"HOW on Earth" – Published Pink Magazine Article – July 2010





One year, a week before the All Saints Garden tour, the deer came through several properties and ate most of what I had just installed. We had sprayed everything as it came off the trucks but one of deer’s favorite foods is anything young, tender and new. I have had years of frustration, heartbreak and intrigue discovering what deer will or will not eat in my garden. I attended a lecture on deer management and was told the following story. Picture yourself locked in your kitchen. At first, we would eat our favorite foods. Our consumption would continue from favorite to least favorite until one day, even cardboard would be tempting. The same is true with deer. They have their favorites, such as Hibiscus. And they have their least favorites, like Podocarpus. But if you have a small herd living in your yard, even poisonous plants such as Oleander are tasted. That said, I have learned some strategy’s that have been working to create a landscape that is mostly deer resistant.

Learning what deer do not like is important, but I have found that knowing what their favorites are is even more important. Let’s face it, between carrot sticks and chocolate, which one has you tempted to keep going back for more? My first defense for deer proofing gardens is to simply avoid planting any of their irresistible delicacies.

Deer’s Top Ten Favorites  

Hibiscus                     Pittosporum

Impatiens                    Roses

Hydrangeas                 Pansies

Hawthorns                  Daylilies

Hosta                            Rudbeckia

I am sure there are other plants that deer find irresistible, but these are the plants I see consistently ravaged in many gardens. I also have had little success using various repellents on these plants. They are like Godiva and will actually attract the deer into your yard.

The other favorite of deer is anything new. New plants just purchased, new growth, and new flowers are all enticing. Frequently pruned shrubs will encourage new growth making them more attractive to deer. This is why they seem to leave your neighbors old established overgrown Camellias alone, but eat your newly planted one down to sticks. They also prefer irrigated and fertilized plants probably because they are healthier. It is ironic that the more we maintain and care for our landscape, the more appealing it becomes to deer.

So what do deer not like? This brings me to my next step. The majority of the plants I use are considered deer resistant. This doesn’t mean they will not try them but generally they tend to leave them alone.

Deer’s Least Favorite

Yaupon Holly             Anise                           Juniper

Podocarpus                Oleander                     Viburnum

Boxwood                     Gardenia                     Mahonia

Cephalotaxus            Palms                           Bottlebrush

Eleagnus                    Wax Myrtle                  Nandina

These plants not only are deer resistant but they are just plain tough. They are all evergreen with varying textures and really thrive in our area. Their habits range from foundation plantings, specimen, screening and ground covers depending on your needs. Properly irrigated and sited, these plants will create a very successful deer resistant garden.

My next list is what I call the middle ground. Deer do not really like these plants and there are some that I have never seen them eat. However, this is where the number of deer and how frequent they browse your yard makes a difference.

Abelia                      Kerria                            Osmanthus

Mondo Grass         Florida Leucothoe   Crape Myrtle

Philodendron       Vinca Vine                   Calycanthus

Ligustrum               Spirea                            Ajuga

Cypress                    Simpson’s Stopper    Vitex

Asiatic Jasmine   Pyracantha                    Ilex


What about flowers? Many people find this to be the number one area where they are most frustrated. Flowers generally grow at a faster rate than shrubs thus producing that all attractive new growth deer like so much. To make matters worse, there are many plants that deer really only eat the flowers leaving the rest of the plant alone. Surprisingly, there are flowers we can plant that deer for the most part avoid. Salvias, Lantana, and Plumbago are some of my favorites.



Flowers Deer Generally Avoid

Achillea                       Datura                   Lobelia               Leonitis

Agastache                    Dianthus              Turk’s Cap         Coleus

Allium                            Echinacea           Monarda           Solidago

Artemisia                       Gaillardia            Phlox                Tecoma

Baptista                           Gaura                   Plumbago       Society Garlic

Brugsmansia                 Helianthus         Salvia                Verbena

Buddleia lindleyana   Heuchera          Scabiosa           Flowering Vinca

Cestrum                          Lantana               Stokesia            Zinnias

Leucanthemum           Coreopsis           Plectranthus

Crinum                            Liatris              Cassia


Sprays, Repellents, and Barriers

There are many products on the market that are used to deter deer from eating our plants. Some have worked for me, others have not. Once again, it depends on how many deer you have and how much they like the particular plant you are spraying. Rain, irrigation, and growth habit will also play a key role in determining how often the spray needs to be reapplied. The two products I use often are Deer Away and Milorganite. Deer Away is an egg-based product, smells pretty bad, and has been an effective control. I generally apply every 3-4 weeks. Milorganite is actually a fertilizer that seems to also repel deer. I give flowers a light feeding monthly. www.deerrepellents.com is a great website for information on various sprays for different needs including edibles.

If you are thinking about fencing, deer can and will jump a six foot fence. Courtyards are wonderful and one of my favorite deer proof areas to design. Dogs also seem to deter deer. It is a good idea to spray your yard before you leave on vacation. Deer are more tempted to visit when no one is home.