Deer Resistant Plants

Deer Proof Resistant Plants

barbed-wire plant in front of orange and white rock

Western Montana’s  most deer resistant plant!


Deer are browsers – they eat most shrubs and any tree branch they can reach. They love plants with big, green, moist leaves.  They avoid most plants with grey-green leaves and those that are highly aromatic.

Even if deer don’t like a plant, they may taste it, pull it out, rub their antlers on it, or eat it regardless of how it tastes.  Fawns will try almost any plant as they learn about how different plant species taste.

The density of your deer population impacts how intensely your plants are browsed.  Limited food sources within a small area cause deer to try to eat anything.   Sadly deer have been known to starve to death with their stomachs full of indigestible plant material.

So what to do?

Basically it comes down to your tolerance for deer.  While we know that deer are eating to survive and that they lived here before people, nonetheless it is frustrating to watch them eat plants – native or otherwise – you have planted and tended.  It is also frustrating that they will leave a plant alone for almost an entire season, then suddenly demolish it in one night.  Sometimes this has to do with how lush a plant is – we know that a plant that is usually ignored by deer may become highly palatable if watered intensely or fertilized.   So….

a spotted fawn peeks through netting looking at plants in nursery

I want those plants!

There are several options:

1) fence them out

2) use deer repellants

3) sleep in your garden so you can shoo them out (one of Germany’s most brilliant scientists did!)

4) plant the most deer-resistant species you can.

At BNP we use fencing in areas where we want to keep deer out AND we plant deer-resistant plants.  There are lots of good options for fencing materials that are unobtrusive and do the job.  Our fencing includes netting, electric fence around the vegetable gardens, and game fence.

We have an experimental garden outside the nursery that we expose to the deer to test out the deer-resistance of our species.  It’s always surprising what they will eat.

No plant is completely deer-proof except Barbinus rustifolia (the plant pictured above – click on it for a closer look!)

Even the most deer-resistant plants get browsed when the deer are starving – especially in late winter but there are plants they will avoid most of the time:

  • Plants with grey-green or aromatic leaves (like yarrow, sagebrush and rabbitbrush) are usually avoided by deer.
  • Plants with narrow or small leaves are less attractive to deer since they provide minimal foliage to browse on.

(click for more information on each species)

arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
big sage (Artemisia tridentata v. tridentata)
common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens)
cutleaf daisy (Erigeron compositus)
fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium)
fuzzy-tongue penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus)
fringed sage (Artemisia frigida)
hairy golden aster (Heterotheca villosa)
mountain big sage (Artemisia tridentata v. vaseyana)
nodding onion (Allium cernuum)
Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum)
prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)
rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea)
rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa)
shaggy fleabane (Erigeron pumilus)
silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus)
silver sage (Artemisia cana)
silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus)
sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)

and most grasses