Deer resistant garden plans

Deer-Resistant Garden Plan

Create a sustainable garden by choosing the right plants for the job. Garden pests, especially deer, often chew off the foliage or colorful blooms of your favorite garden plants. Luckily, there are many species that deer will avoid. Create a lush garden bed with shades of yellow, purple and silver with deer-resistant plant options for a design you know will remain untouched.

The tall spires of Russian sage serve as a dramatic back layer to this arrangement. Globe thistle repeats the deep purple hue but adds a rounded texture. Pops of yellow come from spurge and yarrow, and the low-growing foliage of artemisia and thyme gives the front of the design a clean finish.

Related: Tips for Deterring Deer

Free Garden Plan

Our free Planting Guide for this garden includes a larger version of the illustration, a detailed layout diagram, a list of plants for the garden as shown, and complete instructions for installing the garden. (Free, one-time registration allows unlimited access to Planting Guides for all garden plans.)

We’ve picked plants that deer typically won’t eat—fuzzy lamb’s-ears, scented thyme, iris—for this garden plan.

Garden size: 12×14 feet

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Plant List

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  • 4 ‘Silver Mound’ artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana), Zones 4–8
  • 3 Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Albiflorus’), Zones 4–9
  • 3 Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), Zones 4–9
  • 4 Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma), Zones 3–10
  • 2 Variegated sweet iris (Iris pallida ‘Variegata’), Zones 4–9
  • 1 Fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’), Zones 3–9
  • 2 Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Sunset’), Zones 2–7
  • 3 Globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus ‘Blue Glow’), Zones 5–9
  • 2 Peony (Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’), Zones 4–8
  • 3 Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), Zones 4–9

Related: Deer-Resistant Plants for Your Region

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Deer Resistant Garden Plans – Creating A Deer Resistant Garden

Urban gardeners don’t have to worry much about deer nibbling on their prized roses. However, those of us in more rural or under developed areas are quite familiar with the issue. Deer are lovely to watch but not when they are stomping all over your vegetable garden or eating the tops off your bulbs before you ever get the chance to see a bloom. Creating a deer resistant garden is a must for any gardener who suffers from these grazing marauders.

Deer Resistant Garden Ideas

There are many borders and chemical deterrents to prevent deer in the landscape. The problem is that what works in one region may not work in another. Much of the reliability on such items depends upon how hungry and how adapted to humans deer are and even the weather can be a factor. Planting deer resistant plants may be a better bet than investing in odor, noise or barrier deterrent. Some of the best tips on how to design a deer resistant garden are available to you if you read on.

Fences seem like a good deterrent to deer but they have to be at least 8 feet high or the hungry foragers will simply jump over them.

Noisy or flapping items may be useful to scare deer away as are some of the sprays available. These don’t work as well in areas with plenty of rain though. Stinky items have some usefulness. These might include:

  • Mothballs
  • Garlic
  • Blood meal
  • Fabric softener
  • Human hair

Again, the effectiveness diminishes with rainfall.

Deer tend to shy away from difficult to reach plants. A border made of a prickly or spiny plants is a good preventative and gives you a lovely green area to view. Deer resistant garden plans should include:

  • Barberry
  • Privet
  • Holly
  • Pyracantha
  • Juniper

The animals prefer not to browse on anything that is hairy, thorny, potentially poisonous, or plants with strong pungent scents.

How to Design a Deer Resistant Garden

Start by considering how much work you wish to put into new plantings. Hedges with thorns not only curb the deer’s browsing but can be painful to keep pruned. Other plants may not be suitable because they need too much water or your site may not have the correct exposure. Then consult your local master gardener’s or extension office for a list of deer resistant plants.

Deer have regional tastes and what works for one gardener may not work for another. Deer resistant garden plans should complement the existing landscape and enhance the area. The last thing you want is for your garden to look like a green Fort Knox. Creating a deer resistant garden should mesh together defense with beauty.

Overall, there are some guidelines for plants to choose.

Trees which are seldom damaged might be:

  • Pines
  • Live oaks
  • Bald cypress
  • Deodar cedar
  • Ginkgo

Shrubs or bushes which might be appropriate could start with:

  • Abelia
  • Agave
  • Butterfly bush
  • Fothergillia
  • Japanese boxwood
  • Gardenia
  • Leucothoe
  • Oleander

If you just have your heart set on flowers, star jasmine and ajuga are seldom bothered by deer. Then there are other perennials that seem to be impervious to deer browses such as:

  • Yarrow
  • Coreopsis
  • Angel’s trumpet
  • Joe Pye weed
  • Coneflower
  • Red hot pokers

Snapdragons, cosmos and marigolds are lovely annual plants that are safe to add to the deer proof garden. Bulbs are another matter. Deer love the tender new green foliage. If you want to get to flower stage, try:

  • Daffodils
  • Allium
  • Summer snowflake
  • Crocosmia
  • Agapanthus
  • Hardy cyclamen

These plants aren’t necessary fool proof, but if you surround them with a spiny hedge or deeply scented herbs, their chance of survival with those pesky four footed ruminants will escalate.


Barberry is a popular deer-resistant shrub.

If you live in an area with foraging deer, you’ve likely watched with dismay as some of your favorite plants disappeared overnight. But before you give up on gardening altogether, try making your yard less appealing to deer by choosing plants that deer find less appealing.

The Deer-Proof Garden

It’s important to remember that unless you build a very tall fence, there is no such thing as a deer-proof garden. Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough, and they can adapt and eat plants that are considered “resistant.” However, they do have their favorites, and they’re more attracted to places where their favorite food is easily available.

The idea behind deer-resistant gardening is to fill your yard with plants they don’t prefer, in hopes the deer will simply give up and go someplace more appetizing.


Add herbs, such as lavender, to discourage deer.

In general, deer prefer:

  • Plants with lush foliage and high water content, such as hostas
  • Early spring plants like tulips, crocuses, and forsythia
  • Fruiting and berry-producing plants, including vegetable gardens
  • Native plants

Deer are less likely to be attracted to:

  • Herbs and strongly flavored plants
  • Heavily scented foliage
  • Plants with fuzzy or hairy leaves
  • Prickly plants
  • Ferns
  • Grasses

If you’re planting a new border or garden, start with heavily scented and deer-resistant plants on the outside perimeter. Once you’ve established an area and encouraged the deer to browse elsewhere, you can add other plants inside the perimeter.

List of Deer-Resistant Plants

Always check with local gardeners and your cooperative extension service to find out what has (and hasn’t) worked for gardeners in your area. The following is a list of plants that research has indicated are less appealing to deer:


Rosemary is an evergreen herb that works well in flower gardens, too.

Herbs and Scented Plants

Most herbs are great choices for deer-resistant gardens, such as:


Deer generally leave ornamental grasses alone.

Ornamental Grasses

Most ornamental grasses are deer-resistant, including:


Most species of ferns are also considered deer-resistant.

Ferns

Most species of ferns, including:

  • Christmas fern (Polystichum arcostichoides)
  • Hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
  • New York fern (Thelyptens noveboracensis)
  • Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
  • Osmanthus (Osmanthus sp.)
  • Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
  • Wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis)


Annual vinca is less appealing, although annuals are often devoured.

Annuals


Lamb’s ear has fuzzy leaves that discourage deer.

Perennials and Groundcovers


Creeping juniper is a popular groundcover shrub.

Shrubs and Trees

Further Information

  • Deer-Resistant Plants (Deer-Resistant Landscape Nursery)
  • Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance (Rutgers University)
  • How to Install a Deer-Proof Fence for Your Yard or Garden (article)
  • How to Prevent Deer from Damaging Plants in Your Yard (video)
  • How to Use Deer Repellents to Prevent Damage to Your Yard (article)

Frustrated because deer are devouring your expensive landscaping, but not willing to install a deer fence? Then put daylilies, roses, hostas, tulips, and lilies out of your mind (unless you’re prepared to put them in containers close to the house, where they can be protected). Since deer have sensitive noses that tend to be irritated by overly pungent odors, most herbs — including butterfly bushes, lavender, yarrows, salvias, boxwoods, and thymes — are usually deer-safe. Deer also tend to leave alone ferns and grasses, as well as daffodils, hellebores, and aconitums, which are poisonous to mammals. (The list of deer-safe plants varies regionally, so check your local Cooperative Extension office.)

The plan here is suitable for sunny gardens in Zones 5 to 8, and includes popular shrubs and perennials that deer usually leave alone. Prepare the soil thoroughly, adding plenty of organic matter such as compost; water deeply and apply an organic mulch.

Michelle Burchard

Key to Plan

2. Butterfly bush (Bddleja dvidii ‘Peacock’). 1 plant; 4′ to 5′ tall; rich pink flowers; silvery leaves. Deciduous shrub.

9. Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens ‘Saphirsprundel’). 1 plant; 36″ tall; neat mound of grassy blue leaves; beige flower panicles in summer. Perennial.

How To Deer-Proof Your Garden

How many has this happened to you? You’ve been driving in the car through the country side, somebody looks out the window and say ‘ there’s a deer! It’s a beautiful deer!’ And everybody’s just gaped. They’re looking at this miracle of nature. They just think it’s so cute, so wonderful, a gift And it is a gift until it becomes a commonplace sight in your neighborhood, and then it’s a curse. Because deer like almost all the plants in your garden and will eat them down to the ground. So how can you get around this? Well, first thing is you got to stop planting things that are on top of a deer’s menu. Number one is hosta, doesn’t matter how much you love them, how much you spent for each one, you put it in the ground, and a deer finds it, it’s gone. Plant number two you can’t plant. It is a daylily. Daylilies go really well with hostas, according to a deer and they will gobble them all up. Number three are roses. You would think that a plant that has lot of thorns would be unappetizing to a deer and you Would be wrong. Deer will eat them anyway. They will eat the whole plant. Number four, Rhododendrons and Azaleas. You love them, so do deer. You can’t have them. And, the fifth plant I want to mention is one of our Southern favorites, Hydrangea Hydrangeas. We wish we could grow those where deer are. Our wishes will not come true. Deer will chew Hydrangeas to the ground. They will nip off every bud. But you say, but I love these plants, I can’t live without these plants. Well there’s something that you can kind of do if you’re willing to go to that trouble. And that is, there’s a number of deer repellents that you can spray on the foliage. Some of them are based on hot pepper. Seems like that doesn’t work so well. Others, believe it or not, are based on predator urine, which is bobcat and coyote urine. I like to put two drops behind each ear. The best one is based on rotten eggs. It makes the plant smell terrible to the deer, and they won’t eat it. The only thing about putting these repellents on is they only last for a few weeks, and then the rain comes around, washes them off, and you have to reapply all summer long. And that can be expensive. So wouldn’t it be better if you just concentrated on plan That deer don’t like so I’m gonna give you five plants that deer won’t eat. Number one, if you like spring bulbs don’t plant tulips, they’ll chop off every one. Plant a daffodil. Deer will not eat daffodil. Number two, if you want a colorful plant or a container or a sunny border, try Lantana. If you don’t like that, plant number three the deer hate. It’s one of my favorites. It’s called Lenten Rose. It has beautiful evergreen foliage. Deer hate it. Plant number four for around your house. You want an evergreen? Boxwood. Deer will not touch Boxwood. And number five again, if you want a plant that’s around your house, that’s gonna give you some color during the winter time and be ever green, try a holly. Deer generally leave Hollies alone, so now that you know which plants to avoid, and which ones to use. You can sit back and relax every evening from your porch and patio, raise a cool drink and watch the deer destroy your neighbor’s garden.

All gardeners in the history of gardening know the challenge of deer control. I can still hear my mom whipping open the sliding door and clapping her hands to scare them away from our tomatoes. There’s no denying it: Deer find your raised beds full of vegetables just as tasty as you do — and your roses, geraniums, and daisies happen to be the perfect dessert.

But instead of spraying chemicals on your garden, try one of these other DIY ways to gently discourage deer, and maybe even bunnies and mosquitos, too. Keep in mind though that these critters learn quickly, so try rotating a few different methods for best results.

Add these plants.

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This spring, consider surrounding your garden with a thick layer of plants that have a strong aroma, like lavender or marigolds. “Deer are reluctant to walk through lavender as the smell stays on their legs making it hard for them to sense predators,” says gardener Sally Morgan. “And the unusual smell also interferes with their ability to find food and assess their environment.”

Similarly, Lisa Orbin, a gardener of 10 years, explains that deer dislike the astringent smell marigolds gives off. “Basically, they don’t smell good enough to eat,” she says. You don’t have to go crazy, but the more plants, the better (and the prettier). In addition to circling your garden, try potting a few plants to sprinkle around your yard. Feel free to mix in other fragrant herbs, like mint, oregano, or catnip as well.

Sprinkle some soap.

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Every spring growing up, I’d watch my mom cube bright green Irish Spring Original soap and skewer it into the ground around new plants. She’d adjust the height of each wooden skewer to just above the budding plants, deterring deer from munching, and allowing early plants to mature. Sometimes, she’d use a long-grain grater and shave the soap around seedlings before they appeared.

“The best part, is soap lasts for about a month,” she explains. “It only disintegrates when it rains, doesn’t affect plants, and also helps dehydrate any aphids or bugs that may be lurking in the soil.”

The tallow in the soap helps keep deer away, according to the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science, so you don’t have to go with Irish Spring. Many highly fragrant kind can help keep your flowers from becoming deer candy, but steer clear of bars containing coconut oil, which may actually attract them.

Make this invisible fence.

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Maybe the most obvious way to manage deer is to fence off your garden. But you don’t have to be a carpenter or compromise the beauty of your plot. Horticulturist and plant expert Gene Lorainne uses just a few rows of clear fishing wire to keep the deer away from her garden.

She stakes the perimeter of the garden with a tall piece of wood (about 5 feet high), then starting 2 to 3 inches from the ground she strings a row of fishing line. She repeats this three more times, placing the rows of fishing wire about a foot apart.

The result: a tall, almost-invisible fence. “The deer can’t see the cords, so they won’t attempt to jump over either,” says Lorainne. This way, you can keep them out and still gaze at your pretty little patch of heaven.

Spray something smelly.

Image by Chris Winsor/ Getty

Another way to deter deer from munching on your garden is spraying an unappealing scent. Garden hobbyist Mary R. has been making this homemade (rather stinky) spray that helps keep deer out of her garden for over 15 years.

In a gallon jug, she mixes 1 cup of milk, 1 egg, and 1 tablespoon of dish soap and fills the rest with water. She keeps the gallons out in the sun during the day to get the aroma flowing before she sprays.

“I spray most nights, so I’m not in the yard when it smells the worst,” she says. It’s not harmful to plants and it also keeps ground critters from her yard. Consider mixing in some cut up hot peppers for extra deer-deterring power.

Make some noise.

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“By simulating unexpected sights and sounds, you are triggering the deer’s main defense against prey,” says Dr. Leonard Perry, a professor at the University of Vermont’s Department of Plant and Soil. For instance, by stringing up CDs around your garden, you’re creating a motion that deer are not used to, and they will spook.

Another effective visual is creating a white flag about 10 inches long and five inches wide that resembles a white deer tail. “They see this ‘tail’ move, but no deer, and they often get spooked and flee,” he says.

Hanging up pie tins and aluminum cans creates both an unusual visual and sound. “Some gardeners swear by talk radio,” adds Perry, which is another sound tactic you may try. For these to work, it’s crucial to rotate which method of spookiness you use around your garden or the deer will get used to it and continue nibbling on your plants.

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