Finally, our real world answer to the question, "what plants do deer eat? In addition to hostas, which are the most known, our list includes plants we know from experience to be delicacies to deer.
Having beautiful gardens is a goal we all aspire to - and while there are many factors that go into your choices, one factor is often overlooked and usually not thought of at all. The fact is, if you have a problem with deer in your area, it's important that you consider that in your decision making. Knowing their favorite plants will save you grief, frustration and money!
The good news is that you don't have to avoid these plants entirely. No. You can still plant them and have great success. How? More on that later.
First, let's get into the details about which plants deer eat and prefer the most.
Note: Read our article about deer resistance plants HERE - which is the opposite thought process. In that article, we tell you which plants are not preferred, which ones are usually ignored by deer. Here we focus on the ones you deer look at and think "buffet!"
Understanding A Deer's Diet And Plant Preferences
We want be clear. We, Tony and Art, have a huge deer problem in our neighborhood.
We have herds of them roaming around our area - we've counted up to 15 at a time. We also have lots of gardens that surround our property with a wide variety of plants - from flowers, to shrubs, ornamental trees and more. Through the years, we've seen a lot - what works for us, what doesn't work for us, etc. So we come to you with this information from real world experience.
In addition, working in the landscaping field as we do, we've seen a lot in our clients yards as well. When you're getting paid to install plants, you want them to survive.
Before we answer that all important question of "what do deer eat?" we want to mention one thing you must keep in mind. If hungry enough, deer will eat just about anything!
The list of plants we give you below are what many would consider "delicacies" to deer - the plants that they most often eat. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules when it come to predicting deer behavior. As we often say, expect the unexpected.
You'll often find that during the growing season, when there is a wide variety of things growing for deer to eat, you will have less of a problem. This is especially true if you live in a country environment where there are farms with crops planted and growing eveywhere Living in suburbia however, you may not see much of a difference.
This means that the most common time for deer problems in your own gardens is from November through February. If you pay attention to the time of the year when you've seen the most damage, you'll probably know this to be the case.
The fact is, no matter where you live, you must face the deer problem head on and that's what we try to do with clients and even our own property.
As pro landscapers, we've had to deal with deer problems in a few of our client's yards, as well as our own. In fact, our real world esperience is very different from advice we've read in many articles that answers this very question... "what plants do deer eat?" Far too often plants are mentioned that we know from our own experience deer have never touched.
Now, there could be several reasons for this conflicting advice. Some articles on some websites could be flat out wrong (even well known ones). Or, as it often the case, different people have different experiences with deer and their diets. After all, they're... well... animals. You can't always predict an animal's behavoir.
This real world experience has often surprised us. Just when you think you've got the plants all covered and planted only deer resistant varieties, low and behold, we find someting chewed to the ground that had never been touched before.
What's a person to do?
The most ideal situation is to protect everything you plant (more on that later) - because if you try to protect only the plants that deer DO eat, you may not know them all, or they may be exceptionally hungry this month and will devour something that they wouldn't ordinarily eat.
In addition to this real world experience, reading THIS BOOK really shed additional light on the subject of deer behavior. Even if you don't have much of a problem with deer eating your plants, it's still a good read.
How To Overcome Your Deer Problem
As we mentioned previously, there is a VERY simple solution to the deer problem in your garden.
How can you overcome this challenge? By deer proofing your gardens.
You can go HERE to read more about the different methods we use, but there is one super-easy, simple-to-do method that should always be used; and that is, spray your plants with deer repellant.
The deer repellant we've used for several years is called "Repels All" and it really does work as the label says. Just spray your plants about once per month and the deer will leave them alone.
In addtion, the bottle states it protects plants against other critters as well. However, we have no real-world experience protecting plants from animals other than deer - so we cannot advise you here how well it works with other critters such as rabbits.
Repels All contains all organic ingredients so it won't harm the deer or the environment. It works simply by creating a bad taste that deer don't like so they stay away. The spray is absorbed into the plant leaves and lasts about 1 month - even though rain.
Yes, the label says this. However, we were skeptical at first. After using this product for many years though, we find that to be true.
Now, I ask you, how hard would it be to take your spray bottle of Repels All and go into your gardens and spray your plants once a month? We say, not long, especially if you have small gardens.
Now, for larger gardens, it will take more time and effort, plus more product, which will definitely add to the cost. However, even in our big yard filled with lots of gardens, it really only takes about 15-20 minutes and about 1/2 a spray bottle. For us it's a non-issue. We think it's well worth the time, effort and money.
The one other problem with spraying plants is you need to remember to do it. If you forget then you'll probably know it soon enough when you discover the aftermath of the deer invastion!
Get repels all now:
What Plants Do Deer Eat - The Most Common Culprits
Here then are the most common plants that deer eat. If you don't want to spray, then by all means avoid these:
Most gardeners know that hostas are one of the most common plants that deer love and, although many sources will say that they eat all varieties, for us, our experience differs.
For us, the deer seem to love the varigated white and green varieties of hostas, whereas they leave the solid deep green ones alone. Even the varigated lime green and dark green ones for us are OK.
As you can see in this image, many of the stems of this hosta are left bare, the foliage having been eaten by ravenous deer.
It's a mystery why deer prefer this variety over others but we know this to be true for us, If you want to try hostas because you have shade gardens and you love them, then start with the solid deep or lime green varities.
The good new is with hostas, the deer don't actually kill the plants. Even if the leaves are chewed to the ground,the plant will continue to produce new leaves to replace the ones that were eaten.
Above are 2 images of other varieties of hostas that seem to go untouched in our yard.
#2 English Ivy:
Another favorite of deer, English ivy, is an excellent ground cover but after the deer finish, it will no longer be that deep green carpet of lush green leaves.
Like hostas, your English ivy can look decimated, with brown stems all that are left. However, over time the plant will produce new leaves that fill in areas that are left bare.
Since English ivy makes such a set-it-and-forget-it ground cover, we prefer to use it and spray it with Repels All.
Azaleas are susceptible to deer damage as well. For us, the deer usually nibble on them off season, when the plant is not blooming. This leads us to wonder if deer do not like the blooms, but rather the leaves.
Azaleas are one of those plants that deer do eat - and repeatedly - so getting them to grow if you have a deer problem can be an issue.
Indeed, we have several azaleas that are usually eaten because they are in an out-of-the-way place and we sometimes forget to spray them. Although they survive, they never grow because they are always eaten.
This image is an example of one plant that, 10 years after planting, is only 12 inches high and very sparce.
We find we must diligently keep up with spraying these in early spring in order to see blooms in May.
Yes, as disappointing as this sounds, this popular cool weather flower is a delicacy to deer. If you want to plant them to liven up your otherwise brown garden in the off season, you'd better either spray them or have deer netting covering them.
The worst part about pansies is the fact that they are most colorful during cool weather, meaning the beginning and end of the season, the exact time when deer are are more likely to be foraging in home gardens.
This wonderful spring flower to many signifies the start of gardening weather. The bad news though, is that it signals "buffet" to deer.
The problem with tulips is their leaves emerge from the ground before the blooms and deer love the leaves just as much as the flower.
This means if you spray the leaves after they start to pop up, as they emerge, more leaves will sprout which have NOT been sprayed. Then finally the blooms will start, which also must be sprayed. All of this happens within a few weeks.
If you want beautiful tulips, spraying them once per month is not going to cut it. You'll need to spray them often, as they continue to emerge and finally bloom.
Notice in this image the bare stems. Flowers used to grace the ends of these stems - before the deer got to them.
Acuba is a wonderful shrub that does well in shady environments. It has varigated leaves of dark and light green, which really make it pop.
Our experience with this plant is very contradicting. For us, the deer have not touched this plant but for one of our clients, they have been decimated several times until we finally gave in and planted something else.
Indeed, Acuba is on many lists of plants that deer do eat, so if you're wondering if you should give it a try, we say go for it. If it doesn't work out, you can plant other things in it's place.
Questionable Plants That Deer Might Eat
As we mentioned previously, we've seen many lists of plants that deer eat including plants that, in our experience, have gone unharmed.
However, as we also said, deer can be unpredictable and there are one hundred and one variables that affect what deer will eat. Things such as their hunger, the availability of their favorite plants, the varieties and cultivars of different plants, and much more.
As a service to you, we wanted to include is list of questionable (at least in our own minds) plants you might want to stay away from too. However, you just might want to try them and find out if the deer in YOUR area will give you a problem with them.
Some plants that are questionable because in our experience, deer seem to leave them alone include:
rhododendrons, hollies, lillies especially day lillies, yew bushes, euonymus wintercreeper, arborvite shrubs, and boxwood.
As we said, perhaps you'll want to try them anyway to give yourself some real world experience. Of course, as mentioned previously, you can plant them and then spray them and you should be good to go!
What Plants Do Deer Eat? Our Definitive Answer
Our definite answer is... all of them, if they are hungry enough. Our more specific answer is in the words spelled out above.
You'll never truly know what will surive a deer onslaught in your own yard until you try - and isn't that the beauty and enjoyment of gardening. It's more often than not a trial and error effort. However, that's what makes it fun - overcoming the challenge and getting those plants to thrive - even with a large deer population roaming just around the corner.
So take this advice and your spray bottle of Repels All and get to it!