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Those of us who have a hearty population of deer visiting the yard know how challenging it is to keep them from destroying the garden. Both my front and back yards are Deer Central, so I sympathize with other gardeners who face the same issue. There are many strategies for gardening with deer, including building a fence and using spray deterrents, but your first line of defense is always to choose plants the deer don’t prefer. Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite deer-resistant annuals. These are reliable plants for summer color, even in the most deer-plagued garden.
I’ve separated my list of deer-resistant annuals into two parts. The first covers sun-loving annuals that the deer don’t like, while the second part is deer-resistant annuals for the shade. I hope you’ll find some new favorites to add to your garden’s plant palette.
Deer-resistant Annuals for Sun
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana species)
If you’re looking for a sweet-smelling plant you’ll love but the deer won’t, flowering tobacco is it. There are several different garden-worthy flowering tobacco species, cultivars, and hybrids. Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris are two of my favorites. All nicotianas have tubular flowers adored by hummingbirds, and since the blooms emit their fragrance in the evenings, the primary pollinators you’ll spy feeding on them are nocturnal moths. Just keep this amazing plant away from your tomato plants because it can attract tomato and tobacco hornworms that may then lay eggs on your tomatoes. Still, it’s a deer-resistant annual plant that’s well worth growing. Plus, it’s easy to start from seed and has no pest or disease issues.
Canna lilies (Canna indica)
Sun-loving canna lilies are deer-resistant annuals that live for many years, as long as you dig up the tuberous roots each autumn and store them in a box of peat moss for the winter. They’re perennial in tropical climates, but where winters are cold, we grow cannas as annuals. Cannas grow quite large (up to 5 feet tall) and have bold, tropical leaves that make a real statement in the garden. Foliage can be green, burgundy, or even striped or variegated. The tall flower spikes add color to the late summer garden.
Salvias (Salvia coccinea, S. farinacea, S. leucantha, etc)
There are so many wonderful salvias for gardeners to grow! While there are plenty of perennial salvia species, the frost-sensitive annual varieties of salvia are longer blooming. Members of the mint family, all salvias have a square stem and the foliage is fragrant when rubbed between your thumb and forefinger. Classic deer-resistant annuals, salvias thrive in full sun and are drought tolerant. My favorite annual salvias are ‘Lady in Red’, ‘Wendy’s Wish’, and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), though there are many more that I adore.
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Calendulas are old-school, deer-resistant annuals that make a home in my front garden every year. They return on their own from seed dropped the previous fall, making my job as Chief Planter much easier. Calendula is used in many herbal products, and the flowers are edible. Blooming in shades of orange, yellow, rust, salmon, and even pink, there are both single- and double-petaled varieties. While some gardeners see pot marigolds as too old fashioned, I see them as perfect annuals for gardens with deer; they’re easy to care for, produce prolific blooms, and they make great cut flowers.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum species)
These bright-blooming annuals are a god-send to gardeners with deer issues. Their reliable blooms look beautiful in the vase and in the landscape. Depending on the variety, snapdragons grow from 6 to 36 inches tall. Their unique flowers look like tiny dragon heads that snap open like a jaw when pressed on both sides. Pollinated primarily by bumble bees who can easily pop open the flowers, snapdragons are deer-resistant annuals that come in many colors. From pink, purple, and burgundy, to red, yellow, orange, and white, snapdragons offer so much color to the garden.
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella sativa)
A sweet, lacy-leaved plant, love-in-a-mist tops my list of the best annuals to grow in gardens with deer. While their bloom time is relatively short (just three or four weeks), these little beauties self-sow and return to my garden year after year. The seed pods they produce look like spiky balloons and make a terrific addition to dried flower bouquets. Flowering in white, pale blue, dark blue, or pink, nigella is a real looker even when it’s not in bloom. The slender, feathery leaves add a lovely texture to the garden. Nigella favors the cooler weather of spring and is finished blooming by the time summer arrives. The seeds (sometimes called black caraway) are edible and have a peppery flavor that’s often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia)
Sometimes called summer snapdragons, the spiked blooms of angelonia are reminiscent of snapdragons, but their individual flowers are far smaller and different in shape from a true snapdragon. Angelonias are non-stop bloomers from late spring through autumn, as long as the plant is occasionally deadheaded. There are lots of different varieties and cultivars of this deer-resistant annual flower, each of which offers a unique bloom color or growth form. Typically topping out at 12 to 18 inches high, there are some more compact varieties that have recently hit the market too. Angelonia looks great in containers as well as garden beds.
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)
A long-time favorite of mine, globe amaranth is like the cheerleader of the summer garden. It’s always perky and happy and cheerful. Covered in round, crisp-textured blooms, these deer-resistant annuals are drought resistant and tough as nails. They flower for months, require very little care, and their blooms make excellent cut and dried flowers. Flowers come in hot pink, white, strawberry-red, purple, and lavender, depending on the variety.
Lantana (Lantana camara)
A summer favorite of the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and me, lantana is a must-have in my summer garden. Though we grow this frost-tender plant as an annual here in Pennsylvania, Floridians and other warm-climate gardeners know it as a woody perennial or even a shrub. The round bloom clusters consist of many small, tubular flowers that often come in changing colors. This plant is easy to start from stem cuttings taken from a friend’s plant, or you can pick up a new plant at your favorite nursery. If you’re up for the challenge, potted lantana is easy to overwinter in a garage where the temps stay just above freezing.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Fragrant and ground hugging, alyssum is one of those deer-resistant annuals that you can use just about anywhere, including in containers, foundation plantings, vegetable gardens, flower borders, and hanging baskets. Tiny clusters of blooms top this plant non-stop from spring through fall. Though white is the most common color, sweet alyssum also comes in purple, lavender, pink, and salmon, too. Because it tops out at just 3 or 4 inches and trails along the ground, sweet alyssum makes a beautiful annual ground cover, too.
Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)
Looking a bit like mini powder puffs, ageratum flowers add a soft texture to the garden. While there are many short bedding-style varieties of this plant, I prefer the straight species, which grows quite tall. It stands about 18 to 24 inches high by mid-summer and produces non-stop flowers. I love to use ageratum flowers in bouquets. I’ve heard from a few gardeners who say the deer occasionally nibble the tops of their ageratum plants, but I find it to be a reliably deer-resistant plant in my own garden. The blooms come in light or dark blue, purple, or white, depending on the variety.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum species)
Everyone loves nasturtiums, and having them on a list of deer-resistant annuals is a must. Their round, succulent leaves and colorful flowers fill the garden like few other plants can. Trailing varieties creep along the ground, while bush-forming varieties stay more compact. Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seeds sown directly into the ground in mid-spring. The flowers are edible and come in shades of orange, yellow, red, and pink.
Annual black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
While some species of perennial black-eyed Susans fall victim to the deer in my garden from time to time, I’ve never had so much as a nibble taken from my annual black-eyed Susans. Their fuzz-covered, thick-textured leaves and flower buds seem to deter the deer, plus they self-sow and return to my garden each year. Technically, they’re a biennial, but northern gardeners like me grow them as deer-resistant annuals. There are many different varieties of tough, drought-resistant annual black-eyed Susans that are well worth growing, including ‘Indian Summer’, ‘Irish Eyes’, and ‘Cherokee Sunset’.
Sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus)
Cosmos makes an exceptional cut flower, though most gardeners are probably more familiar with the lacy-leaved species that bears pink and white flowers (Cosmos bipinnatus). I find these lacy-leaved cosmos to be nothing more than deer fodder, while my sulfur cosmos is left alone. Bright orange or yellow blooms stand tall on long flower stems above medium green foliage. I sow the long, needle-like seeds directly into the garden in mid May, and the plant is in flower from early July through frost.
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)
Admittedly, I am not a fan of this plant simply because it’s an overachieving, over-prolific self-sower that returns to the garden like a weed. But, I know many, many gardeners who adore spider flower. And, since this is a list of deer-resistant annuals, it certainly deserves a mention here, in spite of my own personal feelings about the plant. The flowers are definitely prolific and adored by various pollinators. The plant makes quite a statement in the garden; some varieties reach 6 to 8 feet tall! Look for more compact selections if you need something of a smaller stature. Blooms are dark or light pink, or white.
Deer-resistant Annuals for Shade
Caladiums (Caladium bicolor and hybrids)
Ok, so here’s a plant I fully embrace. Caladiums are stunners with foliage that’s among the most attractive of all deer-resistant annuals. Tolerant of partial to full shade, caladiums produce heart-shaped leaves in a stunning array of colors and variegations. Who needs flowers when you have leaves this amazing! I’ve grown caladiums in my shade containers for years, and I try a few new varieties every season; I have yet to find a caladium I don’t like! They’re perennial in tropical climates, but here in the north, grow them as annuals. Dig the tuber up in the fall and overwinter it in a box of peat moss in the garage.
Begonias (Begonia species)
There is so much to love about begonias. They thrive in the shade, produce beautiful blooms, some species have amazing variegated foliage, they’re resistant to deer, and they come in a stunning array of forms, sizes, shapes, and textures. From the colorful, seer-sucker foliage of Rex begonias and the cascading blooms of Bonfire begonias to the non-stop color of angel- and dragon-wing begonias, it sometimes feels like there are a million different choices. All begonias can be grown as deer-resistant annuals, though most are actually perennial if overwintered as a houseplant indoors.
Persian shield (Strobilanthes atropurpurea)
Another show-stopping foliage plant the deer don’t like, Persian shield produces purple leaves edged with a silvery grey. Though it tolerates a bit of sun, I grow it as a shade plant in containers as well as in my shade garden. Where winters don’t mean freezing temperatures, Persian shield is a woody shrub, but in cold climates, grow it as an annual. I love to combine the purple foliage of this plant with deep red caladiums in the pots by my back door.
Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri)
Torenia is one of those deer-resistant annuals that I refuse to garden without. The thumbnail-sized blooms have a wishbone shaped anther inside, and the plants bloom their heads off all summer long. There are trailing varieties and clumping varieties, so make sure you choose the form that’s best for you. Blooms are pink, purple, blue, or white, though there’s a trailing variety that produces bi-colored yellow and purple flowers that just about knock your socks off.
Where to find more about deer-resistant annuals
Having a beautiful, colorful garden in deer territory requires thoughtful decisions, but it’s more than possible if you start by choosing the best plants for the job.
For more on some of the best plants for gardens with deer, pick up a copy of Ruth Rogers Clausen’s 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants or Deer-Resistant Design: Fence-free Gardens that Thrive Despite the Deer by Karen Chapman.
Find more gardening tips in the following articles:
- Ideas for keeping deer out of the garden
- Choice annuals for the shade
- Great annuals for containers
- Favorite shade perennials
- Foliage plants
Do you have any deer-resistant annuals to add to this list of favorites? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.