deer-resistant perennials

Deer-resistant perennials: Beautiful blooms and foliage for spring, summer, and fall

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The other day I watched a deer walk through one of my raised beds, ignore the sage and chives, and amble right up to my patch of daylilies. It happily munched away on the tender spring shoots as I took a photo. I have deer-resistant perennials throughout other areas of my property. Usually the deer only seem to visit in the winter when they get really hungry. They enjoy feasting on my cedars and one year they chowed down on the euonymus beside my front door until it was barely nothing (I must say the deer-pruning made it grow back strong and healthy!). But recently, a group of them like to walk up my street, following the path to the backyard, nibbling my garden as they go.

I know several gardeners who garden successfully despite the local deer. Both Niki and Jessica have taken measures to deer-proof their gardens. My mom and dad’s front garden is full of deer-resistant perennials because they live across from a conservation area. But a fortress surrounds their backyard garden—a place where my mom can plant anything she likes.

Adding deer-resistant perennials to your garden

I have gathered a list of plants the deer aren’t supposed to like. If you absolutely must have a plant that’s known to be high on their snack list, try to plant it between some varieties that they tend to avoid.

It’s worth noting that if food is scarce, deer may ignore their distaste for certain plants and eat them anyway. Technically there aren’t a ton of plants that completely repel deer.

Daffodils

Tulips are vulnerable to a variety of wildlife—the squirrels love them. Daffodils, on the other hand, are toxic to pretty much everyone. That’s why I always recommend planting tulips in between the daffodils. They’re a pretty safe fall bulb for surefire spring blooms.

daffodils are deer-resistant bulbs

Thalia and Pink Wonder daffodils in my front garden.

Glory of the Snow

Another spring bulb that is not on a deer’s menu is Chionodoxa or Glory of the Snow. I didn’t plant mine, they came with the house. But I eagerly await their blooms each spring. Plant them in the sun or partial shade. Mine are in drifts, so plant a few together for a happy little clump that the bees will love in early spring.

Glory of the snow spring bulbs

Plant your Glory of the snow bulbs in little drifts for the bees to discover in the spring.

Hellebore

This is another early-spring-blooming plant whose blooms will not be cut short by deer. I have a hellebore in my side garden and check it every day for blooms once I see those luscious buds. The plant doesn’t mind a bit of shade throughout the day. I love that it forms a nice tidy clump in the garden.

'Pink Frost' Hellebore

My ‘Pink Frost’ Hellebore is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring.

Peony

Apparently deer have sensitive noses and aren’t jazzed about eating strong-scented plants, like peonies. I have a few peonies in four perennial gardens on my property. Once the flowers have faded, the foliage is nice throughout the summer unless plants fall victim to diseases, like Botrytis blight or powdery mildew. On one of my neighbourhood walks, there is a home with a walkway lined with peonies. They make a lovely hedge—especially when they’re in bloom. I like having more than one because I can snip a few blooms from each plant for vases. Just be sure to give them a good shake to get all the ants out!

Pink peony

Peonies make delightful cut flowers. Just be sure to stake them in the spring so they don’t flop.

Iris

These drought-tolerant plants come in a rainbow of colour options. I have irises in a deep purple, almost black shade that I had in my first garden. The Royal Botanical Garden, features over 1,000 gorgeous varieties in its collection that’s not far from my home. And they’re in an area that would get a lot of deer roaming about. I like to plant mine among other plants because once the blooms are done, their spiky foliage can be a bit lacklustre in the garden.

Irises that are part of the Royal Botanical Garden's collection at its Laking Garden site.

Irises that are part of the Royal Botanical Garden’s collection at its Laking Garden site.

Columbine

There seems to be a new columbine popping up in my garden every year, I’m guessing from my neighbour’s property. I don’t mind, I love their flowers. Aquilegia canadensis are native to North America, drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and I guess not very tasty to deer.

Columbine is a deer-resistant plant that is native to North America

Columbines come in a rainbow of colours. This one magically appeared in my garden.

Artemesia

I love the little globes of feathery, silvery foliage of Silver Mound in my mom’s front garden. Part of the Asteraceae family (asters are also deer-resistant), it looks really pretty in a border, but also provides great contrast against bright blooms and other striking foliage. This hardy plant also looks nice in pots.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ provides texture and contrast in a garden.

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ provides texture and contrast in a garden.

Lavender

Lavender provides year-round interest in my garden. I love to snip little sprigs for vases and to dry. It’s said the strong scent is what keeps the deer away from them. They’re also one of those plants that look great in a meadow or cottage garden. Lavender is also a great drought-tolerant choice.

Coreopsis and lavender, two deer-resistant perennials in my garden.

Coreopsis and lavender, two deer-resistant perennials in my garden.

Hakonechloa

As far as ornamental grasses go, I love the cascading nature of Hakonechloa plants aka Japanese Forest Grass. There is a rock garden in the park near my house where it tumbles over the rocks amongst the other hardy perennials. My mom has ‘Albo-Striata’ in her garden, which is a darker green than the one shown, with white stripes.

‘Aureola’ Hakonechloa is a vibrant pick for a darker area of the garden.

I love the way the foliage falls on a Hakonechloa. This one, ‘Aureola’, is also a vibrant pick for a darker area of the garden.

Liatris

There are some plants that look like Muppets or Fraggles when they’re in bloom and the wiry, shaggy blooms of liatris are on that list. These plants are pollinator magnets and also provide great winter interest—I leave the seed heads for the birds. But they don’t seem to be at the top of the deer menu.

The bees and butterflies love liatris, but apparently the deer do not.

The bees and butterflies love liatris, but apparently the deer do not.

Goat’s beard

I have a thing for wispy foliage, so Goat’s beard (aka goatsbeard) is a perennial that I’d like to add to my shade garden without fear the deer will discover it for lunch. It has fern-like foliage and these cream-coloured, fuzzy-looking plumes of flowers.

‘Chantilly Lace’ goatsbeard from Proven Winners will grow in both sun or shade.

‘Chantilly Lace’ goatsbeard from Proven Winners will grow in both sun or shade.

Other deer-resistant perennials

  • Coreopsis
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Euphorbia
  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding hearts
  • Blanket flower
  • Butterfly bush
  • Lungwort
  • Scented geranium

More plants that repel deer

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Deer-resistant perennials for the garden

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4 Responses to Deer-resistant perennials: Beautiful blooms and foliage for spring, summer, and fall

  1. Dee says:

    Deer ate the buds off my one azalea this winter, that was a first. It’s the wascally wabbits (Elmer Fudd) and the big, fat groundhog that give me more trouble! The rabbits eat the liatris, new growth on black-eyed susans and this year they have treated me by eating the new buds off some of my roses and new growth off my Autumn Sedum! That was also new. I sprayed Plantskydd which is super expensive but would really love some rabbit proffing suggestions. Thanks!

    • Sorry to hear about your rabbit troubles. I suggest installing a low fence (about 18 inches tall) around your garden bed or even around individual plants. Rabbits can’t hop up over something that tall (they can hop far, but not high) and they can’t climb.

  2. Anne Mahoney says:

    I have the issues as The woman above. The ground hogs are the worst because they go underground. Help!

    • Mary says:

      A fence 18 inches in the ground and 18 tall has stopped the groundhogs from eating my broccoli. It was work but provides great satisfaction that I stopped them.

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