A listing of flowers, vines, shrubs and trees that deer don’t prefer to eat.

by Cheryl Moore-Gough, Extension Horticulture Specialist, retired, and R.E. Gough, Ph.D., Professor of Horticulture

DEER CAN WIPE OUT YOUR GARDEN faster than almost any other pest. Two species common in Montana – the white-tailed deer and the mule deer – eat flowers and foliage in summer and browse on tender buds in winter. Even urban gardens are vulnerable to deer damage.

Through the years frustrated gardeners have tried different remedies to keep the pests away from their plants. Painting tree trunks with sulphonated linseed oil worked sporadically, but the concoction couldn’t be used on tender perennials and on the buds and thin shoots of trees. Hanging bars of heavily perfumed soap, items of old sweaty clothing, or linen bags filled with human hair from the tips of tree branches sometimes works for a week or so until the deer become accustomed to the scent. Unfortunately, your festooned trees will look ridiculous.

Dried blood or blood meal sprinkled around the garden border also works for a few days until the deer get used to the smell, but it must be reapplied after a heavy rain. Commercial rabbit repellents affect deer too. Spray the plants as soon as new spring growth begins and at weekly intervals throughout the season. But some deer get used to the smell and bitter taste of the fungicide thiram, the ingredient in the repellent, and will resume browsing. A fence around the garden is a more permanent solution, but it must be at least 8′ high and slant outward from the protected area at a 45° angle.

Yucca Plant is one of many deer resistant plants that grow in Montana
Yucca Plant

You may want to top it with another foot or two of electric fence, but this has the effect of turning your garden into a fortress and is exceedingly difficult to work pleasingly into the landscape.

Most of Montana is deer country and you’ll fight a battle you cannot win if you insist on planting species the deer love to eat. The best way to solve your deer problems is to plant things deer don’t prefer. There are many ornamental plants that will grow in our state that fall into this category. If you feel this limits your planting scheme intolerably, then place plants deer love to eat close to the house and those they don’t prefer farther out in the yard where the animals are more apt to wander.

Unfortunately, deer will even come onto front porches. Remember, no plant is safe if the deer are hungry enough.

The following is a list of deer resistant plants that generally grow well in our state and that deer will usually ignore if their natural food supply is sufficient.

Species is supplied where it is known, but many references list only the genus. In that case we’ve given the genus followed by “spp.,” the abbreviation for the plural of “species.” Some species of a particular genus will grow under our conditions; some will not.

For example, according to the USDA Hardiness Zone rating, Aquilegia canadensis, the American columbine, is a Zone 3 plant and will grow here but Aquilegia bertolonii, the Alpinerock Columbine, a Zone 6 plant, won’t. It’s up to you to plant only those perennial species that are adapted to Zones 2 and 3 in eastern Montana gardens, Zones 3 and 4 in central Montana gardens, and Zones 4 and 5 in western Montana gardens.

Partial List of Deer-resistant Garden Plants

Ground Covers

USDA ZoneBotanical NameCommon Name
4-8Ajuga reptansCarpet Bugle
2-7Convallaria majalisLily-of-the-Valley
3-8Lamium spp.Dead Nettle
5-9Pachysandra terminalisPachysandra
4-8Vinca minorPeriwinkle


4-7Acer platanoidesNorway Maple
3-9Acer saccharinumSilver Maple
2-6Betula papyriferaPaper Birch
2-6Betula pendulaEuropean White
4-6Crataegus spp.Hawthorn
4-9Gleditsia tricanthosHoney Locust
3-7Picea abiesNorway Spruce
2-6Picea glaucaWhite Spruce
3-7Picea pungensColorado Blue
3-7Pinus nigraAustrian Pine
3-7Pinus mugoMugo Pine
3-7Pinus sylvestrisScotch Pine
3-7Tsuga canadensisCanada Hemlock


USDA ZoneBotanical NameCommon Name
3-8Achillea spp.Yarrow
3-9Aquilegia spp.Columbine
4-9Astilbe spp.Astilbe
4-9Coreopsis spp.Tickseed
3-9Dianthus spp.Pinks
2-9Dicentra spp.Bleeding Heart
3-8Digitalis spp.Foxglove
3-8Echinacea spp.Purple Coneflower
4-8Epimedium spp.Epimedium
4-9Eupatorium purpureumJoe-Pye-Weed
4-8Geranium spp.Lilac Cranesbill
4-8Helianthus spp.Sunflower
4-9Helleborus spp.Hellebore
3-9Iberis spp.Candytuft
3-10Iris spp.Iris
5-9Lavandula spp.Lavender
3-9Liatris spicataSpike Gay-Feather
4-8Lychnis coronariaRose Campion
4-8Narcissus spp.Daffodil
3-8Pulmonaria spp.Lungwort
4-10Rudbeckia spp.Coneflower
2-8Solidago spp.Goldenrod
3-8Veronica spp.Speedwell


USDA ZoneBotanical NameCommon Name
3-8Celastrus spp.Bittersweet
3-8Clematis spp.Clematis
4-9Hedera helix ‘Baltica’Baltic Ivy
3-8Lonicera spp.Honeysuckle


2-6Amorpha canescensLead Plant
3-7Berberis KoreanaKorean Barberry
4-8Berberis thunbergiiJapanese Barberry
Sutherland Caragana
2-7Caragana arborescens ‘Lorbergi’Fernleaf Caragana
4Caragana aurantiacaPygmy Caragana
2-3Caragana frutexRussian Caragana
2-3Caragana frutex globosaDwarf Russian Caragana
2Caragana erincaeaMaximowicz Peashrub
2-7Cornus sericeaRed Osier Dogwood
3-6Eleagnus commutataSilverberry
Siberian Salt Tree
4-9Juniperus chinensisChinese Juniper
4-9Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetzii’Hetz Juniper

Shrubs Cont.

USDA ZoneBotanical NameCommon
2-6Juniperus communis ‘Vase Shape’Vase Common Juniper
4-9Juniperus horizontalis ‘Plumosa’Compact Andorra Juniper
4-9Juniperus horizontalis ‘Lividus’Lividus Creeping Juniper
3-7Juniperus sabina ‘Von Ehron’Von Ehron Savin Juniper
4-8Kolkwitzia amabilisBeautybush
3-8Lonicera spp.Honeysuckle
4-8Philadelphus spp.Mockorange
3-8Prunus americanaAmerican plum
2-6Prunus tenellaDwarf Russian Almond
3-7Rhamnus catharticaCommon Buckthorn
4-6Rhus trilobataFragrant Sumac
2-7Rosa rugosaRugose rose
3-7Rosa virginianaVirginia Rose
5-8Rosa wichuraianaMemorial Rose
2-6Sheperdia argenteaSilver Buffaloberry
3-8Spiraea spp.Bridalwreath
3-7Syringa villosaLate Lilac
3-7Syringa vulgarisCommon Lilac
3-8Viburnum opulusHighbush Cranberry
5-10Yucca spp.Yucca