There is no such thing as a deer-proof plant, since in very bad weather deer will devour almost anything. Even throughout the year when food is plentiful, they will nibble on anything, including some of the common deer-resistant plants. There are, however, plants that are commonly believed to be deer-resistant. Deer-resistant plants are considered those that are only rarely munched on, but never devoured.
Cute as they are, it takes only one instance of finding your favorite plants munched to the ground to change your mind about having these pesky and persistent animals around your yard. Even suburban homes are susceptible to deer invasions, and suburban deer are more used to humans so even bolder than their rural cousins.
Deer, like us, have preferred foods, and they include many of our favorite plants such as roses, daylilies, hostas, and tulips. They can strip a vegetable garden bare overnight or destroy new fruit trees that are not protected by tall and strong fencing. So unless you are willing to cage or fence all your plants, it is better to make some alternate planting choices.
Many of the plants we now plant as ornamentals but which were once considered medicinal are prime choices for deer-resistant plantings. Some of these have poisonous properties, while others are strongly scented or have leaves that are unpalatable. In general deer avoid eating coarse, fuzzy or spiny plants with strong aromas, especially minty or lemony ones. Here are some possible choices that will save you from utter frustration because these cute pests have eaten your plants:
Bulbs: Daffodils, snowdrops, ornamental onions, grape hyacinth.
Annuals: Ageratum, larkspur, lantana, gaillardia, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, California poppies and dusty miller
Biennials and Perennials: Achillea, alliums, monkshood, hellebore, Russian sage, lavender, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, dianthus, penstemon, delphiniums, iris, foxglove, rudbeckia echinacea and bleeding heart.
Groundcovers: Ajuga, periwinkle, berengia, St. John’s wort, lamium, sedums and snow-in-summer.
Vines: clematis, Boston ivy, wisteria, trumpet vine, morning glory.
Shrubs: Buddleia, barberry, American box, Ceanothus, dogwood, fragrant daphne, forsythia, mahonia, mock orange, rhodendrons, rugosa roses, syringa, and weigela.
Keep in mind that these plants are deer-resistant, not deer-proof. Any small or new plantings are likely to be browsed or pulled out of the ground as deer experiment with their taste. Trees and shrubs are often damaged until they are mature enough to come back from the occasional browsing. Plants that are ignored in one region may be eaten in another, and plants that have been ignored for years may suddenly be the favorite food this year. Be patient enough to find out the tastes of your local deer, and plant accordingly.