Deer-Resistant Plants for Homeowners (E3042)

Damage to ornamental plants by whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) continues to increase.

Damage to ornamental plants by whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) continues to increase. This damage has been associated with:

  • Increasing deer abundance.
  • Human population shifts to rural and suburban homesites.
  • Maturing of abandoned agricultural lands into deer habitat.
  • Landowner decisions to prevent deer hunting.
  • Restrictions on firearm use in suburban regions.

Deer prefer to feed on certain plant species, including some ornamental plants used for landscaping. Additionally, ornamental plants may be more attractive to deer because they are fertilized and irrigated. Deer avoid feeding on some species of plants because they are less palatable. A technique to reduce deer browsing of landscape plants is to substitute less palatable species of plants for those that deer prefer to eat. Though no plants are totally resistant to deer browsing, some are less palatable to deer and are less likely to receive heavy damage.

Whether deer will eat a particular plant species or variety depends on the deer’s previous experience, nutritional needs, plant palatability, seasonal factors, weather conditions and the availability of alternative foods. Deer are creatures of habit, and prior movement patterns or foraging experience can help predict where damage can occur. New plantings added to an existing landscape already severely damaged by deer will likely suffer extreme browsing pressure.

Deer may sample some less palatable plants until they determine the plants are varieties they do not prefer. Snow cover may prevent deer from finding food, and high deer numbers can create competition for available food, which can cause hungry deer to eat whatever plants are available. Note that unpalatable landscape plants may still incur antler rubbing damage. Only physical protection such as exclusion techniques can reduce or prevent deer antler rub damage to trees and shrubs.

To minimize deer damage, select landscape and garden plants that are less preferred by deer. The following tables provide a guide to the relative likelihood of deer damage to plants used by Michigan landscape contractors and landowners. This information can be useful for both selecting plants that are less likely to be damaged by deer and identifying those ornamentals that frequently require protection. Plants listed as rarely damaged are infrequently fed upon by deer and are the best candidates for landscapes prone to deer damage. Deer sometimes feed on ornamentals listed as seldom severely damaged, but damage is usually minor and has limited effect on the shape or attractiveness of the plant. The category occasionally damaged includes plants that may be severely damaged by deer. Finally, ornamental plants in the frequently damaged category appear to be preferred by deer and usually require physical or chemical protection whenever deer are present.

Before planting any of the following plant species, check to make sure that they are adapted to local climate and soil conditions. For additional information, contact your local county Michigan State University Extension office.

Plants rarely damaged

Botanical name

 Common name

Perennials

 

Achillea spp.

Yarrow

Aconitum spp.

Monkshood

Allium spp.

Onion

Allium christophii

Star of Persia

Allium neapolitanum

Daffodil garlic

Allium ostrowskianum

Lily leek

Anemone x hybrida

Japanese anemone

Anemonella thalictroides

Rue anemone

Aquilegia spp.

Columbine

Arabis spp.

Rockcress

Arisaema thiphylum

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Aubrietia deltoidea

Rock cress

Aurinia saxatilis

Basket-of-gold

Bergenia spp.

Bergenia

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Plumbago

Cimicifuga racemosa

Snakeroot

Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum

Colchicum speciosum

Colchicum

Consolida ambigua

Larkspur

Coreopsis verticillata

Threadleaf coreopsis

Cyclamen hederifolium

Neapolitan cyclamen

Dicentra spectabilis

Bleeding heart

Digitalis spp.

Foxglove

Dryopteris marginalis

Wood fern

Echinacea purpurea

Purple coneflower

Epimedium spp.

Barrenwort

Euphorbia spp.

Euphorbia

Fritillaria spp.

Fritillary

Galium odoratum

Sweet woodruff

Gloriosa superba

Glory lily

Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’

‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily

Lamium maculatum

Deadnettle

Lavandula spp.

Lavender

Linaria vulgaris

Toadflax

Lindera benzoin

Native spicebush

Lychnis coronaria

Rose campion

Matteuccia struthiopteris

Ostrich fern

Narcissus spp.

Daffodil

Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis

Royal fern

Pachysandra procumbens

Allegheny spurge

Pachysandra terminalis

Japanese spurge

Papaver orientale

Oriental poppy

Perovskia atriplicifolia

Russian sage

Rudbeckia spp.

Coneflower

Salvia spp.

Sage

Santolina chamaecyparissus

Lavender cotton

Scilla spp.

Squill

Stachys byzantina

Lamb’s ears

Tanacetum vulgare

Common tansy

Thymus spp.

Thyme

Tiarella cordifolia

Foam flower

Yucca spp.

Yucca

Annuals

 

Ageratum houstonianum

Ageratum

Anethum graveolens

Common dill

Antirrhinum majus

Snapdragon

Capsicum annuum

Hot peppers

Capsicum frutescens

Sweet peppers

Citrulus lanatus

Watermelon

Cucumis melo cantalupensis

Canteloupe

Cucumis sativus

Cucumber

Hyacinthus orientalis

Hyacinth

Lobularia maritima

Sweet alyssum

Nicotiana spp.

Flowering tobacco

Pelargonium spp.

Scented geranium

Rheum rhabarbarum

Rhubarb

Solanum melongena

Eggplant

Tagetes spp.

Marigold

Tropaeolum majus

Nasturtium

Ornamental Grasses

 

Ravennae grass, hardy pampas grass

 

Saccharum ravennae

 

Japanese silver grass

 

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Cabaret’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Cosmopolitan’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Malepartus’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Morning Light’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Strictus’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Variegatus’

Miscanthus sinensis

‘Zebrinus’

Switch grass

 

Panicum virgatum

‘Cloud Nine’

Panicum virgatum

‘Dallas Blues’

Panicum virgatum

‘Heavy Metal’

Panicum virgatum

‘Northwind’

Panicum virgatum

‘Shenandoah’

Tall purple moor grass

 

Molinia litoralis

‘Skyracer’

Molinia litoralis

‘Transparent’

Feather-reed grass

 

Calamagrostis xacutifolia

‘Karl Foerster’

Northern sea oats

 

Chasmanthium latifolium

 

Fountain grass

 

Pennisetum orientale

‘Karley Rose’

Japanese grass

 

Hakonechloa macra

‘Aureola’

Sedges

 

Carex morrowii

‘Variegata’

Carex oshimensis

‘Evergold’

Carex flagellifera

‘Toffee Twist’

Native grasses

 

Andropogon gerardii

Big bluestem

Bouteloua curtipendula

Sideoats grama

Carex muskingumensis

Palm sedge

Carex pennsylvanica

Pennsylvania sedge

Elymus canadensis

Canada wild rye

Koeleria macrantha

Prairie June grass

Luzula multiflora

Woodrush

Panicum virgatum

Switch grass

Schizachrium scoparium

Little bluestem

Sorghastrum nutans

Indian grass

Sprobolis heterolepis

Prairie dropseed

Shrubs

 

Buxus sempervirens

Common boxwood

Ilex opaca

American holly

Leucothoe fontanesiana

Drooping leucothoe

Pieris japonica

Japanese pieris

Trees

 

Betula papyrifera

Paper birch

Picea pungens

Colorado blue spruce

 

Plants SELDOM SEVERELY damaged

Botanical name

Common name

Shrubs

 

Celastrus scandens

American bittersweet

Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood

Cornus kousa

Kousa dogwood

Cornus sericea

Red osier dogwood

Crataegus laevigata

English hawthorn

Enkianthus campanulatus

Redvein enkianthus

Forsythia spp.

Forsythia

llex cornuta

Chinese holly

llex glabra

Inkberry

Juniperus chinensis

Chinese junipers

Kolkwitzia amabilis

Beautybush

Pinus mugo

Mugo pine

Salix matsudana tortuosa

Corkscrew willow

Sassafras albidum

Common sassafras

Syringa vulgaris

Common lilac

Wisteria floribunda

Japanese wisteria

Trees

 

Betula pendula

European white birch

Fagus sylvatica

European beech

Gleditsia triacanthos

Honey locust

Kalmia latifolia

Mountain laurel

Picea abies

Norway spruce

Picea glauca

White spruce

Pinus nigra

Austrian pine

Pinus resinosa

Red pine

Pinus rigida

Pitchpine

Prunus serrulata

Japanese flowering cherry

 

Plants OCCASIONALLY damaged

Botanical name

Common name

Perennials

 

Asparagus officinalis

Asparagus

Campsis radicans

Trumpet creeper

Parthenocissus quinquifolia

Virginia creeper

Potentilla fruticosa

Bush cinquefoil

Annuals

 

Abelmoschus esculentus

Okra

Cucurbita pepo

Squash

Raphanus sativus

Radish

Solanum tuberosum

Potatoes, Irish

Shrubs

 

Cornus racemosa

Panicled dogwood

Cotinus coggygria

Smokebush

Cotoneaster spp.

Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster apiculatus

Cranberry cotoneaster

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Rockspray cotoneaster

Cryptomeria japonica

Japanese cedar

Forsythia x intermedia

Border forsythia

Hamamelis virginiana

Common witchhazel

Hibiscus syriacus

Rose of Sharon

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris

Climbing hydrangea

Hydrangea arborescens

Smooth hydrangea

Hydrangea paniculata

Panicle hydrangea

Ilex crenata

Japanese holly

Ilex x meserveae

China Girl/Boy holly

Juniperus virginiana

Eastern red cedar

Ligustrum x vicaryi

Golden privet

Lonicera x heckrottii

Goldflame honeysuckle

Philadelphus coronarius

Sweet mock orange

Pyracantha coccinea

Firethorn

Rhododendron spp.

Deciduous azaleas

Rhododendron carolinianum

Carolina rhododendron

Rhododendron maximum

Rosebay rhododendron

Rhus typhina

Staghorn sumac

Rosa rugosa

Rugosa rose

Salix spp.

Willows

Spiraea x bumalda

Anthony waterer spiraea

Spiraea prunifolia

Bridalwreath spiraea

Syringa x persica

Persian lilac

Syringa villosa

Late lilac

Viburnum x juddii

Judd viburnum

Viburnum carlesii

Koreanspice viburnum

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum

Doublefile viburnum

Viburnum rhytidophyllum

Leatherleaf viburnum

Weigela florida

Old-fashioned weigela

Trees

 

Abies concolor

White fir

Acer griseum

Paperbark maple

Acer rubrum

Red maple

Acer saccharinum

Silver maple

Acer saccharum

Sugar maple

Aesculus hippocastanum

Common horsechestnut

Amelanchier arborea

Downy serviceberry

Amelanchier laevis

Allegheny serviceberry

Chaenomeles speciosa

Japanese flowering quince

Larix decidua

European larch

Magnolia x soulangiana

Saucer magnolia

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Dawn redwood

Pinus strobus

Eastern white pine

Prunus avium

Sweet cherry

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Douglas fir

Pyrus communis

Common pear

Quercus alba

White oak

Quercus prinus

Chestnut oak

Quercus rubra

Northern red oak

Syringa reticulata

Japanese tree lilac

Tilia cordata ‘Greenspire’

Littleleaf linden

Tilia Americana

Basswood

Tsuga canadensis

Eastern hemlock

Tsuga caroliniana

Carolina hemlock

 

Plants frequently damaged

Botanical name

Common name

Perennials

 

Aegopodium podagaria

Bishop’s weed

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

Japanese painted fern

Syringa reticulata

Wallflower

Clematis spp.

Clematis

Euonymus fortunei var. coloratus

Wintercreeper euonymus

Euonymus fortunei ‘Kewensis’

Wintercreeper

Fragaria spp.

Strawberries

Hedera helix

English ivy

Hemerocallis spp.

Daylily

Hosta spp.

Hosta

Iberis sempervirens

Candytuft

Lilium spp.

Lily

Polygonatum biflorum

Solomon’s seal

Trillium spp.

Trillium

Tulipa spp.

Tulips

Vinca minor

Periwinkle

Annuals

 

Beta vulgaris

Beets

Brassica oleracea

Kohlrabi

Brassica oleracea botrytis

Cauliflower

Brassica oleracea capitata

Cabbage

Brassica oleracea italica

Broccoli

Brassica rapa

Turnip

Daucus carota sativa

Carrot

Helianthus spp.

Sunflower

Ipomoea batatas

Potatoes, sweet

Lactuca sativa

Lettuce

Matthiola incarna

Stock

Pelargonium spp.

Geranium

Phaseolus spp.

Beans

Pisum sativum

Peas

Ranunculus asiaticus

Buttercup

Spinacia oleracea

Spinach

Viola spp.

Pansies & violas

Zea mays

Corn, sweet

Shrubs

 

Chamaecyparis thyoides

Atlantic white cedar

Euonymus alatus

Winged euonymus

Rhododendron spp.

Rhododendrons

Rhododendron spp.

Evergreen azaleas

Rhododendron catawbiense

Catawba rhododendron

Rhododendron periclymenoides

Pinxterbloom azalea

Rosa x hybrid

Hybrid tea rose

Taxus spp.

Yews

Taxus baccata

English yew

Taxus brevifolia

Western yew

Taxus cuspidate

Japanese yew

Thuja occidentalis

American arborvitae

Trees

 

Abies balsamea

Balsam fir

Abies fraseri

Fraser fir

Acer platanoides

‘Crimson King’ maple

Cercis canadensis

Eastern redbud

Cornus mas

Cornelian cherry dogwood

Malus spp.

Apples

Prunus spp.

Cherries

Prunus spp.

Plums

Sorbus aucuparia

European mountain ash

PLEASE REMEMBER: Under some conditions, deer may eat unpalatable or “deer-resistant” plants — no plant species will be avoided by deer under all conditions.

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