A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer

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A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer

Deer Resistant, Never Deer Proof

My new garden is filling in fast and I am so thrilled to watch the progress. My transplanted shrubs are thriving on the blend of sandy loam and fish-and-tree-waste-based compost (a local specialty). Of several dozen kinds I planted, only one has been deer-browsed so far. I am a bit puzzled by that, since the shrub in question, Sorbaria sorbifolia Sem, also called the ash leaf sorbaria, is not usually a deer-preferred plant. Indeed, it is sometimes called deer proof, though in my yard, that is a fantasy. Deer resistant is as good as it gets, and Sem has here-to-fore fit that category solidly.

If my sorbaria were the common form, it might have outgrown the deer by now. My sweet little Sem is a much better mannered form of this often aggressive shrub, which can exceed 10 feet in height and the size of your garden in width. No, Sem is a handsome, red-tinged form with much-dissected foliage, and it makes a ruffled mound about 4 x 4 feet or so in time. Still, the family vigor means I’m not in despair about the deers depredations, but I did take time to stick a tomato cage around the poor twigs, wrap the cage with chicken wire, poke some sharp, twiggy sticks around the edges and top it off with a second, nesting cage to keep those hungry snouts at a distance. That should give Sem time to recover its groove and put on fresh foliage.

Get-Over-It Gardening With Deer

I can, in fact, suggest a range of plants that deer will never touch, that won’t need water, and will never outgrow their spot. In a word: Plastic. In real life, it’s a little harder. Over the years, I’ve seen lists of plants deer love and plants deer hate, and have been fascinated to notice some of the same plants on each list. It seems that deer in one area eat things that deer elsewhere don’t. They can also change their habits: For many years, deer in my yard ignored azaleas, but one year, they ate them eagerly. I now have deer that browse the new growth on ivy, which I’ve never seen before. On one notable occasion, a deer ate the better part of a large and extremely toxic angel trumpet, yet I found no dead Bambi in the driveway.

Voracious and charming, greedy and beautiful, deer can be the bane or the grace of the garden. Although young deer will eat pretty much anything, mature deer are more discriminating. Sort of. And if there are no deer-proof plant, there definitely are deer resistant ones. Often these are plants with hairy, smelly, waxy, dense, or highly textured foliage. In addition, I’ve never seen deer eat ferns or grasses, or eucalyptus or madronas, or entire Doug firs…

Baffling Bambi

After all these years, I don’t try to outwit deer, just to leave them mildly baffled. I feel that I have learned quite a lot about these lovely  if totally annoying creatures, having been blessed with many of them in each of my gardens. At present, my yard hosts a growing family in the front yard and a clutch of young bucks in the lower back yard. Sometimes my neighbor even calls and asks me to get my deer out of his garden. Still, if I tell you deer don’t usually eat this or that, I mean MY deer, THIS year. For what it is worth, I offer you my my current list of plants my personal flock of deer rarely eat (all of):


Allium              Ornamental onions
Begonia            Begonia (tuberous)
Crocosmia       Crocosmia
Dahlia               Dahlia
Endymion        Spanish bluebells
Freesia              Freesia
Fritillaria          Crown imperials (specifically)
Galanthus         Snowdrops
Gladiolus          Gladiola
Hyacinthus       Hyacinths
Narcissus          Daffodils
Scilla                  Squills
Polianthes        Tuberose

Shrubs & Subshrubs

Abelia                 Abelia
Berberis             Barberry
Brugmansia      Angels trumpet
Buddleia            Butterfly bush
Buxus                 Boxwood
Ceanothus         California lilac
Cistus                 Rockrose (usually)
Cotoneaster       Cotoneaster
Daphne              Daphne
Datura                Angels trumpet
Erica                   Heather
Escallonia          Escallonia
Gaultheria         Salal
Hypericum        St. John’s wort
Ilex                      Holly
Juniperus          Juniper
Kerria                 Kerria
Lavandula         Lavender
Mahonia            Oregon grape
Nandina             Heavenly bamboo
Picea                    Spruce
Pieris                   Lily-of-the-valley shrub
Pinus                   Pine
Potentilla            Cinquefoil (usually)
Prunus                 Laurel
Rhododendron   Rhododendron, Azalea
Rhus                     Sumac
Ribes                    Flowering currant
Rosmarinus        Rosemary
Salvia                   Sage
Sarcoccoca          Sweetbox
Senecio                Sunshine (specifically)
Skimmia              Skimmia
Spirea                   Spirea
Syringa                 Lilac
Viburnum            Viburnum


Acanthus        Bear breeches
Aconitum       Monkshood
Achillea           Yarrow
Agastache       Hummingbird plant
Alyssum          Basket-of-gold
Artemisia       Artemisia
Aster               Aster
Aubretia         Rockcress
Bergenia        Leatherleaf
Chrysanthemum  Chrysanthemum
Crambe           Sea kale
Digitalis          Foxglove
Echinacea       Cone flower
Erigeron          Fleabane
Eryngium        Sea holly
Euphorbia       Spurge
Ferula              Fennel
Gaillardia        Blanket flower
Geranium        Geranium
Helleborus      Hellebore
Iris                    Iris
Kniphofia        Poker plant
Lavatera          Mallow
Lupinus           Lupines
Meconopsis     Welsh poppy
Monarda          Bee balm
Nepeta              Catmint
Oenothera        Evening primrose
Papaver             Poppies
Penstemon       Beardtongue
Perovskia          Russian sage
Phlomis             Phlomis
Phormium        New Zealand flax
Pulmonaria      Lungwort
Rheum              Rhubarb
Rudbeckia        Black-eyed Susan
Santolina          Lavender cotton
Scabiosa           Pincushion flower
Stachys             Lambs ear
Thymus            Thyme
Verbascum       Mullein
Verbena             Verbena


Alyssum           Sweet alyssum
Calendula         Pot marigold
Clarkia              Farewell to spring
Cleome              Spider flower
Eschscholzia    California poppy
Heliotropus     Heliotrope
Lobelia             Lobelia
Myosotis          Forget-me-nots
Nasturtium      Nasturtium
Nicotiana          Flowering tobacco
Papaver             Poppies
Pelargonium    Geranium
Petunia             Petunia
Ricinus             Castor bean
Tagetes             Marigold
Verbena            Verbena
Zinnia                Zinnia

Good luck!

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4 Responses to A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer

  1. Emily says:

    How is it that I am just now finding your blog? I want to try a BUNCH of the recipes (I, too, like all things cauliflower) and I’m looking forward to studying your planting notes to acquaint self with some new-to-me cultivars and species.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Welcome, Emily! I hope you find some fun stuff to try, in the garden and in the kitchen. Please suggest anything you’d like ideas about. I love questions!

  2. Janice Pedersen says:

    How do you make your Garlic water? Can it be used on other plants?
    A friend of mine sprays mint tea on her plants to scare away deer and rabbits. What do you think of that idea?

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