27 Deer Resistant Perennial Plants For Your Garden

Thinking of adding some perennials to your garden, but live in a place where deer roam freely? Fear not! There are are actually a number of different perennials that deer will avoid. In this article, certified master gardener Laura Elsner shares her favorite deer-resistant perennials that you can add to your garden!

deer resistant perennials

Gardening is always a game of give and take. It is alive, and part of the ecosystem. There will always be things attacking and eating it. From bugs and slugs to squirrels and rabbits. To some extent, this is the price we pay to have beautiful gardens.

One of the larger pests that come into our gardens, and wreak havoc, are the most innocent looking creatures. I’m talking about deer. These wide eyed majestic animals can turn our gardens, our hours of hard work, into a midnight garden buffet. It is frustrating, to say the least.

While there are many solutions to deter deer. From chemical sprays to fencing, or even a yappy dog. Sometimes, the best deterrent is simply planting the things they don’t like so they avoid your garden altogether. Creating a beautiful garden that deer dislike is possible.

Plant Traits That Repel Deer

There are three main attributes that plants have that a deer does not like. Some have a combination of the three that make it even less appealing to a deer. Let’s take a look at the most common plant traits that will repel deer from your garden.

Smell

Deer do not like anything that has a pungent odor. Finding plants that have smell will deter deer. This one does not always work. It really depends on how hungry the deer is/are. They will avoid it, but  a very hungry deer may eat a scented plant if there is nothing else available.

Texture

Deer do not like eating things with a rough or dry texture. Again, if the deer is hungry enough, and the texture is semi palettable, the deer may sample it. But if this is combined with something that has a smell and a terrible texture it will double duty deter a deer.

Thorns

Deer as well as most animals, tend to avoid plants with thorns. This is due to the possibility of injury during when they are attempting to eat the plant.

Toxins

This is the failsafe plant. Deer will not eat poisonous plants. Their instincts tell them to avoid them. So adding plants to your garden that are poisonous to mammals will keep deer away. Dogs and small humans however may not have the same instinct, so always use caution when planting toxic plants.

This is especially true if you have a dog that loves munching on everything, or small curious children. Before I scare you out of planting poisonous plants, you probably already do have some in your garden whether you know it or not!

Many common plants are toxic. I do keep poisonous plants in my garden, my kids know to ask me before they sample anything (they are always into the chives).

Deer Resistant Perennials

There are many different types of deer resistant perennial plants, from garden grass, to flowers and shrubs. What you pick, will depend on your garden goals, your geography, and also likely the amount of deer you have in your area. Let’s take a deeper look into our favorite perennials that will keep the deer away from your garden space.

Allium

Allium
Allium grows in almost any soil, preferring well-drained, permeable neutral soil.
Scientific Name: Allium
  • Type: Bulb
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: Up to 5 feet tall, 1 foot wide
  • Sun Exposure: full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9
  • Toxic: Yes

I love Allium. They are fall-planted bulbs that produce these magical purple perennial blooms floating on green stems in the spring. Like lollipops in the garden. They are members of the onion family and do not taste very good, so deer tend to avoid them.

Bearded Iris

Bearded Iris Flower
Deer do not find the flat, fleshy leaves of the bearded Iris to be appetizing.
Scientific Name: Iris x germanica
  • Type: Perennial 
  • Geographic Origin: Europe 
  • Plant Size: Variety dependant, up to 4 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Iris is a classic garden perennial flower. The thick flat blades of foliage are up in early spring. Then the unmistakable iris flower blooms shortly after. The ruffled flower has three upward petals and three downward petals. It is often purple, but there are actually a variety of colors, including yellow, and peach. 

Make sure the tubers (rhizomes) are not buried in the soil, or they will not bloom. Deer don’t like eating the fleshy flat leaves of Iris.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm Flowers
Bee balm is frequently used in teas for its aroma and flavor which many humans enjoy but is unappealing to deer.
Scientific Name: Monarda
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: USA and Canada
  • Plant Size: up to 3 feet tall (some varieties are taller or shorter), 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Bee balm is a bergamot scented perennial (think earl grey tea). It features tufts of shaggy petaled flowers that emerge from the collar and then out the top. It always reminds me of a muppet. Its blooms are long lasting in the summer and it attracts lots of pollinators. 

Deer do not like the strong scent of it and will steer clear.

Black Mondo Grass

Black Mondo Grass
This striking grass has a dry and rough texture to it, so deer tend to avoid it.
Scientific Name: Ophiopogon planiscapus
  • Type: Evergreen perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Japan
  • Plant Size: 1 foot tall and 1 foot wide 
  • Sun Exposure:  full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-10

Black mondo grass is a small clumping groundcover. Its intense dark burgundy/black color and the fine grass texture make this evergreen perennial really stand out. Pair it with bright chartreuse plants. Angelina sedum is a classic pairing with black mondo grass, and it also happens to be deer resistant. 

Deer tend to avoid the dry grassy texture of black mondo grass.

Black-eyed Susans

Black Eyed Susans
Black-eyed Susans have a brambly texture in their leaves and stems.
Scientific Name: Rudbeckia
  • Type: Perennial 
  • Geographic Origin: USA
  • Plant Size: Variety dependant up to 7 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Black-eyed Susans are a sure sign that fall has arrived. It has big cone-shaped flowers with bright yellow petals and a black center. Tuck these cheerful flowers throughout your perennial beds to add a pop of fall color after many other perennials are finished blooming.

Black-eyed Susans have prickly fuzzy leaves and stems that are not tasty for deer.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart
Another toxic plant on our list is Bleeding Heart, so it is natural for deer to avoid it in gardens.
Scientific Name: Lamprocapnos spectabilis
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China and Japan
  • Plant Size: 3 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  part sun-shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Bleeding Heart is an old-fashioned garden favorite. This perennial thrives in the shade and grows big and lush in the early spring. Then it shoots out tendrils filled with floating pink heart-shaped flowers. 

This plant is actually toxic, so deer won’t go near it. But they may trample its tender hollow stems in order to get to something more delicious.

Blue Oat Grass

Blue Oat Grass
This ornamental grass has a dry texture that is rough to the touch.
Scientific Name: Helictotrichon sempervirens
  • Type: Ornamental grass
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 3 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Blue oat grass is a wonderful ornamental grass. It forms a beautiful blue orb of fine, spiky grass. The flowers look great on garden borders. It has an easy, low-maintenance vibe.

Pair it with purple foliage plants such as ‘Black Lace’ Elderberry (which is also deer resistant) for a real pop. I also like it tucked up against large landscape rocks. Deer don’t like the spiky dry texture of the grass.

Castor Bean

Ricinus communis
Castor Bean is an annual ornamental deciduous spreading plant from 2 to 10 m high with bare erect branched stems of brown, red or bluish-green hue.
Scientific Name: Ricinus communis
  • Type: up to 10 feet tall, 4 feet wide
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Asia
  • Plant Size: Africa
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Plant Zone: 9-11
  • Toxic: Yes

Castor beans are a tender perennial that will make heads turn. They look wild! In lower zones, Castor beans will grow large as an annual in a single season. They have big pointed hand-shaped leaves with fuzzy orange poufs of flowers.

The leaf itself is tinged purplish and some of the leaves will grow over a foot in diameter! Plant them in large containers, like a barrel planter as they will grow to the size of the container.    

These fast-growing perennials will not be munched in by deer because they are very poisonous.

Catmint

Catmint
Though loved by feline friends, catmint has a strong odor that deer steer clear of.
Scientific Name: Nepeta
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Asia
  • Plant Size: 2 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Catmint has an unmistakable soapy smell. It’s a lavender-like scent. It’s a fairly large mounding perennial that is very hardy and fills a space. This perennial grows low to the ground, and makes for great garden borders. It has small leaves and purple flowers in the summer that the bees love. It has a great cottage garden vibe.

Deer do not like its strong odor. But cats do, so you may have fewer deer but more cats hanging in your garden.

Daffodil

Narcissus
In general, daffodils are undemanding to soils. However, it is desirable that the soil in the garden should be quite fertile and light.
Scientific Name: Narcissus
  • Type: Bulb
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 1 foot high, 3 inches wide
  • Sun Exposure: full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-8
  • Toxic: Yes

Spring bulbs can be a delicacy for deer. Tulips are delicious, they will devour them to stumps. It is so frustrating to see all the first flowers of the season be destroyed.

If this happens to you, try planting daffodils. They are poisonous and the deer will avoid them. Plus their sunny yellow faces are a sure sign that spring has arrived.

Elephant Ear

Alocasia
In spring and summer, ‘Elephant Ear’ needs abundant and regular watering. It is recommended to moisten the soil as the top layer dries out.
Scientific Name: Alocasia
  • Type: Tender perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia, Australia
  • Plant Size: Variety dependant
  • Sun Exposure: Part sun-shade
  • Plant Zone: 10+
  • Toxic: Yes

Alocasia is a very tender perennial. They have lovely green arrow shaped foliage. There are many varieties, large elephant ears and regal shields, to small african masks and coffee cups. For gardens below zone 9, treat them as an annual or bring them indoors over the winter.

Deer avoid them because they are toxic.  Oxalic acid is the toxin found in all members of the araceae family, including alocasia.

Foxglove

Digitalis
Foxglove is often found in gardens, although the entire above-ground part of the plant is poisonous.
Scientific Name: Digitalis
  • Type: Biennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 3 feet tall, 1 foot wide
  • Sun Exposure: full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-10
  • Toxic: Yes

Foxglove is a gorgeous biennial flower. It has tall spikes of bell shaped flowers that have the most intricate colors and spots in them. They are also poisonous and will be completely avoided by deer. Check to see if foxglove is an invasive species in your area before planting. Keep it under control in your garden if you love it.

Globe Thistle

Globe Thistle
The prickly texture of Globe Thistle is undesirable to deer but makes for a pretty display in the garden.
Scientific Name: Echinops
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia and Europe
  • Plant Size: up to 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Globe thistle is a unique perennial. It has silvery foliage that has a sharp thistle texture. It flowers purple spiky balls. They flower in mid-late summer and stay intact well into the fall.

This perennial likes full sun and tolerates poor soil conditions and is drought tolerant. Deer do not like the prickly thistle leaves or the sharp spiky flowers.

Goatsbeard

Goatsbeard
Goat’s Beard, or Bride’s Feathers, can cause illness or death so it should not be consumed.
Scientific Name: Aruncus dioicus
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Europe, Asia
  • Plant Size: variety dependant, commonly feet by 4 feet
  • Sun Exposure:  full-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-7

Goatsbeard is a nice large-sized perennial that produces plumes of feathery white flowers in the summer. It has limey green foliage and can grow large and shrub-like.

Goatsbeard is a toxic plant and deer will not touch it.

Lantana

Lantana camara
Lantana has small flowers that change color during flowering, starting from light yellow tones, and can end its flowering period in red tones.
Scientific Name: Lantana camara
  • Type: Tender perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Central and South America
  • Plant Size: Variety dependant
  • Sun Exposure: full
  • Plant Zone: 7-11
  • Toxic: Yes

Lantana is a beautiful flower.  In the colder zones it can be planted as an annual flower. It has big clusters of flowers all over it. They come in a variety of colors and patterns. They are well known to bloom through the entire year if planted in the proper climate.

Deer don’t like the leathery leafy texture. Nor do they like the scent of their crushed leaves (I think it is kind of lemony smelling). Use Lantana in garden beds or in containers.

Lavender

Lavandula
Lavender needs a lot of bright sunlight and systematic and plentiful watering.
Scientific Name: Lavandula
  • Type: Woody perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe, Africa, Asia
  • Plant Size: 2-3 feet tall, up to 4 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-8
  • Toxic: Yes

The pungent smell of lavender and their dry woody foliage prevents deer from munching on them. Lavender is a low growing perennial that likes lots of sun and sandy soil.

It produces lovely spikes of purple flowers. And of course, it smells lovely (to humans anyways). For lower zone gardeners try Munstead Lavender, which is perennial as low as zone 4. There are many other types of lavender to choose from, depending on your hardiness zone.

Ligularia 

Ligularia
Rocket Ligularia has bright yellow flowers that shoot up in spikes like a rocket.
Scientific Name: Ligularia 
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China
  • Plant Size: 6-7 feet high, 3 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Ligularia is a tall, part shade perennial. It thrives in damp, boggy conditions. It has large leaves and bright yellow flowers. My favorite variety is ‘The Rocket’ which features jagged leaves and long stems of yellow flowers.

‘Othello’ is another nice variety, it has purple tinge lily pad-shaped leaves with clusters of daisy-like yellow leaves. Ligularia will take more sun if you can provide it with lots of water.

Deer don’t like their thick leaves and will usually leave this perennial alone.

Lily if the Nile

Agapanthus
‘Lily if the Nile’ is a perennial evergreen or deciduous plant, growing up to 2 feet tall in height, with funnel-shaped rich blue flowers.
Scientific Name: Agapanthus
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: South Africa
  • Plant Size: 2+ feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: sun-part sun
  • Plant Zone: 8-11
  • Toxic: Yes

Lily of the Nile is a lovely perennial that can also be grown as an annual and over wintered indoors in colder zones. It has large spikes of purple or white flowers. Deer tend to avoid this one because of its thick grassy foliage and the scented flowers. A hungry enough deer will eat them, but under normal conditions, they will avoid them.

Lily of the Valley

Convallaria majalis
‘Lily of the Valley’ requires well-cultivated, organic-rich soil, and also regular and intensive watering.
Scientific Name: Convallaria majalis
  • Type: Perennial groundcover
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 6” tall, spreading
  • Sun Exposure: part shade-shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9
  • Toxic: Yes

Lily of the valley is a very hardy, very aggressive ground cover. Use caution when planting this one. It is very toxic, spreads wildly, and has thick roots that are hard to remove. It can take over a garden bed. It’s also one of the more popular plants in a shade garden.

Plant it in a contained area, or in an area where it is ok to freely spread around.  It has lovely bell-shaped flowers that bloom in spring and smell heavenly. Deer won’t touch this one, it is highly toxic.

Lungwort

Lungwort
The fuzzy texture on Lungwort’s leaves can irritate the skin, which is unpleasant for deer and humans alike.
Scientific Name: Pulmonaria 
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 1 foot tall, 1 ½ feet wide
  • Sun Exposure:  part shade-shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Lungwort is a low-growing ground cover perennial. It is one of the few perennials that will tolerate dry shade. Lungwort is even known to grow under spruce trees. It blooms pretty bell-shaped flowers in pink and purple in the very early spring. Then it has lovely large pointed leaves that are covered in irregular spots. 

Lungwort has a fuzzy irritating texture. Deer don’t like it, and I recommend wearing gloves when dealing with it.

Monkshood

Aconitum
Monkshood is a beautiful flower that is easy to grow but be careful as it is very toxic.
Scientific Name: Aconitum
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Western and Central Europe
  • Plant Size: 4 feet tall, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-7
  • Toxic: Yes

Monkshood is one of the most toxic plants in the garden. All animals will avoid it. It grows tall and has purple, purple and white, or pink flowers that look like little hooded monks. These plants grow to be quite large and take up a lot of space (under the right conditions). It doesn’t self-seed and spread aggressively.

If you plant monkshood around the perimeter of your garden it will help repel deer because they know this one is not good to eat no matter how hungry they are.

Moss Phlox

Moss Phlox
These pretty little flowers have foliage that is dry in texture, making it unpleasant to deer.
Scientific Name: Phlox subulata
  • Type: Perennial groundcover 
  • Geographic Origin: USA
  • Plant Size: 6 inches high, spreading
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun-part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

In the summer moss phlox blooms into large pools of delicate blossoms. It is spectacular when it is in bloom, it fills up garden borders and creeps through rock beds. Then it has mossy evergreen foliage the rest of the season.

Deer do not like the spiky dry texture of moss phlox foliage.

Oriental Poppy

Papaver orientale
Oriental Poppy blooms in mid-May – mid-June for up to 30 days with fiery red flowers with a black square spot above the base of the petals and many anthers.
Scientific Name: Papaver orientale
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Turkey, Iran, Caucasus
  • Plant Size: 2 feet high, 2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-7
  • Toxic: Mildly, yes

Oriental poppies are such a lovely sight in spring. Their big wide flowers stand out in a garden bed.  They come in red, orange, white, purple, and pink. Unlike the regular garden variety of poppy, the oriental poppy doesn’t spread, they stay put where they are planted.

Deer will avoid them as they are mildly toxic, and they don’t find their fuzzy leaves all too palatable.

Peony

Paeonia
The place for planting peonies in the garden should be sunny, and protected from winter drafts. Only light shading may be present for 2-3 hours a day.
Scientific Name: Paeonia
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin:
  • Plant Size: 3 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-8
  • Toxic: Yes

This one always amazes me, but it is true. Deer don’t really have a taste for peonies. They dislike their thick leathery leaves. They also dislike the fragrance of the flowers.

So if you are really dealing with a deer problem, consider planting one of the more scented peony varieties such as ‘edulis superba’.  But if there are no other choices, a deer will munch a peony.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Opuntia Humifusa
Prickly Pear Cactus are cacti that can go days and even weeks without getting a drop of water.
Scientific Name: Opuntia Humifusa
  • Type: Perennial succulent
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 1 foot tall, 18 inches wide, spreading
  • Sun Exposure: full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9
  • Toxic: No

Deer will definitely avoid prickly pear cactus. The long spikes keep the deer away. Plus they are a unique and lovely perennial. They have beautiful flowers and are low maintenance.

I grow these in my front garden and I always have people commenting on the huge yellow blossoms on this unique spiky plant. Full sun and sandy soil is all they require. This is a native plant to many parts of the US, and makes a great choice for xeriscaping.

Red Hot Poker

Red Hot Poker
These colorful flowers are surrounded by foliage that has a grassy texture to it.
Scientific Name: Kniphofia
  • Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Africa
  • Plant Size: 1-3 feet high, 1 foot wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 5-9

Red hot pokers are such a fun flower. This perennial has a grassy base, and then it shoots up rockets of flowers that go from yellow to red (also available in other colors, variety dependent). It is a very showy flower that will start blooming in early summer and keep on blooming until the fall.

This perennial is reported to be moderately deer resistant. If there are no other food sources it might munch one. But for the most part, the grassy texture foliage is not appealing to deer.

Russian Sage

Russian Sage
Deer do not like the aroma Russian Sage emits, so they stay away from it.
Scientific Name: Perovskia atriplicifolia
  • Type: Woody perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 3-5 feet high and wide
  • Sun Exposure:  full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-9

Russian sage is a striking woody perennial to add to the garden. It has silvery foliage and purple spikes of flowers. It is a low maintenance perennial that requires little water or attention.  Deer don’t like its rough foliage or its pungent odor. 

Final Thoughts

When creating a deer-resistant garden it is important to understand why a deer is avoiding a certain plant. If it is because of the texture or smell, it is a matter of how hungry the deer is/are. They will devour some of the plants on this list if that is all that is available.

The only thing they will not touch is the very poisonous plants. But hopefully, a mixture of deer-resistant perennial plants will be enough to make the cute pests move on to more delicious gardens.

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