As deer have become one of the major problems in many garden, they have a good idea of what plants they like and don't like. Deer preference for your landscape plants will vary with several factors, but there are some plants generally more resistant to deer feeding.

Wendy Coe has been a gardener at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden where I garden for close to thirty years. She creates a real barrier around her gardens with clear fishing line and flowers. To some Wendy’s garden may seem like a fortress to deer and humans. She adds self-seeding sunflowers, cleomes, which again self-seed and come back every year plus she plants zinnia seeds which grow into colorful plants. The final addition to keeping deer away is a product called Deer No No, are placed on the perimeters of her garden.

The” Chuckster” just said, “Stop playing around with folks and give your readers the scoop on Deer No No.” Okay, Okay! The company that sells it says, “Used by home gardeners, landscapers, farmers, and nurserymen across the country for almost 20 years.” It goes onto say, “Deer No No is the easiest and most effective product you can buy to repel deer and protect your garden and plants. After switching from ineffective spray repellents, stakes, sprinklers, and electronic deterrents, our many thousands of happy customers all agree that Deer No No is the safest and most effective deer repellent on the market.” Hmm! Quite a sales promo.

An all-natural product Deer No No uses a proprietary scent developed to keep deer away without resorting to poisons or harsh chemicals. Best of all, Deer No No's potency doesn't diminish over days or weeks like regular spray repellents. A single Deer No No packet delivers 10 to 12 months of continuous deer protection! And our potency and long lifespan make Deer No No. So “Chuckster,” like I said, “I have no idea what the ingredients are so stop giving me a hard time.”

Many folks at the community gardens use clear fishing line around their gardens at two heights and garlic clips on the line to keep the deer at bay. I have found the clips work pretty well.

By the way, in late fall when the garden is wide open, the only two plants that survive the cold in my garden are Brussels sprouts and kale. In the spring when I arrive back at the gardens, I find these two plants pretty well chewed down by the deer along with their droppings close to the plants. It’s good to save a little food for the deer over the winter.

Deer seek plants rich in protein, especially in spring and summer as young grow and bucks grow antlers. Well-fertilized garden plants provide energy from carbohydrates, minerals, and salts. Since deer can only store nitrogen in small amounts, they need a steady supply during peak periods.

Deer also get about one third of their water from moisture in plants, hence the reason they prefer moist and tender plants. This is why they often go for new growth, usually on the outer parts of plants, such as new leaves and buds, or immature stems, such as garden phlox in early summer.

Certain smells of plants also attract deer, just as humans have certain generally attractive smells be it popcorn or apple pie. Other times deer may just want to sample the newest additions to your landscape.

On the flip side, deer just seem to know which plants are poisonous and to avoid, be they certain mushrooms, foxglove, or daffodils. Deer also will avoid a plant they may have tried and didn't like, or which made them sick.

Gaillardia is another perennial that deer will avoid. I haven't seen deer go after perennial geraniums. Certainly, any perennial that has a strong fragrance (anise hyssop) or fuzzy leaves (lamb’s ears) are also types that deer tend to avoid.

The best approach is to fence, use spray repellents and try a variety of plants to see which ones they don't prefer. One thing is for sure, hostas are called deer lettuce for a reason.

Deer generally avoid plants with a strong aroma that hurts their delicate sense of smell, with fuzzy or prickly leaves, or with a bitter or alkaloid taste. Deer rely on their fine sense of smell as an early warning system of approaching danger. They stay clear of aromatic plants. Fragrant plants that generally deter deer include catmint, chives, lavender, mind, sage, and thyme. Some gardeners plant these among more favored deer plants.

Some plants that appear both on lists of plants deer like and don't like include clematis, iris, forsythia, dahlias, vinca, trillium, and peonies. This is due to the individual deer preferences, alternative food sources, population pressure and how much there is to go around. Which plants are resistant also will vary with each year and season? When deer are hungry in early spring after a long hard winter, most anything green (such as your tulips) is a treat. Later in the summer they may get more selective, in late summer try out some new plants so far left untouched, and fall start serious grazing as in spring to store up for winter.

Some woody plants that deer generally prefer, so you might avoid if you have many deer in your area, include yews, burning bush, hybrid tea roses, and saucer magnolia. There are some roses less palatable (generally with more thorns), such as the Rugosa hybrids, some shrub roses such as Harrison’s Yellow, and some Moss roses. Herbaceous plants deer generally eat include crocus, dahlias, daylilies, hostas, impatiens, phlox, trillium, and tulips.

Woody plants resistant to deer include spruce, bush cinquefoil, lilacs, shrub magnolias, spirea and viburnums. Some herbaceous plants to consider as resistant include astilbe, bee balm, blanket flower, bleeding heart, columbine, daffodil, dead nettle, false indigo, ferns, globe thistle, hellebore, hollyhock, lungwort, lupine, meadowsweet, monkshood, mugwort, peony, primrose, purple coneflower, Siberian bugloss, speedwell, sunflower, and yarrow.
Source: Perry’s Perennial Pages, Leonard Perry, University of Vermont Extension Service