At first, the view of deer peacefully grazing in your yard may be appealing. But homeowners and gardeners familiar with these hooved creatures know that they can quickly decimate the gardens you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. No plant is completely deer-proof, but you can discourage deer from feasting on your flower beds. In addition to options like motion-activated sprinklers and fences, planting deer-resistant shrubs and plants will help you keep your flora thriving.
Allelopathy is a defense mechanism plants use to protect their space by releasing chemicals through their leaves. As a rule, deer avoid these types of plants. The gold, copper, or brass-colored marigold is an annual and a perfect border plant to deter deer from snacking on other less-resistant plants in your garden. They’re easy to grow, work in just about any type of soil, and thrive in hot, dry conditions. Remove dead flowers to encourage continued blooming.
If it enhances food flavor, chances are, deer won’t like it. Many of the herbs cooks use to season food are too aromatic for the sensitive nose of a deer. Try trailing varieties of rosemary as well as upright ones. Rosemary is hardy but requires a sandy, well-drained soil with full sun exposure and warmer growing zones. White, pink, purple, or blue flowers bloom in late spring or early summer.
This plant is one of the first to bloom, often before winter has officially ended. Plant experts also call this a Lenten rose. The flowers may be bi-colored or exhibit varying shades of cream or dusty rose with hints of green. The evergreen leaves last throughout the cold months. Plant in moisture-retentive soil with high organic matter for best results. Deer avoid this poisonous perennial. However, wildlife observers say starving deer may eat plants they normally would not eat.
This hardy perennial herb plant erupts with clusters of lavender-blue flowers under full-sun conditions. Another easy-to-grow plant, catmint reaches a height and width of about three feet when mature. Catmint colors peak just as spring bulbs are finishing their showiness and just before summer perennials bloom. They grow fast in heavier clay soil. Deer dislike the smell, so gardeners use catmint as a deterrent to protect other types of plants that deer are fond of. If you have a feline companion, consider choosing a close catmint relative, Nepeta cataria, or catnip, which doubles as a deer deterrent.
The tiny, bell-shaped flowers of the lily of the valley are not only sweetly aromatic, but they’ll also help keep hungry deer at bay. These plants thrive on moisture and partial shade, but they can adapt to sunnier, drier conditions, too, with some extra TLC. Gardeners from Alaska to eastern California and southern Oklahoma will discover distinct varieties of this durable, quick-spreading, and low-maintenance plant.
If your garden has access to full sun and well-drained soil, consider adding the beautifully fragrant peony to your garden. These perennials are highly deer resistant due to their strong scent. Peonies are slow to mature but long-lived. They bloom in colors ranging from pure white to deep red and every color in-between from late spring through early summer. You’ll find herbaceous varieties with soft green stems as well as tree varieties.
The glossy, deep green foliage and berries on the deciduous winterberry holly don’t appeal to deer, although birds are fond of the fruit. These plants have a vast geographical range, growing in moist woods of Canada, down to the swamps in Florida, and west to Missouri. Winterberry holly is easy to grow and perfect for hedges and borders. In the colder months, when the foliage drops, the berries remain, adding a splash of red or gold color to your garden during the winter.
If you love cut flowers, the bee balm is a great choice to add to your deer-resistant garden. These lovely perennials attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, but deer avoid them due to the mint-scented foliage. The blooms are open, similar to a daisy in shape, with shades of white, pink, purple, or red available. They grow best in moist, rich soil in sunny spots of your garden with good air circulation. Dwarf varieties grow to a height of about 10 inches, but others reach heights between two and four feet.
Native to Mexico and warmer southern regions in the U.S., cosmos are self-seeding, deer-resistant annuals. They tolerate dry conditions and can grow to a height of six feet. The flowers vary widely, available in just about any color you can think of. Shorter varieties are perennials in warmer areas, including those with chocolate-brown blooms, a butterfly favorite. Horticulturists warn that while deer may avoid these plants in some areas, that doesn’t mean they are deer-resistant in all areas. In Oklahoma, deer seldom damage the plant, but in Georgia, gardeners may need to protect young buds, for example.
For centuries, people used lamb’s ear as a dressing for wounds, an edible, a wool dye, and as a treatment for colds. Lamb’s ear leaves are silvery-gray colored and fuzzy or green and smooth. Deer are not fans of the fuzzy-leaf varieties. Drought-tolerant and easy to grow, it loves full sun or partial shade. However, this plant is prone to disease in high-humidity regions. Spikes covered in tiny pale pink, lavender, or violet-colored flowers bloom in summer. Crush a few leaves for a pleasant, aromatic scent, which is similar to pineapple.