List of the Best Deer Resistant Plants For Repelling Deer 2023 [Updated]
If deer regularly frequent your garden, you’ll know just how troublesome they can grow to be. A herd of deer might initially be a pleasant sight. Add the elements of hunger and waste and you may find yourself dreading their “friendly” visits. Hungry deer can quickly graze through a garden, leaving your plants bereft of blooms and foliage.
Fortunately, you can rely on mother nature to produce nifty solutions to this problem. Many plants can naturally act as deer repellents; you just have to be quite flexible in your plant choices. Some of the most effective at warding off deer are aromatic herbs. Though we are sensorially attracted to these plants, deer tend to find them unsavory or unpalatable. Poisonous plants, sharp grasses, prickly plants, and those with fuzzy, hairy, leathery, or fibrous foliage can be quite effective as well.
There’s no such thing as a completely deer-proof plant, however. Some herds tend to have a higher tolerance of certain species, while others learn to tolerate them over time. You will have to experiment with plant combinations and reinforce your defense system with other smart solutions (e.g. a proper deer fence, motion-activated sprinklers, liquid deer repellent). Below is a list of plants that are generally deer-repellent, but note that these may still be vulnerable within the first 3 – 4 weeks of introduction to your garden.
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Aromatic Herbs & Shrubs
1) Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
The scent of lavender can be quite irresistible, alluring, and calming to humans. Amusingly, it can have the opposite effect on deer, which find the smell distasteful. There are 47 species of lavender, and the most commonly cultivated ones should be aromatic enough to help ward off deer. These include Lavandula angustifolia, L. latifolia, L. dentata, L. stoechas, and L. multifida. These non-toxic plants produce essential oils with varying levels of aromatic phytochemicals.
Lavender plants grow best under full sun and in well-draining, dry soil. Unless your pond’s edge is elevated or kept dry, these may not be the best pondside plants. You can certainly grow them out of pots with a more porous formulation to help prevent deer from grazing on your pond edge or marginal plants. You can also grow them along access points to your garden to serve as an outer border of deer deterrents.
2) Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Highly valued throughout the Middle Ages as a plant that can ward off evil, heal an assortment of ailments, and restore strength and memory, Salvia officinalis is an attractive plant with many practical uses. Aside from being a vital part of every European chef’s arsenal of ingredients, sage can be quite effective at turning away deer. Its leaves are not only aromatic, they’re covered on both sides with a layer of fuzzy trichomes. The combination of scent and texture prevents sage from ever becoming a deer favorite.
Hardy to USDA zones 4 – 10, sage can tolerate a variety of climates but thrives best when reared under full sun and in well-draining soil. Production can be enhanced by consistent watering sessions, though trapped moisture and humidity can induce foliar diseases. When conditions are optimized, mature sage may produce lovely indigo-lavender flower spikes in spring. Also aromatic, the delicate blooms can attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your garden! If you’re interested in cultivars with equally attractive leaves, search for S. officinalis ‘Purpurea’ and ‘Icterina’.
3) Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Therapeutic to humans but headache-inducing for deer? Rosemary is another plant that is a must in every herb garden and culinary toolbox. This modest herb produces aromatic needle-shaped leaves that can be quite leathery or tough. Extending to a maximum length of just 4 cm (1.6 inches), these leaves have a dark green upper surface and a white underside. The undersides are extra unappealing to deer as they are covered in short, woolly hairs!
Like most plants adapted to mild climates, rosemary requires proper drainage and full sun. It is also drought-tolerant and relatively pest-resistant. This ornamental herb can grow into a dense shrub and can even appear tree-like when pruned with care. It is easily reared in porous pots and propagated via shoot cuttings. A single plant can surely sustain all of your culinary needs and you can sleep easy knowing its precious leaves are safe from hungry deer!
4) Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica)
If your garden is located in a coastal area, you can ward off deer with the shrubs of Myrica californica. Also known as California bayberry, this shrub produces wrinkled fruits that resemble purple berries. These are coated in a waxy layer and arise soon after the plant has been pollinated in summer. The leaves of the plant are bright green and glossy. When ambient temperatures are particularly warm, they give off a spicy scent! You may want to use the leaves as an alternative to bay leaves in your fragrant dishes.
Pacific wax myrtle can be maintained to serve as a hedge for your garden. At maturity, a shrub can tower to a height of 20 feet (6 meters) and extend to an equal spread! If you’re looking for a plant that can serve as a natural barricade against deer, this might just be the one. To top things off, it is fairly low-maintenance and does not have heavy watering needs. Even under full sun conditions, this versatile plant can grow quickly and live a long life with just occasional to moderate watering.
5) Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Rarely damaged by deer, this deciduous shrub is highly adaptable and tends to crop up in fields, open woods, rocky cliffs, and thickets. ‘Fragrant’ is a telling part of its common name as its leaves and shoots give off a citrus scent when scratched or crushed. The plant itself can grow quite woody and tall, up to 8 feet, and can develop trailing branches that take root and form new colonies. It is attractive year-round in zones 3 – 9, as its fruits and male catkins can persist into winter.
Fragrant sumac leaves resemble those of its cousin, poison ivy (Rhus radicans). They develop attractive fall colors as temperatures drop. This species also produces yellow flowers in early spring. When pollinated, these turn into fuzzy red berries. Well-draining soil and full sunlight are definite preferences, and this species is generally disease-resistant as long as it is provided with basic requirements. One of the perks of using this plant to repel deer is it isn’t partial to rich soil. You can create informal hedges along the infertile or problematic areas of your garden.
Plants With Fuzzy or Prickly Foliage
6) Purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis)
Verbena bonariensis is an herbaceous perennial that is commonly called tall verbena, clustertop vervain, Argentinian vervain, and purpletop vervain. It is known for being somewhat deer resistant as its foliage sparsely occurs along rough wiry stems covered with white fuzz. The leaves themselves are lance-shaped and narrow. They can reach a length of 5 inches (12.7 cm) but will seldom have a width that exceeds an inch (2.5 cm). In summer and fall, the plant produces lavender-colored inflorescences atop tall stems. Due to the tall stems and sparse leaves, the plant can appear to be “see-through”.
This ornamental species is known for attracting butterflies, bees, and goldfinches, which favor the seeds. It is typically low-maintenance and easily spreads by self-seeding. For this reason, populations can rapidly become invasive and compete with native plants. Fortunately, you can choose to deadhead those in your own garden before seeds are produced. Keep in mind that this plant is quite hardy and can tolerate even disturbed areas.
7) Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina)
This attractive flowering plant is cultivated across temperate regions as an ornamental species. It is commonly referred to as lamb’s ear because all exposed plant parts are covered in a profusion of wool-like hairs. These make the plant look almost white or grey instead of green! The furry, oppositely-arranged leaves look remarkably like drooping ear flaps. Their wrinkled texture can even make them feel more like mammal skin than like leaves.
The silky hairs coating the plant are a big turn-off to deer, which are averse to fuzzy-textured foliage. Though the blooms themselves are free of hair, even the flower spikes are fuzzy. This tangibly pleasant plant is actually edible and has medicinal uses. The leaves are said to taste fishy and are usually deep-fried and doused in lemon (just like fillets)! If you’d like to see what all the “fuzz” is about, cultivate this species in well-draining soil. It can be used as ground cover around plants that are more susceptible to grazing.
8) Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Horticulturists began cultivating lady’s mantle a century ago as its features easily complement those of other flowering perennials. It also produces anti-inflammatory compounds. If you have areas in your deer-resistant garden that require a soft finish or dense edging, definitely consider this species. Its leaves are scallop-edged, circular, and an eye-catching shade of light green. They are densely hairy and have the tendency to collect raindrops, which look like glistening beads on the leaf surface.
In late spring, an abundance of star-shaped flowers bloom on cyme stalks that emerge through the leaves. These chartreuse-colored blooms almost look frothy above a sea of green. When pollinated, they develop into insignificant fruits that eventually ripen and drop seeds. This self-seeding tendency can be an issue, especially if the substrate is rich. Spent flowers and any decaying leaves will have to be pruned regularly to maintain the appearance of lady’s mantle bushes.
9) Small globe thistle (Echinops ritro)
If you’ve never seen this plant before, you might think it looks as though it was plucked straight out of a sci-fi film, from a fictional Earth-like planet. Its vivid steel blue blooms can appear otherworldly above a backdrop of dark-green leaves. They resemble pompoms or orbs and seem to defy gravity as they perch atop fine silvery stems. If your garden needs some contrast, this is a definite winner. Its spiny leaves and thistle-like blooms have high chances of repelling deer. Instead, they’ll attract hordes of bees and butterflies.
Small globe thistle is best cultivated in well-draining soil and under full sunlight. It can tolerate being reared in poor soil as long as its roots do not remain moist for too long. Hardy to USDA zones 3 – 8, this showy perennial can grow to a maximum height of 4 feet (122 cm) and a spread of 2.5 feet (76 cm). As an added bonus, you can harvest the spectacular blooms and add them to a whimsical bouquet. Once you have done so, your plant may continue gifting you with shorter blooms!
10) Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)
This under-utilized species definitely deserves more attention. Blue false indigo is a flowering plant under the legume or bean family (Fabaceae). For humans, this plant has a low toxicity level. Young deer are more susceptible to its mildly toxic parts. Along with rabbits, they find the foliage and flowers of the plant unpalatable. The nectar-rich, long-lasting blooms do attract bees and butterflies. These blooms are pea-shaped and appear on spikes that tower above the foliage.
In 2010, the Royal Horticultural Society gave this species the ‘Perennial Plant of the Year’ award. It is generally unsusceptible to pests and diseases and can thrive in various conditions as long as its minimum needs are met. Simply ensure that it is cultivated in medium to well-draining soil and receives full sun or partial shade. Unlike many other self-seeding plants, blue false indigo does not necessarily spread uncontrollably even if seed pods are left through winter. To top it off, the seed pods themselves have ornamental value and are an interesting addition to dried flower bouquets.
11) Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)
Bleeding heart’s species epithet, ‘spectabilis’, means showy or spectacular. These adjectives are perfect for referring to the rose-pink flowers of this perennial favorite. These occur on elegantly arching floral stalks that appear to nod due to the weight of the delicate blooms. A tube of downward-oriented white petals extends from distinctly heart-shaped, seemingly puffy sepals that dangle from the floral stalk. In contrast, the pinnate foliage is a subtle shade of green.
Lamprocapnos spectabilis is known for being toxic to humans and dogs. Presumably, deer tend to stay away from this plant due to its isoquinoline alkaloid content, which can cause irritation of the skin and digestive tract. If you’re in need of a deer-resistant plant that can withstand partly shaded areas and moist soil, try to search for seeds or cuttings of this species from local plant nurseries or online gardening portals. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across its cultivars (‘Alba’ with white flowers, ‘Gold Heart’ with yellow foliage) too!
12) Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
Is your garden in need of some red? If you’re in the mood for a theatrical show of summer blooms, you’ll want a few of your own common poppies. This herbaceous annual quickly generates plant organs that give rise to hundreds of short-lived flowers through spring and summer. The showy flowers occur singly and are distinguished by four intensely red petals which tend to overlap one another. The stems are covered in seemingly stiff hairs.
Aside from its hairs, this species produces more deterrents to keep potential grazers away. This historically significant plant is known for its papaveric acid and alkaloids, which can mildly sedate the consumer. You can be sure that most deer will only dare to eat common poppies as a last resort, and those that do may find themselves unable to keep up with the rest of the herd! Common poppies require virtually no maintenance, so it’s important to note that they can easily become aggressive weeds.