Perennials Rarely eaten by Deer

Morristown, NJ(Zone 6a)


Allium Ornamental onion
Garlic chives
Basket of Gold Anemone
Butterfly Weed
False Indigo
Tussock Bellflower
Painted Daisy
Shasta Daisy
Hay-scented Fern
Pinks, Sweet William
Bleeding Heart
Gas Plant
Purple Coneflower
Globe Thistle
Joe Pye Weed
Baby’s Breath
Helleborus Hellebore
Spike Gayfeather
Tiger Lily
Perennial Blue Flax
Ostrich Fern
Bee Balm
Sweet Cicely
Evening Primrose
Sensitive Fern
Cinnamon Fern
Interrupted Fern
Royal Fern
Oriental Poppy
Ribbon Grass
Balloon Flower
Jacob’s Ladder
Christmas Fern
Salvia Sage
Lamb’s Ear
New York Fern
Hungarian Speedwell
Labrador Violet


Bishop’s Weed
Sweet Woodruff
Dead Nettle
Japanese Pachysandra




This message was edited Sep 27, 2003 10:59 PM

Thumbnail by Moda127
Morristown, NJ(Zone 6a)

All I can say about this list is that i have had some off these perennial eaten by deer - Coneflower, Daisies, Bee-Balm, sedum too.

Penfield, NY(Zone 6a)

They just got my Queen of the Prairie the other night. I have a theory that they try things and don't like them but they have to try especially the fawns have to try everything. So maybe one was just trying my Queen of the Praire and won't eat it again. Bottom line is they will eat just about anything if they are hungry.

A general observation is that they don't like scented or smelly things like herbs and onions. They don't like prickly or furry things. I have read they don't like yellow flowers.

Thanks for posting the information. I'm in the process of making chicken wire cages.

La Conner, WA

Deer just nibble, they may eat on something but they seldom destroy it.

The Woodlands, TX(Zone 8b)

I've heard deer don't like cocoa mulch , but read that some dogs will eat it and it can be fatal.

Deer just nibble, they may eat on something but they seldom destroy it.

You've obviously never lived in a place with a deer "problem". Try growing anything not poisonous or highly fragrant in Kerrville, TX and you'll see what I mean. They destroy entire gardens in one evening, eating your plants down to the ground.

Griffin, GA(Zone 8a)

I agree with Dave. I don't even live in an area that has a deer problem. It is an old established neighborhood within city limits - no new developments chasing deer to our area. Though we do have some small established forest area on our property, I had only seen deer in our yard one time - the deer have since moved on, lucky for me - but all it took was one afternoon while we were out, and they ate my entire vegetable garden full of tomato plants. I didn't even think that tomato plants were edible to mammals. I'd always heard that the leaves were somewhat noxious. Nevertheless over 30 about 2 to 3 foot, about three month old plants (I'd grown them from seed) of over 20 varieties were almost all eaten to the ground (3 plants were only "mostly" eaten) in about 4 hours of our absence. I saw the hoof prints, so I knew it was deer that did it. They even ate some tomato plants still in pots waiting to be planted.

The deer didn't seem to care that the leaves were somewhat spiny/fuzzy and were supposed to taste bad. When I had seen them that one time previously, there were only about 3 deer, so I'm guessing it takes a lot of eating before they decide they don't like something.

I know I've told this story before (and more than once), but I think that it serves as a warning - take nothing for granted when it comes to deer. If you see them at all, even one time, consider carefully. I sure wish I had after 3 months of work, including much digging with a shovel (and a pick axe) in Georgia red clay, went down the drain. Even a plant one wouldn't think of as tasty - such as tomatoes - can be a victim.

And I know that there are others here at Dave's Garden with even worse horror stories - one where about 20+ small trees were destroyed after being planted through much hard work just the afternoon before (I think that was poor Equilibrium).

After that afternoon, my impression of the little Bambis had changed forever - heh.

It is good to hear though, moda127, that maybe there are some plants that the deer won't eat.

East Barre, VT(Zone 4a)

I have to agree with Dave and Night_Bloom. I do live in the country on a hillside that supports a deer herd of about 20 does and their yearly fawns. I have had to chicken wire fence even my perrenial beds, even the ones that specifically have deer resistant plants. Not a pretty site, but at least the flowers live :-)

I do have to agree with many of the plants on the list, and now when Ipm buying perrenials, I always look first toward deer-resistant plants.

Too bad they're so darned cute.

Las Cruces, NM(Zone 8a)

Golly, I wish jackstangle's comment had held true in my yard, but our experience was what Dave described. We lived 6 miles west of Kerrville in Ingram, TX for 13 years. Over the years we watched escaped exotic Axis deer replace our native whitetail population. By the time we left, our neighborhood had a herd of at least 50 Axis deer that roamed in and out of our yard. Talk about Bambi overload!

We learned that just a few hungry deer (you don't need 50) can eat a season's worth of plants to the ground overnight. We fenced our vegetables and caged our small trees. These are plants included in the deer-resistant list above, but my deer pretty quickly destroyed them in my yard, for what it’s worth:
- Coral honeysuckle (finally caged it)
- Columbine (Hinkley’s, Aquilegia hinkleyana)
- Shasta daisies
- Missouri Evening Primrose (yellow)
- Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera Speciosa)
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora)
-Autumn Joy Sedum (especially when young)
- Brazos Penstemon
- Hill Country native pink penstemon (Penstemon triflorus)
- Husker’s Red Penstemon

On a brighter note, I’d add these to the list of plants that deer might ignore (most of the time, if they’re in the mood, no promises…)

Lantana (any color or variety)
Santolina (both green and gray varieties)
Vinca Major
Carolina Jasmine (Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens)
Zexmenia (Zexmenia hispida)
Pink Skullcap (Leguminosae Scutellaris suffrutesscens)

My favorite deer-resistant plants were any of the sage salvias, and almost any herb of any kind. Generally, smelly is good. However, they often “try” new plants, pulling them up and spitting them out, which is sometimes fatal in itself. (They never ate the wormwood, but they yanked it out often.) It’s a constant balancing act. Get ready to have your heart broken regularly, especially in times of drought, when they will eat almost anything. And I agree with leisurlee, chicken wire or cages is the best way to sleep well at night!

(Zone 3b)

Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough. Case in point, I watched a doe and fawn eat an entire 5 gallon pail of old licorice left over from Halloween that was accidentally left outside. I've seen them turn their noses at potatoes, while some people swear they love potatoes. If they are curious enough, they will try anything. I've had tremendously good luck with "Liquid Fence". We live in Northern Wisconsin and deer are constantly in the yard, but they seem to detest Liquid Fence. I buy the big concentrated bottle and water it down even more than the instructions say, but you must be diligent about spraying. I probably spend $100 on Liquid Fence every year, but it is worth the trouble and expense to save my lovely garden.

Ahh Night_Bloom, my American Hazelnuts. 25 of them that I dug big holes for by myself, removed the soil/clay, amended the holes, and planted the Hazelnuts, then mulched... but then it was getting late and the whole day was gone and I was so tired and the mosquitoes were out full force by then so I figured I'd wait until the next morning to put them all in protective tubes. Rise and shine! The next morning they were virtually down to nubs. Only 3 survived and they are barely limping along. I think I posted photos of what they did to my Hazelnuts because it is so illustrative of what goes on in areas where the herd numbers are out of control.

The single greatest loss for me was $1200 worth of Trillium grandiflorum. I either bought 300 at $4 a piece or 400 at $3 a piece to attempt to reintroduce them to the property here. I think I have 3 or 4 left. They are evidently a deer delicacy.

They wiped me out of all but one Bloodroot and I'm pretty sure I had bought at least 100 of those. The only one that survived was under chicken wire.

In rutting season they have nailed 10 year old fully established oaks and hickories with their antlers. Deer have cost me literally thousands of dollars and that doesn't included the cost of tubes or chicken wire.

Deer have been incredibly destructive around here. They don't mean to be, they're just trying to survive. Their herd numbers are way too high. I agree with those who believe that no desirable plant is safe in an area where there is a deer problem. Never underestimate the damage a hungry critter can do.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

Oh Equilibrium! Your trillium! That is my favorite early spring bloomer here and I'm surprised any survive in our adjacent woods with deer in the area. $1200 of deer salad bar- what a gracious hostess you were :(

We are in the middle of deer country too but I've had great luck with Liquid Fence too. It'd been a month since I sprayed last and just re-dosed the perennial beds they grazed over last year and some young evergreens I'm coddling. Not a nibble or a bite off anything. If you smelled Liquid Fence, you would understand why!

The deer have never eaten my dahlias, not a one, not a leaf. I don't spray them at all.

I should own stock in Liquid Fence. It can work but you must really be on your toes with that product because if you slip up and don't reapply it at timely intervals or after rain, Bambis will be right there to capitalize on your boo boo.

Trillium is one of my favorites too. I recall standing there and wondering to myself if I could get away with "going postal" by waiting until the 4th of July when communities would be shooting off fireworks. I also recall telling my husband that I had had it and that it was either me or them. You have no idea how long it takes to plant a few hundred plants in the ground even if they are only in pint pots. Not that my husband could do much about my ultimatum but we did invite hunters over to sit in our kids' treehouse the following deer season. Our one request was that they get a doe license.

Santa Cruz, CA(Zone 9b)

I have most success with toxic plants such as Japanese Anemone, datura, and the herb teurcrium. Ornamental grasses surprisingly survive, one would think the deer would munch them like they do the lawn. Echiveras work, and lots of aloes. Aloes have a caustic substance. They love my taller sedums.

Issaquah, WA(Zone 7a)

I would just like to amend my "not a nibble or bite off anything" statement from above.... the deer or something is giving a lovely haircut to Johnson's blue perennial geranium. Such uniform cutting height, surely I couldn't have done that, nor hubby with the weed whacker in tow- had to be bambi. But my glads, my phlox and my taller sedum are all intact along with sapling dogwoods and evergreens.

I did not spray Liquid fence on the JBGeranium because frankly I don't care if they eat it! I have let it spread too much.

Dripping Springs, TX(Zone 8b)

They dont eat brugmansia ,although it is so hard to keep healthy it is hardly worth it,

(Zone 7a)

The Maryland state butterfly - Baltimore Checkerspot - is disappearing to non-existent in many counties because the host it prefers - Chelone (Turtlespot) is on the local deer menu.

Welp, the deer have been busting through our fence - thank you all for this thread. Having some idea where to go from here gives me some hope. We made this garden without funds or time, and now I'm not so physically capable. But the mind does scheme on, doesn't it?

We planted three 50' sides of the upper back plateau in a yew hedge. It surrounds a grassy ellipse with a rose cottage garden between it and the hedge on the sunnier side. I grew everything from seed and cuttings over the past 30+ years and could not afford to replace with full-grown plants now. About 80% of it is now in shade.

If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them - including what to grow instead of the yew. We'd like to maintain privacy - what kinds of woody plants do they not like? In the woods, I can see that the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) predominates, and barberries seem to be replacing ferns. Laurel persists and blooms above the deer-browze zone but is pretty bare and leggy within that zone. Do I have any other choices?

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

I want to add, that the deer here not only eat the plant down to the ground, but sometimes dig up the roots and distroy all chances of the plant ever coming up again. A fenced strawberry patch was our experience with distruction. (they opened the gate, didn't know we had to padlock it) Deer tracks all over.
My tulips I never even see leaves before they are munched. I am sure now they are gone forever.
I am lucky, that the deer go down the road munching and we are the last house on the street and get a little warning. (hearing the neighbors morning screams and cursing as they exit their homes in the morning). We can just about time the approach of distruction. After they munch the street, then it is hit and miss.
About yellow flowers, I do get to see my yellow daylillies. I have them planted around an old weathered stump on a steep hill, but that should not distract them. They don't seem to care for the yellow as much. But, if that is all I planted I am sure they would get them.

Fairmont, WV(Zone 6a)

I agree, the d*** deer will eat anything if they're hungry enough. My euonymous shrank from about 2 feet to 4 inches over the winter, and anything herbaceous was eaten to the ground. (However, since it was winter and everything was going to die back anyway, I didn't get too upset.) The only plants they left alone were the conifers. My dogwood has to be fenced because the bucks score the trunk with their antlers, and during the growing season everything has to be behind a 7 foot fence. Apparently deer have leather lips because my big thorny rugosa roses are routinely munched. And they'll come up on my porch to eat potted plants.

I have had reasonably good luck with Liquid Fence, although I do have to be vigilant about applying it.

BTW I live in a well established suburban neighborhood...however, as deer are fair game the instant they set foot (hoof?) outside city limits, they run rampant here in town. Ironically, my friend who lives on a 200 acre farm up in the mountains has no problem because her DH shoots any varmits from the front porch.


(Zone 7a)

The sheet of ice covering our back garden has receded enough that snowdrops have emerged - over the years they self-sowed across the property line onto an abandoned lot next door where a herd of deer grazes and human-watches while the human bird-watches. Anyhoo, the snow drops are blooming as freely over there as over here, so the genus Galanthus might be a good one to investigate for deer country.

Another genus - Ornithogalum - includes the very invasive O. umbellatum (Star of Bethlehem) that blloms profusely under deer hooves -

Check out a relative, O. nutans at:

There's a very old-timey double yellow daffodil with a green cast that blooms around our deer in local parks.

And, then, there's Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) -

Not far from the bluebells, closer to the river, is a healthy clump of Leucojum aestivum that also blooms freely among the deer -

Since all of these die back as they enter their summer dormancies, they would be pretty grown among ferns. For us, our snowdrops come up through periwinkle right up against the trunk of that monster silver maple with Christmas ferns nearby. It's dry as a bone in there in summer, but somehow these plants do okay among those tree roots.

I think we're going to ask our neighbor if he'd mind if we put up a barrier on our side of his chain link of that tall, black mesh made from very thin plastic as a deterrent to the deer to guard the yew.

I must say, though, to new gardeners who know deer are in their vicinity, if you want some kind of evergreen screen, try to plant something not as attractive to deer as yew, like holly and box - especially on the perimeter of your property. There is enormous variation among the cultivars and species of those two genera, including two tall-ish (to 6'?) but narrow (to 12-18"?) cultivars called Ilex 'Sky Pencil' and Buxus 'Graham Blandy', respectively. They do tend to lean and fall over when winter ice and snow lay on them, so will need staking. A double line, staggered, of those should be nice in a narrow, long space where screening is desired. (I do have to wonder, though, just how effective those two cultivars might really be to a seriously hungry deer with their smooth leaf edges - if you have room, a thorny holly would probably be better)

Another deer-resistant woody genus of plants is barberry, and there's a cultivar like Sky Pencil and Graham Blandy called something like Helmond's Fire (don't know how to spell it - Forest Farm had it in the past) with similar dimensions.

However, those spines are no fun to garden with, plus, barberry is especially problematic as an invasive because its seedlings are replacing ferns in woodlands. It seems that our native earthworm has been over 95% replaced by an "exotic" earthworm that digests organic matter on the woodland floor so much faster than the native earthworm, that native wildflower seeds cannot germinate. Even the bloodroot is becoming rare around here. Where these ferns and wildflowers have gone by, the barberry is now replacing - very sad to see.

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

We have quite a good size acreage, but they do like around houses. We have cedar swamp and they do eat cedar, young white pines and hemlock. Chop the tops right off, so they do eat pines as well. I have even the last few years seen tops of the tender new ferns eatten off in acre sections.
They do like to eat, and we keep planting such wonderful things for them to snack on. So what is our problem when they come to eat? If you plant it....they will come.

Greeley, PA

I grow many of these same plants fence and repellant free but I am surrounded by state game lands. Come on now, bite the bullet, its time to cultivate hunters along with the garden plants.

Forked River, NJ(Zone 6b)

I have a friend whose plants are disturbed too much by the deer that stroll through every day except her roses. She has planted different herbs and barberry around her pieris, cherry laurel, laceleaf maple, japanese holly and dwarf hinoki cypress. She just bought wintergreen to put in front of her roses so she would have small evergreen there for winter interest. Does anyone know if the berries on the wintergreen are something deer like/love?

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

We have wintergreen all over in the woods. There are always berries to snack on. I do not think the deer eat them. But I sure do.

Right now the deer are very very hungry. They are eating white pine, hemlock and cedar. There a few spots under trees where there is no snow, there is wintergreen there and it seems to be untouched by deer lips. I don't think it will keep the deer away from the roses though.

Forked River, NJ(Zone 6b)

Thanks cpartschick...I told her the deer just love roses but she does also so she is determined to have them and will not use any chemicals of any kind. I think she just doesn't want to make them even more appealing by putting something in front of them that deer also love. It is good to know that they usually leave wintergreen alone. Thanks again.

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

I am all for the no chemical thing.
I think deer are very smart to get to the food they see and want. It is all in the presentation. They are attracted to a nice buffet.

I have written about this before. We once moved a tree from the woods where the deer live and moved it to the yard. It was untouched in the woods, but after the trouble of planting, in one day, the deer came in and chewed it down to a stub. And they leave their calling card as well as their tracks so you know who did it. Grrrr! Gotta love them.

Pound Ridge, NY

NY Westchester County deer eat almost anything except berberis, daffodils, coreopsis, pachysandra, ferns and grasses. I've had destructuve nibbling on astilbe, buddleia, agastache, liatris, clematis, chelone, angelica and joe pye weed, all of them on Moda's list. I've gotten lists from state agricultural schools that contradict each other as to deer preference. This is an excellent site for Northeast gardeners:

San Francisco, CA

My experience is that different families (tribes?) of deer seem to have different preferences, so I think it's wise if you want to plant something that isn't already growing safely in your neighborhood that you set out a sample and see what the response is. The fauns do try everything, and if food is scarce nothing is safe, but some of the activity is bizarre. I have seen deer work their way through a rose garden leaving the roses untouched to get to Agapanthus which is on many "deer-resistant" lists. It's best to be cautious.

For those with large properties I wonder if one couldn't train Border Collies as your protectors. The dogs are incredibly smart and willing to learn, and they just might be a tireless ally. I'm sure the deer will go where it's less stressful if they are harried enough.

Gladwin, MI(Zone 5a)

I tried the sample thing. I put out lillies a couple years before putting our house in, they were fine until we moved in. It is almost like change makes them take notice.

When they were building the house, we had deer tracks in our basement. And we did move that tree from along side a deer trail to our yard to be eaten.

It is almost like it is new and they take notice.
They do go in cycles though. I think you are right that different groups eat different things, like their mama shows them what to eat.

We had a couple years of deer eating new ferns. (never before in 10 years did we see that) Now last year they were untouched again. Like maybe those deer were killed or are no longer in the area.

Sure is interesting, and makes it hard for us to protect our "buffets"

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