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 petunias?

    Yes, unfortunately deer love to eat petunias. You might trying growing petunias in hanging baskets that are placed too high for the deer to reach.

  • Do deer eat Japanese maples?

    Japanese maples are deer resistant meaning that deer generally do not eat them. But if there is no other food available, deer will eat Japanese maples as a last resort.

  • Will deer eat azaleas?

    Yes! Deer love to eat azaleas and rododendrons. Shade loving shrubs that deer don't like to eat include Mahonia, Skimmia, Daphne, and Bottlebrush Buckeye.

© 2008 Caren White


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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      11 days ago

      Because different deer herds eat different plants, just purchase one or two plants at a time to see if the deer in your area eat them before you invest in a lot of plants.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      3 weeks ago

      Deer resistant just means that the deer don't usually eat it, but if there is nothing else to eat, they will eat the "resistant" plants. The only deer proof plants are plants that are poisonous like daffodils or lily of the valley.

    • profile image

      Cathie Huber 

      3 weeks ago

      Surprisingly, deer chewed up two sedum plants, also weigela that were actually labeled "deer resistant". My Annabelle hydrangea is thoroughly chewed, and they've eaten most of the leaves on a struggling dogwood. Chased them off with the hose yesterday!!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      3 weeks ago

      Different deer herds have different diets. The deer in my town don't eat my echinacea, but in a town a few miles down the road, a different herd of deer loves them.

    • profile image

      Bruce S 

      3 weeks ago

      Dear eat marigold flowers without eating the leaves. Same with snapdragons. They also eat rudbekia and coneflowers when they are young, emerging from the ground in spring. However, they rarely eat the flowers. Thus far, the deer have never touched my calla lilies. Nor will they eat heliobores.


    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      14 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 

      14 months ago

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

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      14 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 

      15 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


      15 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.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      21 months ago from USA

      I live in a mountainous region and the deer are abound. I'm so afraid to plant anything because people say the deer will eat it. This has been a very helpful article. I will try planting some of your suggestions.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      2 years ago

      Those are good points! Thanks for bringing them up.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      2 years 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


      9 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 

      10 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 

      11 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.


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