Plant wisely if this sweet—but hungry—animal is snacking on your garden.

By Nancy Mattia
July 02, 2019
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You love seeing white-tailed deer in your backyard-until they start chomping on your vegetation. You've got to stop their fast-food feasting, but how? You could enclose your property by putting up a fence that's at least eight to ten feet high, but fencing could be pricey or impractical with your yard's layout. You could spray repellent, but might be hesitant to put chemicals on your plants. The next best tactic: Change what's on the menu and plant flowers and shrubs that deer don't usually eat-"usually" is about as good as it gets because there's no plant that's 100 percent deer-proof. If they're really hungry, they'll eat whatever's available.

The Risk of Ticks

If you see deer, stay away. Though gentle creatures, deer are the primary host for black-legged ticks, according to the United States National Library of Medicine, and may carry Lyme disease, which can be passed along to humans. Though you'll see more deer during mating season, which runs from September to November, their numbers are growing and you may see them all year round.

What to Plant

Deer-resistant plants are easy to find at most nurseries around the country. Below, we've rounded up a few popular varieties of flowers and shrubs that deer rarely damage, along with input from nursery and landscape pros on why they are effective. The full list, compiled by Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension personnel and Rutgers Master Gardeners, also includes ornamental grasses, ground covers, bulbs, and ferns. But before deciding what to buy, check that the plants are not on your state's invasive species list.

In terms of perennial plants and flowers, our experts recommend a few different options. Yucca is a good choice as the sharp fronds on this plant's leaves prevent it from being a favorite food in the deer world. Daffodils are another safe bet-when eaten, daffodil is poisonous, so deer steer clear. Like daffodils, foxglove's toxicity makes it a no-brainer for deer to avoid, so plant this pretty flower to add color to your garden. And if sweet-smelling blooms are your thing, you're in luck. Humans smell beauty in fragrant lily of the valley, but deer smell only a bad meal. The same goes for peonies, irises, and sweet alyssum. Deer can't abide their strong fragrances, so each of these beautiful flowers is generally safe in your yard. For greenery, dusty miller, characterized by velvety blue-gray petals, and lamb's ear, a soft-yet-slightly prickly leafy plant, are good choices. Both work as well in containers as they do in the ground.

You have a lot of options when it comes to shrubs, too. Common boxwood, which works well as a border shrub, has an evergreen aroma that makes a deer lose its appetite. The same goes for Oregon grape holly and Daphne. Bayberry and Arrowwood viburnum are two more fragrant shrubs that deer generally turn away from. Flowering shrubs like bush cinquefoil and butterfly bush are also generally safe since these animals don't love fragrance. Certain shrubs with coarse needles, such as juniper (specifically, Moonglow and Prince of Wales varieties) and Japanese plum yew, would be considered fairly safe, too, because deer prefer not to snack on the spiky plants.

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