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‘Lucifer’ Crocosmia

Photo by Charles Hawes/Gap Photos

Deer are creatures of habit. Once they’ve claimed your garden as their favorite lunch spot, it’s difficult to persuade them otherwise. And while there are all manner of foul-smelling repellents and deterrent devices out there, perhaps the best solution is simply to landscape with plants that deer don’t like to eat.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Many garden stalwarts—including roses, daylilies, tulips, rhododendrons, and hostas—are favorites of deer, too. All produce the tender foliage and plump buds that deer salivate over. Plus, almost any plant can be enticing in spring as it’s sprouting soft new growth. More challenging still, taste buds vary by herd, so a plant that gets sidestepped in Missouri might get eaten in Minnesota. And given a harsh winter or a summer drought, these adaptable eaters are notorious for indiscriminate feasting.

Yet, mercifully, deer do have food preferences. Trading damage-prone plants for ones with unpalatable tastes and textures is one sure way to make a yard less deer-friendly. Typically, they snub plants that are prickly, aromatic, fuzzy, or have natural poisons running through their veins. Spiky ornamental grasses and ferns, laden with such toxins, usually go unscathed, as do a number of evergreen garden staples, including boxwoods, plum yews, and most hollies. But there are also plenty of flowering perennials that don’t draw deer near. The following are among the best, compromising nothing in ornamental beauty and performance.

Shown: With its arching habit and brilliant red blooms on stems up to 4 feet tall, masses of ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia make a spectacular display. Planted in spring, these bulbs bloom in late summer. Deer generally steer clear of their strappy, grass-like foliage.

Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find the zone for your town to determine what plants will flourish in your yard.

‘Green Halo’ Peony

Photo by Nova Photo Graphik/Gap Photos

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Green Halo’

Peonies are prized for their lavishly layered petals in signature shades of pink, red, and white. They’re also extremely drought tolerant, cold hardy, and not loved by deer, which find the foliage and stems too fibrous.

OUR PICK: We love frilly ‘Green Halo’ for its apple-green skirt (though some gardeners complain it lacks vigor). Another stunner: striated hot-pink-and-white ‘Candy Stripe.’

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full sun and nutrient-rich, slightly alkaline, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 3 to 8

‘Tomato Soup’ Coneflower

Courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’

This native prairie flower blooms all summer. Its hairy, aromatic foliage deters deer, as do the spiny seed heads beloved by birds.

OUR PICK: Hot-red ‘Tomato Soup’ is one of the newer varieties that are generally sterile and come in rainbow hues (purple-flowering Echinacea purpurea freely self-sows). Others worth noting are golden-to-white ‘Mellow Yellows’ and lime-to-pink ‘Green Envy.’

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and dry to average, well-drained soils; will tolerate clay

HARDINESS ZONES: 3 to 8

‘Patty’s Plum’ Oriental Poppy

Photo by Doreen Wynja

Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’

Deer usually pass over poppies, thanks to their thistle-like foliage and toxic sap. But for the rest of us, their huge crinkly blooms with dark centers are impossible to ignore. Since both spring flowers and foliage die back, they are best interplanted with bushy summer bloomers like asters or Russian sage.

OUR PICK: ‘Patty’s Plum’ adds extra drama, flowering in a rare reddish purple.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full sun and fertile, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 3 to 7

‘Mango Popsicle’ Torch Lily

Photo by Doreen Wynja

Kniphofia Popsicle ® ‘Mango Popsicle’

It’s surprising that long-blooming, fast-growing, undemanding torch lily isn’t more common. Occasionally deer nibble on the flowers, but the unpalatable texture of its grassy foliage usually prevents browsing.

OUR PICK: ‘Mango Popsicle’ sports eye-catching, long-lasting, 30-inch-tall flower spikes from June until frost.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full sun and average, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 6 to 9

‘Harlequin Gem’ Hellebore

Photo by Doreen Wynja

Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewels ® ‘Harlequin Gem’

In late winter these dainty woodland flowers nod above tufts of evergreen foliage. But as hellebores are poisonous, they may not be a good choice where pets and children roam.

OUR PICK: Garnet-toned ‘Harlequin Gem’ is a standout in the Winter Jewels series, as are chartreuse ‘Jade Tiger’ and ‘Black Diamond.’

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial shade and well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 4 to 8

‘Chuck Hayes’ Gardenia

Photo by Doreen Wynja

Gardenia jasminoides ‘Chuck Hayes’

Summer-blooming evergreen shrubs, gardenias are perfect foundation plantings but are also compact enough for containers. And while their flowers’ strong perfume captivates people, it repels deer.

OUR PICK: ‘Chuck Hayes’ is a cold-hardy cultivar that has stretched the boundaries of this southern classic; ‘Frostproof’ is another.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and acidic, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 7 to 11

‘Robustissima’ Japanese Anemone

Photo by Clive Nichols/Gap Photos

Anemone x hybrida ‘Robustissima’

This underused perennial, with its delicate flowers and berry-like mauve buds held on wiry stems above serrated foliage, is generally recognized as poisonous by deer.

OUR PICK: Pale pink ‘Robustissima’ is a vigorous grower and one of the most cold hardy. Given room to naturalize, it will flower freely and attract pollinators right until frost.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and moist, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 4 to 8

‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint

Photo by Jerry Pavia

Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’

This mounding, fast-growing groundcover emits a distinctive minty fragrance from both foliage and flower that repels deer, as do its fuzzy-textured leaves.

OUR PICK: ‘Walker’s Low’ is one of the best bloomers, with billows of tiny lavender-blue flowers from April through September. It grows up to 3 feet wide and almost as tall, but stays compact if soil isn’t overly rich.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and dry to average, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 4 to 8

‘Sir Winston Churchill’ Daffodil

Photo by Nova Photo Graphik/Gap Photos

Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’

In deer country, the daffodil is one of the most reliable spring-flowering bulbs; the animals shun all of its parts due to a natural toxin. For best effect, allow groupings to naturalize in garden beds and woodland borders.

OUR PICK: ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ is an intensely fragrant, double-petaled cultivar that flowers with a bouquet of three to five smaller blooms per stem.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full sun and average, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 3 to 9

‘Lucifer’ Sword Lily

Photo by Doreen Wynja

Crocosmia x Curtonus ‘Lucifer’

Native to South Africa, this late-summer-blooming bulb keeps gardens going with its bright color, graceful arching stems, and strappy foliage that deters deer. Thanks to its flowers’ tubular shape and sweet nectar, hummingbirds are more frequent visitors.

OUR PICK: Reaching up to 4 feet, scarlet ‘Lucifer’ is one of the taller cultivars.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and moist but well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 6 to 9

‘Beverly Sills’ Bearded Iris

Photo by Nicola Stocken/Gap Photos

Iris germanica ‘Beverly Sills’

Low maintenance and reliable, showy bearded iris blooms in nearly every color. While unpalatable to deer, its sturdy, sword-like, semi-evergreen foliage remains attractive all season.

OUR PICK: ‘Beverly Sills’ is an award-winning, quick-spreading cultivar loaded with ruffled blooms in an unexpected pale-coral shade.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full sun and average, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 3 to 9

‘Lemon Meringue’ False Indigo

Courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’

This native, drought-tolerant wildflower has a compact vase shape with attractive foliage all season. All parts of the lovely false indigo are poisonous to deer (and other animals). But butterflies are drawn to its spring blooms.

OUR PICK: The 3-foot-tall spires of vigorous ‘Lemon Meringue’ are extra striking, with blue-gray buds that blossom yellow.

WHAT IT NEEDS: Full to partial sun and acidic, dry to average, well-drained soil

HARDINESS ZONES: 4 to 8