Friday, October 23, 2009

Western Montana deer resistant native plants

“What can I plant that the deer won’t eat?”
I am commonly asked this question, and I usually try to avoid the topic. Typically when I give talks about wildlife gardening and native plant landscaping, I structure the talks to town-dwellers with urban-ish lots who are looking to turn their little corner of the world into a wildlife heaven. I encourage gardening with nature and with wildlife, not against them.

Inevitably though I am asked how to keep deer and other animals out. Since our own house and garden is right in the middle of town, we don’t have “problems” with deer or visits from bears like many of the residents in Missoula that live adjacent to the forests and hills around town. Frankly,I get pretty annoyed by people who want to keep deer and the other wildlife out of their yards. After all, it is usually the wildlife, and the remoteness of their home that attracted them to the area. Too often though development along the wildland-urban interface leads to struggles with how to exclude wildlife, deal with wildfire and so on. Here in Missoula, the cost of solving these problems ends up being paid by all taxpayers. Living on the urban fringe and working to exclude nature is antithetical to responsible, sustainable living- it is better to live in town, close to services, and let the wildlife and their habitat be. This crap pisses me off.
But, I digress. So as a result, I have not wanted to go there with the question “what can I plant that deer won’t eat”.

Despite my reluctance to broach this topic, I understand the value of learning about deer resistant plants. As deer move further into urban areas, like in Helena or Missoula, deer are longer a problem for the wealthy or those on the urban-wildland interface. So having information for homeowners is a good idea, despite my previous philosophical objections.
After searching through a number of sources, cross referencing recommendations, and based on my observations, I have complied a list of native deer resistant plants. I was amazed by the diversity of plants and how, in general, I have already been preaching the use of these plants. Most of my favorite native landscaping plants are deer resistant. Notable exceptions include quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis).

The two photos in this post occur elsewhere on my blog (I just used them in a post recently) and are not really special but they illustrate how many common native plants are deer resistant. In the photo above of our front yard, bluebunch wheat grass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), blanket flower (Gaillardia arristata), nodding onion (Allium cernuum), blue flax (Linum lewisii), and shaggy fleabane (Erigeron pumilis), dominate the view and these are all deer resistant. Similarly, in the photo below, the flowers in bloom are goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis), showy milkweed (Aescepias speciosa), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosis) and three-nerve fleabane (Erigeron subtrinervis), again deer resistant.

This list is by no means comprehensive- that is, there are plenty more species and genera that are deer resistant, but this is a good start and covers many of the common (in nature and in commerce) species or genera.


  1. Well, that's helpful, I guess. I don't really have a problem with deer, though.

    I don't suppose that while you're at it, you could suggest a water hose that squirrels won't eat?


  2. Hi Susan,
    Let's just say my suggestions for squirrels never end too well for the squirrel.

  3. It is so strange for me that somewhere deer can be like enemies!