Fuzzy, Fragrant, & Ferny; Deer-Proof Plants For the Garden

The scourge of most people’s gardens, deer are cursed by everyone who plants a pricey carefully selected gem, that overnight becomes deer salad on the buffet line. Using fences, sprays, loud noises, and other innovative controls to some effect, deer will always find a way to get to a freshly planted tender morsel one way or another. Frustrating is not the word! Gardeners feel that they are under attack and throw up their hands in defeat against their Bambi foes.

The best defense against this concerted garden attack is to plant things that deer rarely if ever eat…. Kind of like putting out a liver dish for most people. But if you are unsure about the resistance factor, consider if the plant is fuzzy, fragrant or a fern… animals (deer and bunnies) tend to leave them alone.

Sometimes rabbits are worse than deer

On the other hand, don’t plant the big three-hostas, daylilies, and tulips. Plantings of any of these will entice deer to your property, like “M and M’s” scattered around that will draw deer in to your property. Or inviting them to a party! Instead, you want to put up “keep away” signs with your plant choices.

Yes, I love daylilies also, but deer will clean you out!
Tulips are like candy to deer

List of  Plants That are “Usually” Deerproof (Some Always!)

Usually is the key here. I thought that Epimedium was a stalwart deer proof plant until someone sent me a picture of a stand of chewed up Epimedium from deer. Some of these plants are understandably resistant like lavender or nepeta, both being very pungent. But Shasta Daisy? This seems very juicy and succulent to me but I find that deer never touch it. Here’s my list from experience:

Achillea, Yarrow

Aconitum, Monkshood

Agastache, Anise Hyssop


Alchemilla, Lady’s Mantle

Allium, Ornamental Onion

Angelonia, Annual

Armeria, Sea Thrift

Arisaema, Jack in the Pulpit

Artemisia, all varieties

Aruncus, Goatsbeard


Asclepias, Butterfly Weed, all varieties

Baptisia, False Indigo

Barberry, can be invasive

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra



Brunnera, Forget Me Not

Butterfly Bush

Calycanthus, Sweet Shrub

Caryopteris, Bluebeard 

Celosia, Cockscomb

Chelone, Turtlehead 

Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold

Cimicifuga, Bugbane

Clethra, Summersweet

Convallaria, Lily of the Valley


Coreopsis-Threadleaf varieties only like Zagreb

Cryptomeria radicans, Japanese Cedar

Daffodils, poisonous and they never eat these!



Dianthus, Pinks

Dicentra, Bleeding Heart

Epimedium, Barrenwort

Euphorbia, Cushion Spurge

Ferns, all kinds

Geranium macrorhizzum  ‘Ingwersens’ &  ‘Bevans’, Big Root Geranium

Globe Amaranth, Gomprhena

Grasses, all kinds

Hakonechloa, Japanese Forest Grass

Helleborus, Lenten Rose

Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’,Coral Bells



Iberis, Candytuft

Iris, all kinds


Kniphofia, Red Hot Poker

Lamium, Dead Nettle

Lantana, Annual


Leucanthemum, Shasta Daisy




Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny

Mahonia, Oregon Grape

Mazus reptans

Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells

Microbiota decussatta, Russian Cypress

Monarda, Bee Balm

Myosotis, Forget Me Not

Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo

Nepeta, Catmint



Perovskia, Russian Sage

Phlox subulata, Creeping Phlox

Pulmonaria,  Lungwort

Pynacanthemum, Mountain Mint

Rhus ‘Gro-Low’, Sumac

Rudbeckia, Black Eyed Susan

Sarcococca, Sweetbox

Salvia, all kinds

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower

Senecio, Golden Groundsel

Solidago, Golden Rod


Stachys, Lambs Ears

Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine Poppy

Tanacetum, Tansy

Teucrium, Germander



Vernonia, Ironweed


Viburnum ‘Pragense’






Deer Combat-Using Deer Proof Plants Is the Best Strategy

Electric fence around veggie garden
Electric fence around veggie garden


I have done lots of plant portraits on my blog and always mention if it is “deer proof” or not.  As a designer, I am constantly updating – adding and subtracting plants from a mental list in my head that are reliably avoided by deer. I don’t want to plant a perennial or shrub for a client that disappears in a day or a week. I want something that deer won’t even consider including in their daily buffet choices.  Consolidating some of my favorites in one post was my goal, so that someone who is planning a new garden or renovating a “deer torn zone” that they call their garden, will be able to use a variety of plants other than boxwood, daffodils, and plastic!

Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous
Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous

Solutions for warding off the Bambi plague are legion. There are deer fences, deer sprays, deer gadgets such as water sprays, repellents, and ultrasonic solutions, which work sometimes, but deer get used to anything. Electric fences are the most effective but impractical for many people. Making the plant choices unappetizing and not on their menu, is really key to combat the deer problem, forcing them to search out greener pastures, like your neighbors!

Don't plant hostas or day lilies  in deer frequented areas
Don’t plant hostas or day lilies in deer frequented areas

Deer tend to beat the same path through properties, so be aware of this and plant really unappetizing selections along these routes, avoiding attractive favorites like hostas, daylilies, and azaleas which attract deer for miles around.

Learn Deer Dislikes

Because of fuzzy leaves, bitter taste, or strong fragrance, there are plants that deer universally will not touch. A few are obvious because of the pungency of the foliage and flowers, like lavender,  catmint, and Big Root geraniums. Brushing against these plants releases a strong pungent odor which is your clue that deer will hate it!

Favorite Deer Proof Perennials

Deer proof for me simply means rarely touched, if ever. I have seen Hellebores nibbled on once or twice, but I think deer tried it and then rejected it as inedible.


Floating Hellebore blossoms
Floating Hellebore blossoms

One choice that everyone should plant who have deer browsing are Hellebores.  See more info at, What is Deer Resistant, Blooms in the Winter, and is Deer Resistant? . A tough shade loving perennial, a full stand of Hellebores will stop you in your tracks, and wow you with their beautiful blooms that can last for 4 months. A little pricey initially, these stalwart plants will repay you many times over the years for your investment.

collage of helleborus
Collage of Hellebores


Catmint or Nepeta is a beautiful choice that I have found universally rejected by deer, but loved by cats. It is a great edger, reliably comes back every year and is drought tolerant. Blooming prolifically for weeks, a cut back in midsummer will begin a new round of fresh blooms until frost. This is an unsung hero of perennials! And don’t worry that hordes of cats will descend on you. I have found my cat visits this plant only occasionally.


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Cat in the catmint or nepeta


Lambs Ears

Fuzziness or hairy leaves is also a big indicator of a deer repellent plant. Just consider Lambs Ears, the softest wooliest leaf, almost like a cashmere blanket, and deer will spurn this totally. On the other end of the spectrum, deer regularly browse on hollies and roses, the prickliest plants in my garden. Go figure!!

Lambs ears, Stachys byzantia ‘Helene von Stein’


Salvias are my go-to plant for deer infested areas. Another strong fragrance plant that deer disdain, salvias are a diverse group of plants that bloom for weeks and weeks during the summer, so you could plant just salvias in your garden and get bloom all season long in a spectrum of luscious colors. Check out my post on Salvia Amistad to see great selections.

Wide variety of salvias
Wide variety of salvias


Agastache or Anise Hyssops are gaining in popularity because of the staying power of the blooms- about 3 months, and the attractant power for pollinators. Just stand by an Agastache in full bloom and you will notice a cloud of insects covering the blooms. Hybridizers are coming out with a new palette of colors, like yellow, oranges and reds, but I find that the old stand-by ‘Blue Fortune’, is the most reliable.

Agastache or Anise Hyssop
Agastache or Anise Hyssop

Big Root Geraniums

Geranium's autumn color
Geranium’s autumn color

Named because of the large fleshy roots that hold the foliage up, this extremely fragrant ground cover, Geranium macrorhizzum, thrives in all kind of conditions – sun, shade, wet, and dry. It is a very tough plant that blooms with nodding flowers in spring, and turns a russet color in the fall. In mild winters the foliage will remain, shrinking down a bit, but remaining for most of the winter.

Geranium 'Karmina'
Geranium ‘Karmina’



In the onion family, Alliums are perennial bulbs known for their star like flowers that are quite spectacular. Easy to grow as accent plants, the seed heads are useful for dried arrangements.


Dianthus, Tiny Rubies

Looking for a stellar edging perennial with evergreen blue-green foliage that is covered in bright pink flowers for weeks?  Dianthus is your plant!  Not many perennials have evergreen foliage, and dianthus is one of the best. Easy to grow and easy to split up and move around. Buy just a couple and end up with many.




Variegated Iris
Variegated Iris

When I am looking for a plant to give some vertical height in a garden, that is tough and attractive even when not in bloom, I turn to the Iris family. The variegated form is a bonus, striking gold-toned foliage!


If you are on Pinterest, go to my board of deer resistant plants at http://www.pinterest.com/clairetjones/plants-deer-hate

Here are further examples of beautiful perennials that deer avoid. Take your pick for a beautiful garden!