University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
DEER RESISTANT PERENNIALS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Just as most of us have
certain likes and dislikes when it comes to food, so do the deer. Planting
perennials deer don't like to eat is one solution if you have this kind of
repellents are currently available to prevent deer from feeding on prized
landscape plants. However, gardeners who use these products find varying
degrees of success. Fences to keep deer out are the most effective deterrents
but also may be the most unsightly and most expensive. So what plants do deer
prefer, or dislike?
all know that even though we may not like certain foods, we may eat them if
hungry enough. The same is true with deer and our landscape plants. If deer
populations aren't very high, however, or the deer haven't had a bleak winter hunting
for food, they will avoid certain plants.
good example is my lilacs. Although there are dozens of cultivars on the
"deer banquet table" at my home, they took a nibble of one twig of
each cultivar the first winter and, finding none to their taste, they've since
left them alone. But then again, I also "offer" many perennials for
them, as well as hundreds of acres of adjacent woods.
have learned that deer like thick, succulent stems of perennials such as of
Autumn Joy Sedum, New England Asters, and garden phlox. In fact, I learned a
trick from the deer. They fed on these plants until mid-June, pruning them back
to about a foot high. Left alone the rest of the summer, these plants ended up
blooming a month later. Since then, I have read of such cutting back in books, and I prune some perennials back in
early summer (if the deer don't first) in order to extend their bloom season.
Low animal "pruning" early in the season may be from groundhogs.
you have pesky deer, you might want to plant these perennials, as they will
likely leave them alone early in the season: False Indigo (Baptisia), Bleeding
Heart (Dicentra), Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and Primrose (Primula).
Spring bulbs deer tend to avoid include Crown Imperial (Fritillaria),
Daffodils (Narcissus), and Squills (Scilla).
Deer are fussy about many summer-blooming perennials, and unless starving, tend
to leave these alone. Early summer bloomers include Yarrow (Achillea),
Peony (Paeonia), Oriental Poppy (Papaver), Plume Flower (Astilbe),
Evening Primrose (Oenothera), and Irises. For flowers later in the
summer, consider planting Meadowsweet (Filipendula), Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium),
Tickseed (Coreopsis), Coneflower (Echinacea), Bee Balms (Monarda),
and Speedwells (Veronica). For fall, plant Windflower (Anemone)
and some of the many cultivars of Goldenrod (Solidago).
deer avoid include the very fragrant ones such as Mints (Mentha),
Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Catmint (Nepeta), Oregano (Origanum),
and Lavender (Lavandula). Another
idea that works for some is to interplant such fragrant herbs with your
desirable but tasty (to deer) perennials.
The herbal scents may just be enough to keep them away as they have a very
sensitive sense of smell. This is the reason for hanging bars of smelly soap in
the garden (which I’ve found only marginally effective, if raccoons don’t eat
the soap first).
grasses also are, for the most part, not attractive to deer. Hardy grasses you
might consider include Maiden Grass (Miscanthus), Blue Fescue (Festuca),
Switch Grass (Panicum), and Moor Grass (Molinia).
ferns are not appealing to deer and would be good choices for moist soil in
shade. They include Christmas Fern (Polystichum); the Royal, Osmunda and
Interrupted Ferns (Osmunda), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea, but be
careful, it spreads!), New York Fern (Thelypteris), and the Ostrich Fern
(Matteucia, which is the one often gathered for fiddleheads in the
are many more perennials you can choose for a deer-resistant perennial
Check out the list online (perrysperennials.info/consumer.html).
Articles on Perry’s Perennial Pages
cover other ideas and tips on keeping deer away.
Return to Perry's Perennial