10 Plants that Repel Deer in Your Yard

closeup of deer with brown and grey spots

Bambi isn’t so cute when he’s chomping away at half your backyard. Deer can be a huge nuisance for homeowners, but choosing the right plants for your landscape will make sure deer find their snacks elsewhere.

10 best plants to deter deer

Install a few of these along the borders of your landscape. That includes along fences, near driveways, and at the edges of flower beds. If you have a prized garden feature, surround it with deer-resistant plants to protect it from wandering mouths. 

1. Chives

shallow focus of chives
Matthias Böckel | Pixabay

Chives are a secret weapon for your kitchen and one of the best pest-deterrent plants out there. Their strong smell turns away deer as well as smaller invaders like aphids and Japanese beetles. 

Other culinary herb options for repelling deer include onions, leeks, dill, mint, and fennel. Save basil and parsley for the grocery store, though, because deer like to snack on those.

  • Plant type: Herb
  • Hardiness zones: 3-10
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Medium — make sure it doesn’t dry out around the root zone
  • Soil: Well-draining and rich, but be careful of over-fertilizing
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 10-15 inches

2. Daffodils

shallow focus of field of yellow daffodils
Mabel Amber | Pixabay

Daffodils are an iconic perennial in the United States. Their yellow, star-shaped blooms bring an explosion of sunshine to your garden border. And they’re not just nice to look at. Daffodils contain an alkaloid called lycorine that’s toxic to deer and rabbits.

This is a hardy plant that doesn’t need much fuss, so long as you make sure it’s not sitting in soggy soil. Plant the bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes, and by spring you’ll have beautiful flowers you can cut and bring into your kitchen for some cheer.

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-8
  • Sun: Full sun or partial sun
  • Water needs: Medium, but low in the summer (they go dormant and prefer to be drier)
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-30 inches

3. Lamb’s ear

closeup of lambs ear plant
Lynn Greyling | Pixabay

This plant’s wooly leaves are as soft as velvet, just like a real lamb’s ear. They have a silvery green color and produce conal spikes of pink or purple flowers. While deer and rabbits don’t like lamb’s ear, bees and hummingbirds will happily feast on its nectar.

Lamb’s ear doesn’t like sitting in moist soil. Wait to water until it’s significantly dry. If you live in an area with lots of rain, plant it beneath a tree or overhang, and make sure your pot or soil has good drainage. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-8
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Low 
  • Soil: Poor or rich, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6 inches to 2 feet

4. Bleeding heart

shallow focus of bleeding heart plant
Bruno | Pixabay

Bleeding heart is a vine known by many names: glory bower, bagflower, and glory tree, to name a few. Its primary name comes from the stunning flowers. From the center of a heart-shaped, white calyx, a ruby red corolla emerges like a drop of blood.

To maximize this vine’s potential, wind it through a trellis or your fence. The structure will encourage growth and provide a deer-resistant barrier at the border of your landscape. Since it hails from a tropical environment, it appreciates some shade and humidity. 

  • Plant type: Vine
  • Hardiness zones: 2-9
  • Sun: Partial shade to full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Rich, moist, slightly acidic or neutral
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 10-15 feet tall

5. Marigolds

overhead view of a marigold plant
Heejin Jeong | Pixabay

The golden yellow tones of marigolds are like little sunsets you can look at all the time. These pops of color with carnation-like flowers are relatively easy to care for and can survive intense heat and poor soil. 

Marigolds are a powerhouse for pest control. They make a great companion plant for crops like cucumbers, strawberries, and onions that are threatened by harmful nematodes (microscopic worms). 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 2-11
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, rich
  • Duration: Annual
  • Mature height: 6 inches to 3 feet

6. Russian sage

closeup of a bee on russian sage
ilovebutter | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Russian sage adds an elegant brush of lavender to your landscape. The clusters of bluish-purple blooms cover tall spikes as high as 4 feet. The fragrance of the flowers keeps deer at bay while attracting bees and hummingbirds.

Because this plant prefers a dry environment, it’s a perfect addition to a xeriscape (a form of landscaping designed to conserve water). Space them 2 to 3 feet apart to give them room to grow. Skip the mulch for this plant and go for gravel instead. 

  • Plant type: Herb
  • Hardiness zones: 5-10
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water needs: Low
  • Soil: Average, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: Between 2 and 4 feet

7. Bee balm

macro focus of bee balm
Sharon Mollerus | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Bee balm’s showy, eccentric blooms are a crowd favorite for people and pollinators in the neighborhood. It’s a native plant, which means it’s better adapted to the environment and requires less maintenance. 

Although bees and butterflies can’t get enough of bee balm’s nectar, deer don’t like the strong smell. Even better, mosquitoes avoid it too. All you need to do to make sure your bee balm thrives is give it plenty of direct sunlight. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 4-9
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade (prefers more sun)
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, clay, sandy
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 4 feet

8. Oregano

closeup of oregano plant
Hans Linde | Pixabay

Oregano is a great addition to Friday night pasta and will help protect your flower bed from hungry invaders. A relatively easy plant to grow, oregano is a good herb for a beginner gardener. If you have a friend who has a plant, you can grow your own from a cutting.

Greek oregano (the most common type) has small, gray-green leaves that produce purple or white buds in the summer. You can grow it as a container plant or even let it spread as edible ground cover. In cooler climates (zone 5-7), though, oregano may need to be moved inside to survive the winter.

  • Plant type: Herb
  • Hardiness zones: 5-12
  • Sun: Full sun to partial sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Average, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6 inches to 2 feet

9. Iris

shallow focus of a purple iris
dewdrop157 | Pixabay

Like its namesake, the Greek goddess who got around via rainbow, irises come in every color. You can spot an iris by its three outer hanging petals surrounding three inner upright petals. Blooms start in early summer.

Irises need good air circulation, so plant them a minimum of 16 to 18 inches apart and make sure the ground around them is free from weeds and debris. Be careful not to plant them too deeply in the ground; the rhizome should be exposed a little at the top. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • Hardiness zones: 3-9
  • Sun: Full sun to partial sun
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Loamy, average, well-draining
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 1-3 feet

10. Barrenwort

closeup of barrenwort
Ruth Hartnup | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Barrenwort is a low-growing perennial often used as ground cover. Its leaves have deep veins and are a bronze color in spring, turning olive green by fall. Soft pink flowers with petals that drape down bloom in the spring. 

Barrenwort is highly deer-resistant and easy to grow. It tolerates drought and average soils but thrives in fertile ground covered by partial shade. It spreads via rhizomes to cover large swaths of ground once established. Plant it around water features or along fences.

  • Plant type: Ground cover
  • Hardiness zones: 5-8
  • Sun: Partial sun to full shade
  • Water needs: Medium
  • Soil: Well-draining, rich
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature height: 6-12 inches

Why are deer attracted to your yard?

Food source

The main reason deer show up uninvited is because you’re growing something they like to eat. Most edible plants (including lettuce, beans, peas, and strawberries) are prime targets for hungry deer, but they don’t stop there. Below is a few plants deer love.

Flowers that attract deer:

  • Daylilies
  • Roses
  • Geraniums
  • Clover
  • Sunflowers
  • Hosta
  • Pansies

Shrubs and trees that attract deer:

  • Blackberry
  • Juniper
  • Hawthorn
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Rhododendrons
  • Fruit trees

You can still include these in your landscape, but place them closer to your house and surround them with a barrier of deer-resistant plants. 

Water source

The other reason deer come to visit is for water. They’ll sip from ponds, trenches, birdbaths, and kiddie pools. Cover what you can so deer aren’t tempted. For ponds and birdbaths, surround them with fragrant perennials deer don’t like. 

FAQ about deer

1. Where do deer live?

White-tailed deer are commonly found all over the U.S. except for in Utah, Nevada, and California. These creatures live in all kinds of environments, from farmlands to mountains to the suburbs.

2. What kinds of problems do deer cause?

A single adult deer can eat up to 2,000 lbs. of vegetable matter annually. If you have any hopes of growing a robust garden, defending it against deer is key.

Deer are also one of the highest transmitters of ticks containing Lyme disease, which is dangerous for both humans and pets.

3. Are deer dangerous?

Deer are usually timid, but they can be provoked under certain conditions. It’s important not to make them feel threatened, especially if their young are around.

If you’re ready to install new deer-resistant plants but don’t know where to start, call a professional landscaper. They’ll help with design, planting, and maintenance. They also can give you a hand with fencing for added protection.

Main Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.