Flowers and Shrubs That Deer Won't Eat

Updated on January 1, 2020
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Where deer are concerned, there is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that no plant is 100% deer proof. The good news is that there are plants that deer will only eat as a last resort.

In general, deer tend to avoid strongly scented plants like herbs, plants with thick or leathery leaves such as yucca and thorny plants such as holly and thistle. Strangely enough, they don't mind the thorns on rose bushes and will happily munch them to the ground.

Bear in mind though that fawns will sample everything as they learn which plants are most palatable. There are also regional differences in which plants deer eat and don't eat. And within the same geographic location, there can be differences in diet between herds of deer. The deer living in my neighborhood eat all of my lilies, but the deer in the next town don't bother my friend's lilies.

Yucca is seldom bothered by deer thanks to its leathery leaves
Yucca is seldom bothered by deer thanks to its leathery leaves | Source

Larger, established plants usually recover from mild browsing during the growing season. Plants that are lightly nibbled by deer during winter dormancy generally recover in the spring. When adding new plants to your garden, don't take the word of the nursery from which you purchased them. Test their deer resistance yourself by putting them outside in a container for a few days before planting them in your garden to see if your local herd has a taste for them.

Deer don't eat daffodils because they are poisonous.
Deer don't eat daffodils because they are poisonous. | Source

Sun Loving Plants That Deer Seldom Eat

For early springtime color, try bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths and Crown Imperials. A note of caution: don't plant the Crown Imperials too close to your house. The bulbs have a very strong odor even underground. The odor is said to resemble fox, but to me it smells like skunk.

Later in the spring you can use old-fashioned favorites like bleeding heart, columbine, lily of the valley and foxglove. All of them come in multiple sizes and colors. Even the lily of the valley! You can get them in pink instead of the usual white, but beware, the pink ones are very pricey.

Bleeding Hearts with yellow foliage called "Gold Heart".
Bleeding Hearts with yellow foliage called "Gold Heart". | Source

For summer long color, annuals such as calendulas, marigolds, nasturtium, sweet alyssum and zinnias are good choices. All require full sun, which is defined as 6 to 8 hours per day. My personal favorite are zinnias because of the many choices of colors and sizes. There is a zinnia for every situation! And hummingbirds love them.

For perennials, try peonies or rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans). If you like low-maintenance gardening, peonies are an excellent choice. They will live for up to fifty years with almost no care.

A garden of deer resistant flowers.  From left to right: marigolds, zinnias, garlic chives, Black-eyed Susans.
A garden of deer resistant flowers. From left to right: marigolds, zinnias, garlic chives, Black-eyed Susans. | Source

Shade Plants That Deer Seldom Eat

If you have a shady yard, don't despair. Hostas may be deer candy but ferns are rarely eaten. There are many to choose from ranging from the small but colorful Japanese Painted Fern all the way up to the elegantly tall Ostrich Fern. As an added bonus, ferns don't mind a little dryness so you won't need to water them every day.

Japanese Painted Fern
Japanese Painted Fern | Source

If you want color, astilbe are seldom bothered by deer. These perennial plants prefer shade but unlike most shade plants have colorful flowers that can be white, pink, red, or purple. The flowers are airy plumes that range in size from 1 to 4 feet tall, adding drama to that shady corner of your yard. Unlike ferns, astilbe like to be moist so don't let them dry out.

Colorful Astilbes
Colorful Astilbes | Source

Ornamental Grasses That Deer Seldom Eat

Ornamental grasses are popular landscape plants and surprisingly, deer tend to stay away from them. The brightly colored Japanese Blood Grass is a popular choice. If you enjoying making dried flower arrangements, you will want to plant Northern Sea Oats. My personal experience has been that the dried flowers of the Northern Sea oats are lovely, but if left on the plants, reseed aggressively throughout the garden.

Japanese Blood Grass
Japanese Blood Grass | Source

Shrubs That Deer Seldom Eat

When it comes to shrubs, who doesn't love lilacs? Deer, that's who! They also avoid butterfly bushes, boxwood, forsythia and Rose of Sharon. And it's a good thing because planting these will give you months of color starting with forsythia in the early spring, lilacs in the late spring, butterfly bushes during the summer and then Rose of Sharon in late summer. You have your choice of colors too. Here's a fun fact about lilacs - the different color flowers (white, lavender, red) all smell differently.

Lilacs | Source

Your local extension office can provide you with a comprehensive list of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees rated for deer resistance in your area. The ratings will tell you which plants deer love, which plants are second choices for them and which plants are off their menu except during times when there is no other food available to them.

Questions & Answers

  • Do deer eat begonias?

    Surprisingly, begonias are deer-resistant. These include the different varieties such as tuberous begonias, wax begonias, rex begonias, and dragon wing begonias.

  • Do deer eat geraniums?

    Geraniums are considered deer-resistant because of the strong smell of the leaves. However, a hungry deer will eat anything, so if there is nothing else to eat, they will eat geraniums as a last resort.

  • Do deer eat Japanese Anemone or Aconitum?

    Both Japanese anemone and aconitum are deer resistant. Be especially careful with the aconitum. It is deer resistant because it is extremely poisonous. All parts of the plants are poisonous. Always handle the plant and the roots while wearing gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

  • Do deer eat hydrangeas?

    Yes, deer eat hydrangeas. Sometimes they just nibble them, but more often deer will eat large portions of the shrubs.

© 2008 Caren White


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      12 months ago

      Deer usually avoid marigolds because they have a strong odor. But if there is nothing else to eat, they will eat marigolds also.

    • profile image

      linda woodard 

      12 months ago

      Do deers eat marigolds? They have eaten all the other flowers I have planted except my marigolds.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      12 months ago

      A hanging basket is an excellent idea. Different herds eat different plants. I was surprised to lose my bee balm to hungry deer. Normally, they don't bother herbs with a strong scent.

    • profile image

      Nancy Lynn 

      12 months ago

      Deer ate my non-stop begonias that we planted away from the house last year so this year I only planted tub right next to porch-1 day later most of the blooms and much of the foliage nibbled off. Also all the geranium blossoms except one. Guess I will replant the sad remains in a hanging basket.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      May 6, 2019... Well, a deer just chewed up my prize (and pricey) five year old 4 ft lilac. He ate a dozen of the 15, or so, flower buds and most of the new leaves and growth. It'll probably recover, if he doesn't come back, but I sure lost a year of my favorite shrub.

      He also ate some of the young branches on our new White Birch trees and our Rose of Sharons.

      All were supposed to be deer safe.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      22 months ago

      Those are good points! Thanks for bringing them up.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      22 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I think some of the "discrepancies" might be because not all deer are the same. I live in "black tail deer" land, and they seem to prefer different flowers from those in the Midwest, where my friends have white tail deer. And then, my sister lives near the mountains. She has elk to contend with, and their eating habits are again different.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Sorry, but deer ate up my new lilac bush. The do avoid the rose of Sharon, though.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Neat read with good tips on discouraging deer from our gardens. Would like to link this hub to mine on hosta if you have no objection. Thanks!

    • profile image

      deer heards in my yard 

      9 years ago

      Deer Love Lilacs so that article is wrong there.

    • moonlake profile image


      9 years ago from America

      I have deer all over our yard, day and night. Good information.

    • profile image

      Cat Coleman 

      9 years ago

      I looked out my windoe this morning and the deer had totally eaten my beautiful geranium, impatian and another flowerin plant I had just purchased and not long ago ate all of my hostas. I put a large boston fern there and they haven't eaten that

    • CindiSummers profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice list of deer-resistant plants! I'll have to plant some of these since deer eat my shrubs every year. I just started using Deer Off II, which has remedied the situation. It's also approved for organic use, so I can use it around my organic garden.

      Here's the repellent I'm talking about:

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You are incorrect about the Rose of Sharon, my deer shred mine

    • profile image

      Kateria Hintz 

      10 years ago

      Hey, Thanks for info. We get deer in bkyard. My service dog died 2 1/2 weeks ago. as family we decided to bury her in bk yard in her favorite spot. We have a big yard. Next day Mom and I went to get bleeding hearts and forget me not. Well we left camping for 2 weeks. Came back bleeding hearts were doing GREAT!! forget me not was eating up.. So we are looking for a flower that means a special meaning and deer will not eat. Thanks for info

    • C.M. Vanderlinden profile image

      C.M. Vanderlinden 

      12 years ago from Metro Detroit

      Great hub, OldRoses. I'm lucky (?) to be in an urban area where I don't have to deal with deer, but they drive several of my relatives nuts. I'll be passing this along to them :-)

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      12 years ago from New Brunswick

      Good information, thanks.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)