Top Five Deer Resistant Native Plants

Young deer peeking around a large, green bush it has been eating.

Deer Eating Shrub by Matt Buck

The Deer Do Not Care About Your Landscaping

We have a love/hate relationship with our deer here in Northern Michigan. When we first moved into our home in the woods, I would quietly tiptoe to the windows for a chance to snap an up close pic of our woodland friends. I soon learned that there was no need to be quiet, and in fact they couldn’t be scared away because they were too excited to be eating my flowers!

I quickly went from snapping pics to snapping the sliding door open and frantically yelling at the deer to stop munching on my flowers. This was wildly ineffective, and I would barely get a glance from the perpetrator. My approach was not working, and I needed to try something different.

Plant With The Deer In Mind

Our second summer season, I changed my tactic. The deer LOVED the flowers I had to offer. If I couldn’t scare them off, I had to offer them something less appealing. This is when my research on deer resistant plants started. 

Our home is near the woods, so keeping the deer out of our yard was simply not an option. It is necessary to deter the deer from your favorite plants. This can sometimes be done by planting other appealing plants in another location of your yard. 

Deer Can Eat Any Plant

To be clear, there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant. This is why we use the term ‘deer resistant’. When desperate, deer will eat just about any plant. Fortunately we have a lot of wild areas around our home that the deer are free to snack on, we just needed to protect our landscaped areas. 

I did not dig up all of my favorite flowers, but rather I built an unappealing border around them to deter the deer to another area of our yard. The following list contains some of the native staples that I’ve had success with!

Why Choose Native Plants?

Native plants offer numerous benefits to the ecosystems they inhabit. Native plants can do everything from providing essential food and habitat sources to local insects and wildlife, to attracting showy pollinators to your yard.

Native plants also happen to be very hardy and easy to care for. They have grown specifically to thrive in the conditions of your local region, which means they tend to require little upkeep and will live for a long time.

1. Bee Balm Monarda fistulosa

Bee Balm is a popular staple in native landscaping. Known for its knockout blooms perched atop an upright stem, Bee Balm is a hit with the pollinators! This beautiful flower prefers sun to part sun, and will typically grow 2.5-3’ in height. 

Bee Balm is a member of the mint family, which is precisely why the deer avoid it! If you crush the leaves of this plant, you’ll recognize the minty aroma that is left on your fingers. Rabbits and deer avoid this plant unless they cannot find anything else to eat!

Image of a lush section of bee balm flowers with green foliage and bright red blooms topping the plants.

Bee Balm by Joe Giordano

2. Nodding Wild Onion Allium cernuum

This plant is a fun variation of the classic allium flower that is common in midwestern flowerbeds. The nodding wild onion bloom is bent over at the very top, giving it the appearance of a nodding head. While this plant prefers full sun, it can tolerate some light shade. 

Growing in upright clumps surrounded by narrow pointy leaves, the foliage will smell like chives or onions when broken. Deer tend to avoid this strong fragrance, and will turn to other flower heads for a treat. 

Nodding Wild Onion by Joshua Mayer

3. Common Spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis

Sweet to look at, but bitter to taste! That’s what makes common spiderwort a beautiful addition to any Northern Michigan flower bed. Spiderwort prefers to have some shade throughout the day, but can handle partial sun.

Spiderwort will reward you with an abundance of small, baby blue blooms that can last 6-8 weeks. Deer cannot stand the bitter taste of spiderwort, and it is commonly the last remaining untouched plant in many gardens! This flower grows in round clumps that can reach 1.5-2.5’ tall.

Common Spiderwort by Joshua Mayer

4. Lady Fern Athyrium filix | Ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris​

Michigan is a native home to a large variety of ferns, most of which tend to be deer resistant! Ostrich Fern and Lady Fern are two popular varieties for adding green foliage to landscaping. Both of these fern types will grow 2-5’ tall, but will tend to stay under 3’ when grown in a smaller space. 

These ferns do not spread by bulbs, which make them less likely to be dug up by a hungry forager. Most ferns will thrive in shady areas, making them the perfect option for planting under the shade of a tree or roof overhang.

A closeup photo of a green lady fern plant, close enough to show each individual stem and leaf.

Lady Fern by Rockerboo

5. Purple Love Grass Eragrostis spectabilis

Ornamental grass is an underrated option when it comes to adding depth and texture to your landscaping. There are many native varieties of grasses to choose from in Northern Michigan, all of which are very easy to care for. 

Purple love grass is a favorite of mine because of the fuzzy purple haze that creates a crown around the top of the plant. This grass grows in small, circular clumps that look beautiful when planted in an outline around a flower bed. While deer do enjoy munching on the green grass of your lawn, they tend to avoid ornamental grasses due to a bitter taste and sometimes spiky heads!

Purple Love Grass by Linda N

One Stop Shop For Deer Resistant Plants

Bright Lane Gardens is a one-stop-shop for all of your planting needs. We offer a large selection of native plants, deer resistant plants, perennials, annuals, and vegetables! We also have a garden shop that is complete with soil, fertilizers, gardening accessories, and outdoor decor. 

If you’re not sure where to start, one of our gardening experts can help. We specialize in helping people find the right plants for their yard. Whether you’re starting from scratch or just replacing an old plant, we’re here to help! Reach out on our ‘contact us’ page with any questions you might have as we prepare for Spring 2023.