Plants to Deter Deer & Rabbits

Cute as deer and rabbits are, many gardeners find them to be pests. They are herbivores, after all, and have a tendency to eat our carefully tended gardens. While no plant is completely deer- or rabbit-proof, you can hedge your bets and grow varieties of plants and flowers that they generally dislike.

Herbs & Strong-Smelling Plants

Both deer and rabbits avoid fragrant plants. If you’ve been thinking about planting an herb garden, this is the perfect excuse! Neither animal will nibble mint plants, so if you’re up for some fragrant, fast-growing, easily spreading greenery that you can also eat, you may want to try growing spearmint or catmint (also known as catnip—it may attract the neighborhood cats, but their scent will also keep rabbits away!). They’ll also avoid basil, which means you can look forward to pesto later in the season. Deer especially have an aversion to many herbs, so if it’s deer you’re looking to deter, you could also try planting sage, tarragon, lemon balm, bee balm, chives, and lavender.

a bed of chive plants

Oddly enough, rabbits will also not eat the tomatoes and peppers growing in your garden. Though the fruits these plants produce is tasty to us, rabbits’ delicate noses dislike their scents. Peppers also contain capsaicin, which humans have evolved to eat and enjoy but most animals will not ingest. In fact, another deterrent method for mammalian pests is to create a homemade spray for your garden that includes cayenne pepper. Your pets will likely turn up their noses at it, too, but if they tend to eat things outdoors they shouldn’t, keep an eye on them.

Poisonous Plants

It should come as no surprise that rabbits and deer generally won’t eat plants that will cause distress or kill them. If you’re looking for pops of color in your garden that the deer won’t bother with, try daffodils or foxglove. You could also grow just about any variety of poppies, which both deer and rabbits will avoid. If non-flowering plants are more up your alley, rabbits dislike milkweed and wormwood. Milkweed is also great for monarch butterflies, and a perfect choice if you’re trying to attract pollinators to your garden.

Note: Many of these plants are also toxic to housepets and children, as well, so do your research. If you’re concerned about inquisitive pets and family members, perhaps avoid these plantings altogether.

Annuals

Luckily for people who love flower gardens, deer and rabbits dislike many popular annuals. Even better, many of these flowers come in a variety of colors, so you can choose plants that really complement your landscape with less risk of them mysteriously disappearing.

If ground cover is what you’re after, both animals dislike sweet alyssum. For something just a little taller, marigolds are a common go-to for many gardeners (though they do seem to be a little more hit-or-miss than some of the other choices here), and are sometimes planted around the edges of a vegetable garden in hopes of warding off deer and rabbits. If you’re looking for plants with more height, try snapdragons or salvia. Rabbits also dislike geraniums, but deer think they’re delicious, so plant only if you’re willing to take that chance. Deer do, however, generally avoid bachelor buttons, zinnias, and peonies. Whatever your preference for annuals, you’re sure to find something the local herbivores will avoid.

marigolds

Perennials

If you’d rather not buy new plants every year, there are plenty of lovely perennials that deer and rabbits don’t like to snack on.

The flower-loving gardener doesn’t have to stick only to annuals! Deer will avoid eating many types of flowering perennials. To start, they hate bleeding hearts, so if you have a shade garden, these might be a great choice. Other flowering plants they’ll avoid include coneflowers, irises, yarrow, jack-in-the-pulpits, asters, lily of the valley, and butterfly bushes (like milkweed, this is also a great plant for butterflies). They also dislike many types of evergreens, including barberry, boxwood, and juniper. They do enjoy munching on other types of evergreens, including yew, so be sure of what you’re getting!

Rabbits also dislike snacking on juniper bushes, so if both animals are a problem in your area, these may be a good shrub for your gardens. They will also avoid vinca and lilac bushes, giving you one more option for ground cover and one more for a hedgerow. Lilacs are also quite strong-smelling in the spring, which may deter deer as well.

Other deterrents

When it comes to keeping deer and rabbits away from your garden, you don’t only have to rely on plants they’re less likely to snack on. If you’re set on growing hostas, pansies, petunias (all of which are a deer buffet) or fruits and vegetables, there are some methods you can try to keep animals away.

Fencing is a popular option to keep animals out of gardens, particularly vegetable gardens. After all, you’re not the only one who wants a tasty carrot or fresh pea pods. Chicken-wire fences work best to keep rabbits out—picket fences look nicer, but rabbits will simply slip through the slats. Make sure the fence is high enough that deer won’t jump over it, and bury it into the ground at least six inches to deter rabbits from digging under it.

Another option is to place decorations like spinners in your gardens. These will catch the breeze and start moving, and if they’re coated in a reflective material, light from the moon or headlights will bounce off, startling animals. On a similar note, you could hang wind chimes. Not only do they sound lovely in the breeze, but the noise could act as a deterrent for skittish deer. Some people also install motion-activated sprinklers. The burst of water is harmless, and will frighten deer and rabbits away.

vegetable garden surrounded by fencing

More Resources

If you’re looking for more resources on keeping deer and rabbits out of your gardens, check out these great guides at the Farmer’s Almanac and Garden Design. We also wrote a post back in 2015 about keeping deer away, which has a few more ideas to try out. Finally, if you’re looking to incorporate more garden beds into your landscaping, we’d love to help. Give us a call at 763-568-7251 or use our quick quote system to get in touch.