JoAnne Skelly: Deer-resistant plants

Carol asked me recently, “Are there any flowers that deer won’t eat?”

This is a question I am asked repeatedly. Are there any deer-resistant plants? Well, it depends.

A sufficiently hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable. The Sunset Western Garden Book states, “Deer in different areas may have different tastes.” It reports deer seem to shun the following perennial plants: aster, big sagebrush, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, boxwood, broom, buckwheat (Eriogonum sps.), butterfly bush, coreopsis, crocus, currant, daffodil, daylily, foxglove, heavenly bamboo, iris, juniper, Jupiter’s beard, lavender, lilac, lupine, Oregon grape, penstemon, phlox, poppy, potentilla, pyracantha, quince, red-hot poker, Serbian bellflower, smokebush, snow-in-summer, spiraea, St. John’s wort, sweet woodruff, sumac, tulips, viburnum, vinca and yarrow. Sunset also lists ash, cedar, cypress, fir, hackberry, hawthorn, oak, pine, spruce and western redbud as deer-resistant trees. Other references list a few additional plants.

However, if you have deer in your area and any of the above listed plants, I’m sure you have seen deer eat even supposedly deer-resistant plants.

While planting a landscape with plants less appetizing to deer is a great beginning to deer-proofing your yard, fencing and exclusionary tactics are the best ways to ensure deer stay away from plants.

Not just any fence will do. An 8-foot fence, a double offset fence, slanted seven-wire fence, or electric fence are recommended. Fencing has to be properly constructed. Or individual plants can be protected with woven wire cages. Scare tactics, such as dogs, only provide temporary relief. As soon as the dog is gone, the deer return.

A wide variety of repellents is available. Some repel by smell, others by taste. Some are applied directly to plants, while others are applied over an area. Area repellents are usually less effective than contact ones. Dormant application is sometimes recommended. Since regular applications are required, costs can be high and effectiveness is variable. Rainfall can reduce the benefits of a repellent. Repellents reduce damage, but rarely eliminate it. If a deer is hungry, bad taste or strong odor won’t keep it away from your plants.

For more information on deer resistant plants, please read my publication at

On Feb. 16, 6-8 p.m. at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno, Master Gardener Joe Bernardo will present information about growing grapes in Nevada from cuttings and then turning them into wine. He teaches how to do it using tools found in every home.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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