A lush garden is like browsing the aisles of a grocery store to a deer (Family Cervidae). While most garden plants are gourmet delights to these four-legged natives of all the continents except Antarctica and Australia, a few plants are simply not as tasty as your azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) or tulips (Tulip spp.), which are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 and 4 through 10, respectively. Some of the less-tasty plants contain essential oils that the deer avoid. Gardeners should be aware, however, that a plant is only deer-resistant. When little food is available during a harsh winter, starving deer will literally eat the bark off the trees.

Annuals

Annuals live only for a season. They grow, bloom, scatter seeds and die when the growing season is over. Included among the annuals that deer generally don't eat are:

  • Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)
  • Anise (Pimpinalla anisum)
  • Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria)
  • Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)
  • Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
  • Larkspur (Consolida ambigua)
  • Marigold (Calendula spp.)
  • Sage, annual varieties (Salvia spp.)
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)

While these annuals are thought of as deer-resistant, your choice of flowers may vary by region and the local deer herd's taste buds.

Perennials

In general, perennials lose their leaves in winter or die back and return from the roots in the spring. Among the perennials that deer tend to avoid are:

  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) - USDA zones 6 through 9
  • Anise-scented sage (Salvia guaranitica) - USDA zones 8 through 10
  • Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) - USDA zones 3 through 8
  • Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) - USDA zones 4 through 9
  • Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) - USDA zones 4 through 8
  • Margarita mint (Mentha 'Margarita') - USDA zones 5 through 8
  • Oregano 'Aureum' (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum') - USDA zones 4 through 8
  • Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) - USDA zones 4 through 8
  • Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) - USDA zones 4 through 6
  • Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) - USDA zones 5 through 10

Shrubs and Trees

Shrubs and trees are often used to provide a backdrop for the garden, as a privacy hedge or for shade. Discourage the deer's browsing by planting less-tasty shrubs and trees, such as :

  • American holly (Ilex opaca) - USDA zones 5 through 9
  • Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) - USDA zones 3 through 7
  • Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) - USDA zones 6 through 8
  • Heather (Calluna vulgaris) - USDA zones 4 through 7
  • Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergiana) - USDA zones 6 through 8
  • River birch (Betula nigra) - USDA zones 4 through 9
  • Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) - USDA zones 3 through 8