meal or fish emulsion. “Be careful not to overfertilize, which will result in the soft, succulent vegetative growth that deer love. Just half the recommended dosage at a given time will leave the odor but not overstimulate the plants,” advises Clausen.
- If all else fails, surround your garden with tall deer fencing or other impenetrable barrier. Learn how to build your own "Critter-Resistant Vegetable Garden".
- You don’t have to avoid growing all the annuals that deer like to nibble on. Instead, put them in containers on a balcony or front porch or plant them in hanging baskets that are too high for deer to reach. You can also try a deer-resistant wildflower mix.
DESIGNING A DEER-RESISTANT GARDEN
With an emphasis on design, gardening expert Karen Chapman teaches you her tried-and-true methods for creating beautiful, deer-resistant garden areas. Her tips go well beyond a deer-resistant plant list, as she shows you multiple strategies, as well as how to combine them together to get more bang for your deer-resistant buck. Sign me up!
New book release from Karen Chapman, Deer Resistant Design: Fence-free Gardens That Thrive Despite the Deer - buy now on Amazon.