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 of fencing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 leaves are 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!
Irises are drought-tolerant plants that come in a rainbow of colour options. I have bearded iris in a deep purple, almost black hue that I took from my first garden. You could also plant the more delicate Siberian iris. 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.
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.
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.
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 that thrives in full sun.
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.
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.
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.
Meet three more great deer-resistant perennials in this short video from our Niki Jabbour.
Other deer-resistant perennials
- Tickseed (Coreopsis)
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Bleeding hearts
- Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
- Butterfly bush
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
- Scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolen)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Bee balm (Monarda)
- Ornamental onion (Allium)
- Barrenwort (Epimedium)