Beautiful and graceful deer are a gem of Northern California’s wildlife, but when they are feasting on your garden, they can be voracious enough to drive a gardener crazy! So how do you prevent deer from mowing down anything they can reach? While not always totally untouched, these are some plants we have found to be less interesting to our hoofed neighbors, and ideal for planting in those places where you know they will be browsing.
Since they have had to fight for survival for so long against native deer, many native plants have developed resistance against being devoured. According to the native plant professionals at Las Pilitas Nursery, these native plants have been ranked as the highest level of untouchable in areas with high deer activity.
Ceanothus are not all completely deer-resistant, but smaller, thornier leaves make them much less appetizing. ‘Mills Glory’ is a particularly nice, smaller cultivar that does well.
Amorpha californica, Indigo Bush
Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’, Dwarf Coyote Brush
Ceanothus ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘Mills Glory’, and ‘Snowball’
Cupressus species, Cypress.
Diplacus species, Monkey flowers
Erigeron glaucus, Seaside daisy.
All Native Ferns
All Native Iris
Monardella species, Butterfly Mint.
Satureja douglasii, Yerba Buena. (if allowed to go Summer dormant)
Desert and Mediterranean Species
Many plants from the deserts of the Americas and the dry regions of the Mediterranean, Australia and South Africa grow well in the Bay Area, and their resinous saps can make them highly deer-resistant.
Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ is a garden favorite, with silver leaves that compliment almost any color scheme! Plus, deer couldn’t care less about it. Lucky for us!
Acanthus mollis, Bear’s
Breeches – Mediterranean
Agastache species, Hyssop – American Desert
Artemesia species – Widespead
Callistemon, Bottle-brush – Australia
Centaurea cineraria, Dusty Miller – Mediterranean
Cistus species, Rock Rose – Mediterranean
Correa species, Australian Fuschia – Australia
Euphorbia species, Spurge – Widespread
Helleborus species, Hellebore – Mediterranean
Nerium oleander, Oleander – Mediterranean
Pelargonium species, Scented Geranium – Mediterranean
Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian Sage – Widespread
Phlomis species, Jerusalem Sage – Mediterranean
Phormium species, NZ Flax – Australia
Teucrium species, Germander – Mediterranean
Tulbaghia violacea, Society Garlic – South Africa
Westringia species, Coast Rosemary – Australia
Euphorbia cultivars bring a unique look to the garden and are almost never touched by deer. Their poisonous sap takes them off the deer menu completely, and they should be handled with care by humans as well.
Other Off-The-Menu Options
Herbs including Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Oregano
Salvias with strong-smelling foliage
Berberis species and Mahonia – The different varieties of barberry
Solanum species – Poisonous potato vine
Nandina, Daphne, and Buxus (Boxwood)
Lavender with Japanese Barberry is a gorgeous color combination that deer will snub their noses at. Add a hedge of rosemary or Nandina, and your hooved neighbors will be the only ones unimpressed.
A deer-resistant garden can still be a beautiful addition to the landscape, and many styles can be achieved with the plants listed above, among others. So don’t let the deer drive you crazy. Just plant with them in mind and enjoy their presence without sacrificing your landscape. That being said, there’s always that one deer with unusual tastes… so don’t be shocked if there’s the occasional nibble here or there, but we wish you the greatest success with these plants that have mostly worked for us! From our team to you!