I have done lots of plant portraits on my blog and always mention if it is “deer proof” or not. As a designer, I am constantly updating – adding and subtracting plants from a mental list in my head that are reliably avoided by deer. I don’t want to plant a perennial or shrub for a client that disappears in a day or a week. I want something that deer won’t even consider including in their daily buffet choices. Consolidating some of my favorites in one post was my goal, so that someone who is planning a new garden or renovating a “deer torn zone” that they call their garden, will be able to use a variety of plants other than boxwood, daffodils, and plastic!
Solutions for warding off the Bambi plague are legion. There are deer fences, deer sprays, deer gadgets such as water sprays, repellents, and ultrasonic solutions, which work sometimes, but deer get used to anything. Electric fences are the most effective but impractical for many people. Making the plant choices unappetizing and not on their menu, is really key to combat the deer problem, forcing them to search out greener pastures, like your neighbors!
Deer tend to beat the same path through properties, so be aware of this and plant really unappetizing selections along these routes, avoiding attractive favorites like hostas, daylilies, and azaleas which attract deer for miles around.
Learn Deer Dislikes
Because of fuzzy leaves, bitter taste, or strong fragrance, there are plants that deer universally will not touch. A few are obvious because of the pungency of the foliage and flowers, like lavender, catmint, and Big Root geraniums. Brushing against these plants releases a strong pungent odor which is your clue that deer will hate it!
Favorite Deer Proof Perennials
Deer proof for me simply means rarely touched, if ever. I have seen Hellebores nibbled on once or twice, but I think deer tried it and then rejected it as inedible.
One choice that everyone should plant who have deer browsing are Hellebores. See more info at, What is Deer Resistant, Blooms in the Winter, and is Deer Resistant? . A tough shade loving perennial, a full stand of Hellebores will stop you in your tracks, and wow you with their beautiful blooms that can last for 4 months. A little pricey initially, these stalwart plants will repay you many times over the years for your investment.
Catmint or Nepeta is a beautiful choice that I have found universally rejected by deer, but loved by cats. It is a great edger, reliably comes back every year and is drought tolerant. Blooming prolifically for weeks, a cut back in midsummer will begin a new round of fresh blooms until frost. This is an unsung hero of perennials! And don’t worry that hordes of cats will descend on you. I have found my cat visits this plant only occasionally.
Fuzziness or hairy leaves is also a big indicator of a deer repellent plant. Just consider Lambs Ears, the softest wooliest leaf, almost like a cashmere blanket, and deer will spurn this totally. On the other end of the spectrum, deer regularly browse on hollies and roses, the prickliest plants in my garden. Go figure!!
Salvias are my go-to plant for deer infested areas. Another strong fragrance plant that deer disdain, salvias are a diverse group of plants that bloom for weeks and weeks during the summer, so you could plant just salvias in your garden and get bloom all season long in a spectrum of luscious colors. Check out my post on Salvia Amistad to see great selections.
Agastache or Anise Hyssops are gaining in popularity because of the staying power of the blooms- about 3 months, and the attractant power for pollinators. Just stand by an Agastache in full bloom and you will notice a cloud of insects covering the blooms. Hybridizers are coming out with a new palette of colors, like yellow, oranges and reds, but I find that the old stand-by ‘Blue Fortune’, is the most reliable.
Big Root Geraniums
Named because of the large fleshy roots that hold the foliage up, this extremely fragrant ground cover, Geranium macrorhizzum, thrives in all kind of conditions – sun, shade, wet, and dry. It is a very tough plant that blooms with nodding flowers in spring, and turns a russet color in the fall. In mild winters the foliage will remain, shrinking down a bit, but remaining for most of the winter.
In the onion family, Alliums are perennial bulbs known for their star like flowers that are quite spectacular. Easy to grow as accent plants, the seed heads are useful for dried arrangements.
Looking for a stellar edging perennial with evergreen blue-green foliage that is covered in bright pink flowers for weeks? Dianthus is your plant! Not many perennials have evergreen foliage, and dianthus is one of the best. Easy to grow and easy to split up and move around. Buy just a couple and end up with many.