Nature Notes

15 Great Deer-Resistant Native Plants

Beautify the landscape and fill garden gaps with this less-palatable mix of natives that Bambi tends to avoid

By Jennifer Benner, Audubon Connecticut Contributor and Co-Author of The Nonstop Garden

If you live in Connecticut, you're no stranger to the challenge of deer browse in the landscape—shrubs transformed into botanical lollipops and perennial beds mowed down overnight. We see it every day. The overabundance of deer in Connecticut is negatively impacting our landscape, reducing plant cover and diversity, and decimating food sources for birds and other wildlife. Installing barriers like fencing, applying repellents, and hunting are some of the ways in which the issue is being addressed. Another option is planting native plants that deer find less palatable. While there is no "deer-proof" plant (if a deer is hungry enough, it will eat it), there are beautiful native plants that these four-legged foes tend to pass over.

The next time you have a garden gap to fill or are looking to add beauty to your landscape, consider these native gems, which also support birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.

  1. Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8, perennial, partial to full shade)
  2. Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, Zones 3-8, perennial, full to partial shade)
  3. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense, Zones 4-6, perennial, partial to full shade)
  4. Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 3-9, perennial, full sun)
  5. Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica, Zones 4-8, grass, full to partial shade)
  6. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia, Zones 3-9, shrub, full sun to partial shade)
  7. Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina, Zones 2-6, shrub, full sun to partial shade)
  8. Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea, Zones 2-8, shrub, full sun to partial shade)
  9. Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula, Zones 3-8, perennial, full to partial shade)*
  10. Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum, Zones 3-8, perennial, full sun to partial shade)
  11. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata, Zones 3-9, shrub, full sun to partial shade)
  12. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum, Zones 4-9, grass, full sun)
  13. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, Zones 3-9, grass, full sun)
  14. New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, Zones 3-8, perennial, full sun to partial shade)
  15. Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia, Zones 3-8, perennial, partial to full shade)

*Hay-scented fern is best for mass plantings or areas you wish to colonize with one plant. This robust native fern is great for filling in big areas and drowning out weeds.

To discover more native plants for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife, check out Plants for Birds.

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