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30 Deer-Resistant Flowers, Shrubs, and Trees for Your Garden

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.

Thirty great plant ideas to keep deer from browsing in your yard.

Thirty great plant ideas to keep deer from browsing in your yard.

Deterring Deer From Eating Your Garden

Living in a rural area filled with deer, I have developed expertise in planting gardens that are resistant to deer. My flower beds are not fenced and thrive with several herds passing through the yard each day.

 While not fool-proof, surrounding plants with marigolds is one way to repel deer without the use of a fence.

While not fool-proof, surrounding plants with marigolds is one way to repel deer without the use of a fence.

How to Deer-Proof Your Garden Without a Fence

Cost and zoning requirements may make adding a fence difficult or impossible. When fencing is not possible, the following planting methods help to deter deer:

  • Camouflage planting. Plant deer-repellent plants like Russian sage or marigolds in and around garden beds to prevent foraging.
  • Natural fence. Create a natural fence using deer-resistant hedges like holly, boxwood, or inkberry.

Signs of Deer Damage in Your Garden

Symptoms of deer presence and damage include:

  • Plant leaves removed and mown down by grazing.
  • Trampled plants.
  • Deer poop in and around the garden.
Unfortunately, deer love to munch on pansies, one of the earliest spring flowers.

Unfortunately, deer love to munch on pansies, one of the earliest spring flowers.

Which Plants Do Deer Like?

Hungry deer are more likely to browse among garden plants, which is why the heaviest damage usually occurs from October through April. If you live in an area with active deer herds, you will need to protect the following plants:

  • Hostas
  • Daylilies
  • English Ivy
  • Fir trees
  • Arborvitae
  • Apple trees
  • Cherry trees
  • Yew
  • Azaleas
  • Euonymus
  • Pansies
  • Indian Hawthorn
  • Tulips

30 Best Deer-Resistant Plants

Deer-resistant plants come in three main categories:

  1. Toxic plants deer refuse to eat.
  2. Plants with a strong smell that repel deer.
  3. Plants with physical characteristics, such as taste or thorns, that make deer browsing less likely.

Toxic Plants

In general, deer will not eat toxic plants. Daffodils and hellebore are two examples of toxic spring flowers that deer will not touch. When it comes to keeping your garden healthy, toxic plants are a safe bet, as they are generally bothered by few pests (though you should take care with these plantings if you have children or pets).

Repellent Plants

Repellent plants, such as lavender or black-eyed Susans (rudbeckia), are not likely to be eaten by deer. The strong scents produced by these plants cause deer to steer clear of the general area, though they may still browse in difficult conditions with low native forage available.

Since the vast majority of repellent plants are strong-smelling herbs, there are no trees in this category. Most of the plants are annuals or perennials, depending on your gardening zone.

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Prickly or Bitter Plants

Plants with a physical barrier, such as prickly American holly or bitter butterfly weed, are not the first choice of deer. Unfortunately, in the early spring season, these plants may still see some damage if the local herd becomes hungry.

Consider these plants as resistant for most of the year, but protection might be needed in early spring or in areas with large herds.

With the exception of highly toxic plants, deer will eat anything if they become hungry enough. In addition, herds in one area may develop a taste for a plant that isn’t bothered by deer in another location.

Toxic Plants Deer Will Not Eat

Plant NameTypeCharacteristicsUSDA Zone

Ginkgo Biloba

Tree

Deciduous, with growth 25–50’ tall. Plant only male trees to avoid messy fruit.

4–9

Golden Rain Tree (Laburnum)

Tree

Deciduous, with growth to 25’ and beautiful yellow flowers in the spring.

5–7

Oleander

Shrub

Evergreen shrub with showy flowers. All parts of the plant are highly toxic.

8–10

Daffodil

Perennial bulb

Beautiful yellow flowers in early spring. Foliage fades in mid summer.

3–8

Hellebore

Perennial

Shade-loving flower in the buttercup family. Excellent for woodland plantings.

6–9

Columbine

Perennial

Short-lived perennial that reseeds itself. Native flower, excellent for attracting bees.

4–9

Foxglove (digitalis)

Biennial or Perennial

Tall spikes of showy blooms in early summer, excellent in woodland plantings.

4–10

Poppy

Perennial

Large blooms in late spring with lacy foliage.

3–11

Monkshood

Perennial

Highly toxic and can cause death from contact with open wounds, not just ingestion. Must be handled with gloves.

3–7

Lily of the Valley

Perennial bulb

Delicate white flowers in early spring. All parts of the plant are poisonous.

3–9

White Snakeroot

Perennial

Native wildflower that is toxic to mammals. The plant is a host for several caterpillar species.

3–8

Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia)

Annual

Large white flowers dangle from the branches. In warmer climates, it does not die back and forms a large shrub.

8–10

Plant male ginkgo biloba trees as a deer-proof tree.

Plant male ginkgo biloba trees as a deer-proof tree.

1. Maidenhair (Ginkgo Biloba)

This non-native tree puts on an impressive show of yellow leaves in the fall.

Pros

  • Tolerates pollution.
  • Great for urban environments.
  • Tolerates salt.
  • Highly ornamental.

Cons

  • The female trees produce large quantities of fruit that create a mess and produce a terrible odor as they decay.
  • The tree is not native to the USA.
  • Ginkgo seeds are highly toxic to people.
Laburnum produces beautiful yellow flowers.

Laburnum produces beautiful yellow flowers.

2. Golden Rain Tree (Laburnum anagyroides)

This tree is in the pea family and produces incredible racemes of yellow flowers each spring. This is one of the most beautiful ornamental trees in a garden.

Pros

  • Stunning spring display.
  • Small footprint suitable for planting close to a house foundation.

Cons

  • All parts of the tree are highly toxic to people.
  • The tree produces leathery seed pods that can create a mess near patios.
  • The tree is not native to the USA.
Oleander is drought and deer resistant.

Oleander is drought and deer resistant.

3. Oleander (Nerium oleander)

This shrub is common as a planting near California freeways, due to its robust nature and showy flowers. All parts of the shrub are toxic.

Pros

  • Drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with showy blooms.
  • Excellent deer-proof barrier planting around a yard.

Cons

  • All parts of the plant are highly toxic to people.
  • It can become invasive with its root system and should not be planted near house foundations.
  • Affected by a fungal disease called Oleander Leaf Scorch.
Daffodils are toxic and almost never eaten by deer.

Daffodils are toxic and almost never eaten by deer.

4. Daffodil (Narcissus poeticus)

Daffodils are beautiful spring-blooming bulbs that are toxic to deer. They are a great addition to gardens as a barrier planting or an underplanting to other plants (like hostas) that will cover the dying foliage once the flowers have faded.

Pros

  • Showy, beautiful flowers in the spring.
  • Flowers will multiply each year.

Cons

  • Toxic to people upon ingestion.
  • The plants have wilting, yellowing leaves once the flowers have faded.
Lenten rose, or hellebore, blooms early and is not eaten by deer.

Lenten rose, or hellebore, blooms early and is not eaten by deer.

5. Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Also known as Lenten rose or Christmas rose, Hellebore blooms in late winter or early spring, depending on its location. It thrives in shade and is not eaten by deer.

Pros

  • Easy to grow in a shaded, woodland setting.
  • It needs no protection from deer.
  • Easy to establish.

Cons

  • Prone to fungal diseases since it inhabits shady, wet forest areas.
  • All parts of the plant are poisonous to people.
Columbine is a beautiful flower that deer avoid.

Columbine is a beautiful flower that deer avoid.

6. Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

Eastern red columbine is native to the USA and produces beautiful red bell-like flowers. European columbine comes in a range of colors and thrives in most gardens in its range. The plant is not bothered by deer.

Pros

  • Beautiful, showy flowers that stand out in any garden.
  • Deer do not eat this flower.

Cons

  • The roots and seeds of the plant are highly toxic.
  • Some varieties are invasive in the Northeastern region of the United States.
Foxglove, or digitalis, is very toxic and highly deer resistant.

Foxglove, or digitalis, is very toxic and highly deer resistant.

7. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Spires of bell-like flowers top out at 6 feet (2 meters) in height on these impressive plants. Some varieties are perennial and others are biennial, but all are relatively short-lived. The plant readily reseeds itself.

Pros

  • Beautiful spires of flowers in early summer.
  • This plant is not bothered by deer.

Cons

  • Biennial varieties will only bloom in the second year of growth.
  • The plant is highly toxic to people.
  • It is invasive in some gardening regions.
Poppies should be a part of every deer-resistant perennial garden.

Poppies should be a part of every deer-resistant perennial garden.

8. Poppy (Papaver orientale)

Poppies have gorgeous tall spring flowers that create a great deer-proof display in household gardens.

Pros

  • Many varieties are drought resistant.
  • Flowers are showy and beautiful in any garden.
  • Seeds can be collected for culinary use.

Cons

  • Poppy flowers and leaves are toxic to humans if ingested.
  • Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) is illegal to grow in the United States.
One of the most toxic plants in a shade garden, monkshood should be handled with gloves.

One of the most toxic plants in a shade garden, monkshood should be handled with gloves.

9. Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

Also known as wolfs-bane, this flower is highly toxic. This plant is not recommended in any area where it may be handled or ingested by humans. The flowers are a beautiful, deep purple and are highly attractive. Deer do not eat this flower.

Pros

  • Beautiful flowers that are deer-proof.

Cons

  • One of the most toxic plants grown for ornamental reasons.
  • Gardeners should wash their hands after handling the plant, or use gardening gloves.
  • The toxin is deadly if it enters the bloodstream.
Lily of the Valley provides season-long beauty in a deer-proof yard.

Lily of the Valley provides season-long beauty in a deer-proof yard.

10. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lovely, nodding white flowers are produced in early spring on this low-growing plant. The plants can form a lovely border and the leaves remain attractive after the flowers have faded.

Pros

  • Beautiful, seasonal flowers that deer will not eat.

Cons

  • Toxic to people.
  • This plant is invasive in some gardening regions in the USA.
White snakeroot is highly toxic and should not be ingested by people or pets.

White snakeroot is highly toxic and should not be ingested by people or pets.

11. White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

A native wildflower in the USA, this plant loves shade and produces white flowers in the fall season. It is toxic and has a bitter sap, so it is not favored by deer. Do not plant near livestock.

Pros

  • Native wildflower that attracts bees and butterflies.
  • Deer avoid this flower.

Cons

  • Highly toxic to people.
  • If eaten by cows, the toxins can be passed through the milk to humans, causing illness or death.
Angel’s Trumpet is highly toxic to people and plants, making it very effective at repelling deer.

Angel’s Trumpet is highly toxic to people and plants, making it very effective at repelling deer.

12. Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens)

Often confused with Datura, which carries the same common name, Brugmansia plants have large, pendulous flowers from plants which grow into shrubs in warmer climates. In colder gardening zones, the plants are treated as annuals.

Pros

  • Beautiful, white flowers on the shrub are wonderful for specimen planting.

Cons

  • Highly toxic to people and pets.
  • Invasive in some gardening regions.

Deer-Repellent Plants

Plant NameTypeCharacteristicsUSDA Zone

Lavender

Perennial

Strong scent produced by light purple flowers throughout the growing season

5–9

Marigold

Annual

Extremely strong scent repels many pests from the garden, including deer.

Plant dies back in winter below zone 10.

Mint

Perennial

All mint varieties repel deer. Mint may become invasive in the garden over time, so consider planting in a container.

3–8

Peony

Perennial

Peonies produce a strong scent that deer dislike. Showy large, pink flowers in spring.

3–8

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Perennial

Bright yellow flowers with a dark center. Rudbeckia has a scent that repels deer. Excellent for use as a physical barrier around more delicate plants.

4–9

Salvia

Perennial

Salvia is in the mint family and produces flowers prized by butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer dislike the scent and taste of the plant.

4–10

Bee Balm

Perennial

Bee balm (monarda) is in the mint family and attracts bees. Large, colorful flowers. Deer do not like the smell or taste of bee balm.

3–9

Russian Sage

Perennial

Strong herbal scent repels deer. Showy spray of lavender flowers in summer.

5–9

The pungent odor produced by lavender keeps deer away.

The pungent odor produced by lavender keeps deer away.

13. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

This wonderful herb has light purple flowers and produces a scent loved by humans. Fortunately for gardeners, deer do not like plants with a strong scent. Lavender is an excellent choice for underplanting roses or other shrubs deer like to nibble on.

Pros

  • Fragrance loved by humans.
  • This non-toxic plant makes an excellent deterrent barrier around more delicate plants.
  • Lavender also repels aphids.

Cons

  • Lavender oil can irritate skin.
Marigolds deter a number of pests, including deer.

Marigolds deter a number of pests, including deer.

14. Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

This annual produces bright yellow and orange flowers with a strong scent. When planted as a border around other plants, it protects against slugs and other pests, including deer.

Pros

  • Native to the southwestern USA.
  • Repellent to many garden pests, including deer.

Cons

  • Marigolds must be replanted each year during the growing season.
Deer do not like the scent or taste of mint.

Deer do not like the scent or taste of mint.

15. Mint (Mentha piperita)

The strong scent and taste of mint are detested by deer, so container plantings of mint throughout a garden are a good way to repel the creatures. Take care when planting mint directly into any garden space, as it is invasive and will take over garden beds if not contained.

Pros

  • Culinary herb that repels deer.

Cons

  • Often invasive in garden beds, best planted in containers.
Peonies have a strong scent and woody stems that deer dislike.

Peonies have a strong scent and woody stems that deer dislike.

16. Peony (Paeonia lactiflora)

Peonies bloom with spectacular flowers in the spring and are not favored by deer. The strong scent produced by the plant tends to repel deer. Peonies are a great choice when planted in island beds in the garden that cannot be fenced in.

Pros

  • Can be planted to form a low-maintenance hedge in the growing season.
  • Deer resistant.

Cons

  • Pollinated by ants, so do not plant near house foundations where ants might invade living spaces.
Rudbeckia is another perennial that deer do not bother.

Rudbeckia is another perennial that deer do not bother.

17. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Another native perennial with a scent that repels deer, rudbeckia puts on a midsummer display of bright yellow flowers with a dark center. These flowers are a great choice for island beds and border gardens that cannot be fenced. The scent and hairy stems are repellent to deer.

Pros

  • Plant has beautiful flowers in midsummer.
  • Deer resistant.
  • Attracts native birds and butterflies.
  • This plant is native to the USA.

Cons

  • Can be invasive in garden beds.
  • Occasionally prone to fungal diseases.
Deer find salvia leaves distasteful and do not like the herbal smell of the plant.

Deer find salvia leaves distasteful and do not like the herbal smell of the plant.

18. Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)

Also known as ornamental sage, most salvias have red or purple flowers and produce a scent repellent to deer. The gardening zone depends on the species, and some are grown as annuals in northern climates. Woodland sage is hardy to USDA zone 4.

Pros

  • Some species are native to the USA.
  • Deer repellent.
  • One species (Salvia officinalus) is used as a culinary herb.

Cons

  • Some species are toxic to humans and pets.
Bee balm is an excellent deer-resistant flower that is also beneficial to pollinators.

Bee balm is an excellent deer-resistant flower that is also beneficial to pollinators.

19. Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

Stately flowers attract bees and hummingbirds, making this native flower a great addition to the garden. The scent is repellent to deer. Monarda has a habit of taking over garden beds and can be invasive. It can be planted in a container in the ground to control spread.

Pros

  • Native plant in the USA.
  • Beneficial to pollinators.
  • Deer repellent.

Cons

  • Can become invasive in garden beds if not contained.
Plant Russian sage alone or in a border to help deter deer.

Plant Russian sage alone or in a border to help deter deer.

20. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Growing 3–5’ in height, this plant creates a great backdrop to smaller perennial flowers. Plant around vegetable gardens as a natural repellent to deer and rabbits. While not foolproof, it can add a second layer of defense to a vegetable garden in deer-laden areas.

Pros

  • Deer-repellent plant.
  • Drought tolerant.
  • Low maintenance.

Cons

  • Russian sage may spread and become invasive in garden beds.

Plants With Physical Barriers to Deer

Plant NameTypeCharacteristicsUSDA Zone

Spruce

Evergreen Tree

Height up to 200’ tall (depending on variety). Deer find the needles distasteful.

3–8

Red Maple

Deciduous Tree

Height of 60–90’. Deer do not prefer the taste of the leaves and tend to avoid these trees.

3–9

Black Tupelo

Deciduous Tree

Grows to 30–50’ in height. Deer do not prefer the taste of the leaves and tend to avoid these trees.

4–9

River Birch

Deciduous Tree

Height of 40–70’. Deer do not prefer the taste of the leaves and tend to avoid these trees.

4–9

American Holly

Evergreen Shrub

Deer avoid the prickly leaves. Can grow up to 50’ in height, but can be pruned to form a hedge.

5–9

Astilbe

Perennial

Showy, feathery plumes of flowers in early spring. Deer may sometimes browse the tops of astilbe, but rarely eat mature leaves.

4–9

Sunflower

Annual or Perennial

Deer avoid the rough foliage of sunflowers. Large, yellow flowers with seeds favored by birds. Perennial varieties do exist.

4–9 for perennial varieties.

Butterfly Weed

Perennial

Plant has bitter, milky sap that deer dislike. Bright flowers in the summer months attract butterflies.

4–9

Chicory

Perennial

Plant has bitter sap that deer despise. Bright blue flowers in mid-summer.

3–10

Boston Fern

Perennial

Nearly all ferns are disliked by deer due to the leathery or dry fronds.

9–11

Spruce trees provide year-round beauty and are not eaten by deer.

Spruce trees provide year-round beauty and are not eaten by deer.

21. Spruce (Picea pungens and others)

The spruce genus contains many tree species, all of which are deer resistant. Small varieties like bird’s nest spruce will only grow 2–4’ in height, while red spruce can grow to 130’ in height.

Pros

  • Deer don’t like the taste of spruce needles.
  • Many varieties exist for various landscaping needs.
  • Beautiful evergreen trees.

Cons

  • Spruce trees are susceptible to insect pests.
  • Spruce trees also have shallow roots, making the taller trees prone to falling in storms.
  • Do not plant large spruce trees near houses or driveways.
Red maple is a native tree with deer resistance.

Red maple is a native tree with deer resistance.

22. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Native to the USA and Canada, red maple leaves are brilliant in the autumn. Deer do not like the papery leaves and tend to leave red maples alone. This tree is an excellent addition to the landscape in northern climates.

Pros

  • Native tree in the USA and Canada.
  • Deer resistant.
  • Fast-growing tree.

Cons

  • Shallow root system may cause sidewalks to crack or buckle.
  • Do not plant near house foundations or septic fields.
  • Weak branch strength causes limbs to fall during storms.
Black tupelo is native and provides berries for wildlife. It is also deer resistant!

Black tupelo is native and provides berries for wildlife. It is also deer resistant!

23. Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Also known as a black gum tree, the black tupelo is native to the United States. Deer do not prefer its papery leaves and will forage on other woodland vegetation before resorting to this tree.

Pros

  • Can be planted near sidewalks.
  • Has a long life expectancy.
  • Tolerant of wet soil.
  • Provides food for songbirds.

Cons

  • Fruit litter may drop to sidewalks in urban settings.
River birch is a great ornamental tree for areas with large deer herds.

River birch is a great ornamental tree for areas with large deer herds.

24. River Birch (Betula nigra)

With layers of peeling bark and a graceful, multi-trunked habit, river birch is a great choice as a specimen tree. Deer avoid the papery leaves. The tree lives approximately 75 years.

Pros

  • Beautiful specimen tree that is deer resistant.