There is no plant guaranteed to be 100% deer and rabbit-proof. Deer and rabbits are resourceful herbivores, and their desperation for food can sometimes overcome their natural aversion to certain plants. However, there are plants that are highly resistant to deer and rabbit browsing due to certain characteristics that make them unappealing or even harmful to these animals.
Taste and smell:
Bitter taste: Many deer and rabbit resistant perennials have a bitter taste due to chemicals like alkaloids, glycosides, and tannins. Examples include yarrow, coral bells, and butterfly weed.
Hairy or fuzzy foliage: The texture of hairy or fuzzy leaves can be irritating to deer and rabbits, discouraging them from nibbling. Examples include lamb's ear, lavender, and Russian sage.
Strong scents: Plants with strong, aromatic scents, like lavender, catmint, and garlic chives, can be unappealing to deer and rabbits.
Thorny or prickly stems: Thorny or prickly stems act as a physical barrier, deterring animals from munching on the leaves. Examples include hollyhock, barberry, and sea holly.
Sap: Milky sap can be irritating or even toxic to deer and rabbits, making plants like milkweed and poppies less desirable.
Poisonous: Some perennials are toxic if ingested, so deer and rabbits avoid them instinctively. Examples include foxglove, monkshood, and castor bean (be cautious with these due to their toxicity to humans and pets as well).
New growth: Young, tender shoots are more likely to be eaten by deer and rabbits, so established plants are less vulnerable.
Hunger levels: When food is scarce, deer and rabbits may become more desperate and eat plants they would not normally touch.
Variety: Planting a diverse range of deer and rabbit resistant perennials can help confuse herbivores and make your garden less appealing overall.
It is important to remember that these are just general guidelines, and individual animals may have different preferences. What deters one deer or rabbit might not deter another. If you are having trouble keeping deer and rabbits out of your garden, you may need to try a combination of strategies, such as fencing, repellents, and planting a variety of resistant perennials.
Here are some popular deer and rabbit resistant perennials you might like for your garden that are not deer and rabbits first choice for snacking.
Onion may be a big part of the human diet, but the flavor is a turn off for the grazers. They will only touch this plant as a last resort. The flowers, however, attract pollinators!
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Mid - Late Summer
This is part of the mint family, so its foliage is fragrant, which deters deer and rabbits. It may, however, attract cats (they might rub against it and smell it).
Full Sun | Zones: 3-8 | Blooms: Early - Midsummer
This genus comes in a variety of warm shades like reds, oranges, and yellows, and are generally left alone so you can enjoy the spiky flowers in summer.
Full Sun | Zones: 5b-9 | Blooms: Early - Late Summer
This herb may smell nice to us, but the strong scent scares away deer and rabbits.
Full Sun | Zones: 5-9 | Blooms: Early - Late Summer
The aromatic leaves of Yarrow are what keep the pests away.
Full Sun | Zones: 3-8 | Blooms: Early - Late Summer
A clue into why this plant is resistant to pests is another common name, Wolfsbane (in addition to other "-banes"). That is right – this plant is poisonous. So, deer and rabbits avoid eating it, but you as the gardener should too.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Late Summer - Early Fall
You will have a chance to enjoy these fall-blooming varieties since they probably won't get chewed down throughout the summer.
Full Sun to Part Shade | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Late Summer - Early Fall
If you ever cut one of these plants, you will notice a white sap that oozes from the stem. This substance is why deer and rabbit avoid these beautiful foliage perennials. The sap may irritate your skin if you are sensitive, so if picking for a bouquet, avoid the bottom of the stems or wear gloves.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Late Spring
Epimedium has some medicinal purposes, so is not toxic to humans (or critters). It is not high on the list of things that taste good to deer.
Full to Part Shade | Zones: 5-8 | Blooms: Mid - Late Spring
It is rare to find a true-blue color for the garden, so how handy is it that deer and rabbits leave Delphinium alone? They also come in purples, whites, and pinks.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 3-7 | Blooms: Early Summer
Ferns as a group are often left alone by critters. It is a perfect deer and rabbit resistant option for shade.
Full to Part Shade | Zones: 5-9 | Blooms: Grown for Foliage
The fuzzy leaves of this classic green perennial are the turn off to the unwanted critters.
Full Sun to Part Shade | Zones: 3-7 | Blooms: Late Spring - Early Summer
Not to be confused with the red annual Geraniums (Pelargonium), the foliage on Geraniums have a slight scent that smells nice to us but not to deer and rabbits.
Full Sun to Part Shade | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Early - Late Summer
Deer and rabbits tend to avoid silver-leaved plants, but that is probably because they do not like the fuzzy texture of the foliage.
Full Sun | Zones: 3-7 | Blooms: Grown for Foliage
Not all deer and rabbit resistant plants are toxic, but Lenten Rose is. It is toxic to humans, too. Normal handling is safe, just make sure not to ingest the plant.
Full Sun to Full Shade | Zones: 4-9 | Blooms: Late Winter - Early Spring
Deer and rabbits do not like the taste of Astilbe leaves. We are not complaining! That just means we get to enjoy the flowers of this versatile (sun or shade) perennial.
Full Sun to Full Shade | Zones: 4-9 | Blooms: Mid - Late Summer
The woolly texture of the leaves is a natural deterrent to unwanted critters.
Full Sun | Zones: 3-7 | Blooms: Late Spring - Early Summer
If you rip a Salvia leaf and put it to your nose, you will notice a minty scent. Not surprisingly, Salvia belongs to the mint family. That same strong scent that seems pleasant to you keeps the critters away.
Full Sun | Zones: 3-8 | Blooms: Late Spring - Early Summer
Digitalis has been used to treat heart conditions, but overall, the plant is very toxic (which is why the critters stay away). An ominous common name for this plant is "Dead Man's Bells"--but do not worry, if you don't EAT the plant, you can enjoy the wonderful, long blooming flowers.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 4-9 | Blooms: Early Summer
This perennial gets left alone in the shade garden because it is considered a poisonous plant.
Full to Part Shade | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Late Summer - Early Fall
Although the common name is Ginger, this is not the stuff you eat (that's Zingiber!). This genus is toxic.
Full to Part Shade | Zones: (5)6-9 | Blooms: Early Spring
When you are walking by some Iris, you may enjoy that pleasant scent coming from the flowers. That same scent is what drives the critters away--the scent is too strong for their liking.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 3-9 | Blooms: Early Summer
This is a great option for a perennial groundcover that will be left alone for the most part by deer and rabbits. Although it looks like grass throughout most of the year, a special surprise is when it blooms in late summer.
Full Sun to Full Shade | Zones: 5-10 | Blooms: Midsummer
The leaves on Lungwort are covered with coarse hair--and deer and rabbits tend to leave "hairy" plants alone.
Full to Part Shade | Zones: 3-9 | Blooms: Late Spring
This perennial (not actually a grass) is one of the more deer resistant. It looks like Liriope but in a cool black color.
Full Sun to Part Shade | Zones: 5-9 | Blooms: Grown for Foliage
The flowers may not be deer resistant, but the foliage is. Most people like to enjoy this as a foliage interest in their garden anyway.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: (4)5-10 | Blooms: Early - Midsummer
Like Salvia, this is a member of the mint family. Deer and rabbits tend to leave smelly plants alone.
Full to Part Sun | Zones: 4-8 | Blooms: Early - Midsummer
Ostrich ferns need plenty of space to grow since they are rapid spreaders. They spread by dense underground runners which extend out in all directions, quickly forming colonies.
Full Sun to Full Shade | Zones: 3-7 | Blooms: Grown for Foliage
Sempervivum is comprised of one large rosette called the "hen" which sprouts many smaller rosettes around it called "chicks". As the plants age, the "hen" may die out and be replaced by the "chicks". Plants can be divided easily at any time by pulling up some of the "chicks" and replanting them elsewhere.
Full Sun | Zones: 3-8 | Blooms: Midsummer
These are just a few ideas to get you started. With so many deer and rabbit resistant perennials to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect ones for your garden. NO plant is deer and rabbit PROOF.