How To Stop Deer From Eating Up Your Plant Profits

Dr Allan ArmitageI have been speaking to consumers for dozens of years. Many questions I received in 1985 were the same as what I hear in 2015. Compost, pruning, soil, sun and shade — all important then, still important now.

However, one question that has been steadily rising to the top of the list in the last 10 years is, “What about deer?” I cannot go anywhere without a question about deer. The top questions I receive from consumers in no particular order are “Sun or shade?,” “Annual or perennial?” and “What about deer?”


It used to be kind of cute to chuckle about Bambi while watching her roam through the pristine meadows, and every now and then, turning up in our neighbor’s yard. Now that her dozen brothers and sisters have joined Bambi, and now that our customers’ yards are where they roam, she’s not quite so cute anymore.

Deer Eat Up Profits

Deer have become a major issue for landscapers and gardeners and for our most common customers, the decorators. They are simply not going to spend good money after bad just to feed the cute little things. Wasting money is one thing, but the frustration and angst are even more upsetting and a deterrent to gardening. Chocolate and wine may not be as therapeutic as gardening, but at least we are the ones eating them.

Marauding deer have resulted in a significant loss of sales for the retailer. This is no longer our little secret, something we know about, but our customers are blissfully oblivious to.

So what to do? Some people say to feed them lead from the end of a shotgun, others say build a fence, and others ask, “Don’t they eat everything?”

The first is simply not going to happen in my neighborhood, Second Amendment be damned. I surely agree with the second solution, but many people simply don’t have the money to build an 8-foot-tall fence that doesn’t look like something out of “Deliverance.”

The answer to the last question is yes, if they are hungry enough. Good grief, even I will eat okra if I am hungry enough. However, deer, like anyone else, have obvious likes and dislikes.

We must address this problem by knowing and telling consumers what plants deer will normally not choose to eat.

Here are a few generalities in choosing plants. The important word is generality, since famished deer will eat almost anything. As a result, talking about deer likes and dislikes to the customer is fraught with problems. Here are a few hints, but if they are wrong, you can blame it on me.

Deer Tend To Avoid

• Hairy plants such as Lamb’s ears and lungwort
• Poisonous plants such as euphorbias and hellebores (in general they don’t eat the Ranunculus family)
• Smelly plants like alliums, nearly all herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender.
• Prickly leaf plants
• Tough, thick leaves like Sedum

I also visit many places and simply ask, what do deer not eat? One of my colleagues, Flo Chapin, who owns Specialty Ornamentals in Watkinsville, Ga., which is deer heaven, says the perennials in her “deer garden” consist of perennial salvias, verbenas and amsonias. They eat everything else. By the way, there are enough different salvias, verbenas and amsonias out there to make quite a lovely garden.

Resources For Deer Advice

Where is the information on plants deer do not eat? Without a doubt, the easiest and most convenient source is the Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals app, available for iPhones and Androids. It puts all the research in one convenient place (i.e., your smartphone.) I suppose I should not push my own work, but why would I produce an app if I didn’t think it was the best resource for you.

However, if you don’t do apps or would like alternative sources, there are dozens of web sites, all disagreeing with each other. The best are probably from Rutgers University and North Carolina State University. A couple of good books are also available through Amazon, one by Ruth Rogers Clausen, the other by Vincent Drzewucki Jr.

Another program to dispel deer-fear for consumers is called Deer-leerious, initiated by The Perennial Farm, Glen Arm, Md.