Deer are voracious plant eaters, and if you have a herd roaming near your property, you want to know which plants are deer attracted to.
In fact, these herbivores have preferences, and if you grow flowers or vegetables that are on top of their menu, they can utterly destroy them overnight.
Plantain lilies, daylilies, pansies and even roses are really at risk, as are lettuce, beans and cabbage. But which ones are the all time deer favorite food?
Deer will eagerly eat most plants, but they prefer tender and broad leaved species without a strong smell or fuzzy leaves or petals. These can be divided into flowers, shrubs, climbers or vines and finally vegetables for your gardening needs and convenience.
Make sure you know which plants are visiting deer’s favorite targets, and check out our category lists and guidelines, so won’t get any nasty surprises.
And there are good reasons why our horned herbivores love these plants more than others – let’s talk about them…
The Characteristics Of Plants That Deer Love To Eat
Whether it’s small flowers, shrubs or vegetables, what constitutes “delicious food for deer” has some key characteristics.
This guide will help you identify species and varieties at risk that are not included in our list, like rarer plants or local ones.
Let’s see each in turn.
1: Deer Love to Eat Soft Foliage, Stems and Flowers
One quality that deer really appreciate is the softness and tenderness of leaves, blooms and even stems. Plantain lilies and lettuce for example are top of the list for this reason.
Hey, we too love tender green leaves, there is no reason why our horned protagonists should feel otherwise.
This also means that deer will prefer younger plants and shoots. If you have roses you will have noticed this: they leave the older branches, canes and leaves alone, and they concentrate on buds and fresh growth.
Deer can spell disaster for tender and short lived plants, like spinach or impatiens in fact. They can literally and totally destroy your crop or flower bed leaving barren soil…
They will also uproot small plants, even if they don’t eat the roots… It’s that pulling with their teeth that causes it.
2: Deer Love to Eat Plants with Broadleaf Foliage and Flowers
Deer like large, flat and in fact broad leaves and petals. They don’t like needle shaped foliage, they don’t like thinly segmented leaves (like with chervil or fennel, or marigolds).
Similarly they don’t like thin and ling petals, so asters are not their favorites. But cabbage, lettuce and flowers with broad petals are a delicacy to them. Azaleas and roses, for example fall into this category.
3: Deer Attracted to The Plants with a Soft or Sweet Smell
Deer don’t like plants that have a particularly strong smell, especially if it is aromatic and medicinal. Lavender, mint and musky geraniums are off the menu for them.
They prefer flowers with a light fragrance, or a soft one. In fact they will prefer roses without a strong aroma and they will always prefer the buds to the open flowers.
With vegetables, their “smell preferences” is strange for us. They will avoid onions and garlic, actually they detest them.
They don’t like aniseed odors, like that if fennel. But they will eat cabbage, which has a fairly strong but sweet smell.
4: Deer Love to Eat Sweet Tasting Plants
Some plants have a sweet flavor, others are bitter and on this scale, deer will always prefer the first. Anything with a bitter or medicinal flavor is disgusting to them.
So, did you know that you can add impatiens flowers to your salad? Do you know why? They are very sweet. And this is why they are on our list…
5: Deer Love to Eat Plants with Smooth Foliage, Stems and Flowers
Put simply, deer don’t like fuzziness. They find plants like lamb’s ears, hairy geraniums, zucchini leaves, borage etc. annoying to their tongue and palate.
But compare them with the soft and smooth leaves of peas, of chard, and of plantain lily or English ivy and you see that their soft and smooth texture is perfect for our herbivorous friends.
You see, deer have very particular taste and preferences. Having said this, they can adapt to food they don’t like in case of need and hunger.
But if your plants have these characteristics, make sure you protect them – and especially if you grow any of the plants in the list that follows!
Flowers That Deer Love To Eat
If your flower bed has flowers like pansies, plantain lilies or daylilies, it will look like a buffet restaurant to deer, one of those “eat as much as you can” diners, to be clear.
They can literally destroy your bed or border and spoil all your green efforts overnight. And top of their favorites are…
1: Plantain Lily (Hosta spp.)
Plantain lily is a perennial with lovely green broad, oval, soft and juicy leaves and in fact it’s one of deer’s favorite meals! They will keep producing fresh leaves all the time too.
These beautiful, tender and green small plants that love a spot of shade are wonderful as underbrush, and they bring that touch of light green freshness in gardens under trees.
There are variegated varieties with leaves of different shades too, including cream yellow and dark green. They also produce lovely blooms, usually white but sometimes on the lilac scale.
Unfortunately many animals love juicy Hostas, not just our cervine friends. Slugs, snails, and all herbivores and all herbivores are literally attracted by these little plants.
All gardeners know that growing them means protecting them all the time. But if you can, they are worth it, and here are a few tips for you…
2: Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
Daylily is a massive bloomer with lovely, long and tender green leaves, loads of them… And this makes them very attractive to deer, who will eat all of the plant if they are given a chance.
The plant is perennial, but it keeps producing fresh foliage and the lily shaped and super showy flowers only last one day. So… always fresh for visiting stags, does and fawns.
The range of colors of daylilies is impressive, from bright yellow to dark purple (or both, like in ‘American Revolution’) and they are very easy plants to grow, they naturalize fast and they are strong and generous with their blooms.
For this reason they are even better than real lilies if you have little time to dedicate to your borders and beds. But do beware… if you see horns in the horizon, they are most likely thinking, “Yum, yum, juicy daylilies for dinner?”
3: Pansies, Violas and Violets (Viola spp.)
plant… They are soft, broad leaved, sweet and in fact violet flowers are even used in salads and to make sweets for us Humans. They too are perennials but grow new foliage from spring to fall.
Deer can literally destroy them, uprooting them and leaving a sad brown latch instead of the many colors of these beautiful flowers.
The range is huge, from large flowers to small ones, and while violets tend to stay in the white to purple range, pansies can literally be of any color and color combination.
They are a favorite for flower beds but also pots and containers, and the wilder species like sweet white violet (Viola blanda) and field pansy (Viola bicolor) can naturalize easily.
4: Dahlia (Dahlia spp.)
Dahlia is a wonderful late bloomer which unfortunately has soft and smooth stems, foliage and even flowers. And, you guessed, deer will feat on them! There is no part of this beautiful flower that they won’t eat – except the roots and tubers.
But they can uproot them and cause havoc anyway. They will prefer pompon and ball flowers like ‘Andrea Lawson’ to cactus and semi cactus flowers, like ‘Apache’.
The color range of dahlias is known for its warm, sensual, end of season and passionate shades, like reds, maroons, purples, flaming oranges etc.
They are a great presence in garden in late summer and fall, but deer won’t miss their showy flowers and lush foliage from a distance, and they may actually attract them to your garden.
5: Tulip (Tulipa spp.)
Growing tulips where deer live is a constant fight; these animals love the tender foliage, stems and leaves of of this famous bulbous plant, as well as others. In doing so, they may uproot the bulbs themselves and even if they don’t, these will be weakened enormously and they may die later on.
In fact, tulips are not capable of sending off another shoot till the spring after, but they will miss out on a whole year of feeding!
There are so many varieties of this super famous flower, with a huge palette that goes from white to “black” (dark purple, and yes, this color is unstable), and shapes, from star shaped to round, cupped, single and double. They are excellent for flower beds, but make sure that the local herd cannot get to them.
Other Flowers That Deer Love to Eat
These are the top 5, but deer will eat many other flowers: impatiens, rose mallow, lilyturf, crocus, snowdrops, cosmos, sunflower and gerbera are all very high up on their menu. So be aware!
But now on to shrubs, and many are flowering ones…
Shrubs That Deer Deer Like to Eat
Shrubs are not safe from deer either; and many of the flowering ones are also their favorites, but for very different reasons from yours.
You may think that the shrub hedge at the end of your garden is a barrier against them, and instead it becomes their breakfast! Here are the shrubs that are really, really at risk…
6: Rose (Rosa spp.)
The thorns of roses are no obstacle to hungry deer! They are hard and painful when they are old, but you know that fresh thorns are soft, and our horned friends can eat them quite easily.
These animals won’t destroy a whole rose shrub, but they will eat away at fresh and new shoots – yes, just where the flowers grow!
Rose shrubs (and climbers) will survive a deer “attack”, but they can be wakened and you may end up losing a whole bloom and lots of foliage…
Finally, beware of where the deer have torn off shoots; you will have to prune it with a sterile blade and with a neat cut, or they can become entry points for infections and pathogens!
So, unfortunately, if you want a deer proof hedge, the most loved flower in the world isn’t actually the best choice.
7: Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
The broad, soft and sweet leaves of hydrangea are a real delicacy for deer. So are the large inflorescences, no matter what color you choose, and even some of the tender stalks.
Yet again, these large plants will survive deer eating off them, but the damage can be substantial, especially in aesthetic terms.
There are many varieties of this beautiful and easy to grow shrub, with blooms that range from white to purple, and the tender pastel shades in between are very famous indeed.
It is a very herbaceous bush which looks great in informal gardens, though it has had its place in formal, even Italianate style ones. Unfortunately, this quality is also what makes it appetizing to uninvited dinner guests.
8: Azalea and Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)
Azaleas are small rhododendrons botanically speaking, and deer know that both make very good, nutritious food for them! These horned herbivores will eat leaves and flowers alike, and they can really make a mess of these blooming shrubs.
Once more, the risk is not to the life of the plant, but to its beauty and, with azaleas especially, to their health.
Rhododendrons and azaleas also adapt well to fresh regions and countryside settings, or large parks, and these are just the natural habitat of herds of deer.
But it’s hard to resist the temptation of these massive bloomers, in all colors from white to purple via pink, orange and red… Just make sure no hungry doe, fawn or stag can get to them…
9: Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)
Large smooth flowers and equally broad and soft leaves make hibiscus an ideal meal for deer. They prefer the leaves, especially the fresh ones, but they will also have a bite at the blooms!
These shrubs of exotic origin have impressive blooms and rich foliage, and they can be trained into small trees.
In any case, a herd of deer can make them look like barren branches with few green bits left if only they catch sight of them. And this can happen overnight!
Some hibiscus only grow in warm regions, and these are the most showy ones, with big and bright colors; those known as “rose of Sharon” adapt well to temperate regions, urban and private parks, where deer are a frequent presence. So, on guard!
Other Shrubs that Deer Love to Eat
There are lots of shrubs and even small trees that deer like to eat besides these. Japanese maple, apples, hazelnuts, hawthorn, beautyberry and blackberries are all easy targets for our horned friends.
Climbers and Vines That Deer Love To Eat
You may even have a fence with lovely vines like morning glory or clematis on them, and deer are a problem.
They do eat a lot of our most loved climbers and vibes, no matter if they find them on a gazebo, pergola, trellis… They are all free food for them! And here are their all rime favorites.
10: Morning Glory (Convolvulus spp. and Ipomoena spp.)
The beautiful, soft, bell shaped flowers and heart shaped leaves of morning glory and not immune from deer. In fact they love them! These tender plants offer easy to chew food for them, including the thin and easy to snap vines.
A single deer can virtually destroy a whole plant in a matter of minutes. It can raze it to the soil, but it will sprout again from the hard to tear roots. But you will have lost a whole season.
The most common varieties are lilac blue, but morning glories stretch over two genera, with white, blue and purple flowers too.
All are easy to grow and very vigorous, but this means that they keep producing new growth. And you know who loves this type of food…
11: Clematis (Clematis spp.)
Clematis are very showy climbers with large green leaves and super colorful flowers, some reaching 8 inches across (20 cm); so you won’t be hiding them from hungry deer very easily. And they love them!
These vigorous plants have all the elements that our protagonists love, and they can eat great part of a plant in a short time.
They are very unlikely to kill it though, but you will have to wait at least a year to have your gazebo or fence in bloom again!
The colors of clematis are wonderful, especially in the white to purple range, with beautiful blues, pinks and lilacs in between.
They are a favorite vibe with gardeners all over the world, fairly low maintenance and adaptable to temperate climates. Nd they are also a favorite with hungry horned herbivores..
12: English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Deer love the soft, smooth green leaves of English ivy, one of the most famous climbers in the world. They will also eat the younger vines.
However, they will not bother with the hard and woody, unpleasant and ropey old vines, but the foliage stands no chance of survival if a herd of our friends walks by, or even just an individual.
Add that the plant has no roots and they will rip it off its support, and you can see what damage they can cause, even if you grow this amazing perennial as a creeper…
Yet again you can choose among a wide range of varieties, from the classical emerald green with black stems variety, to the dark green with cream edges ‘Anne Marie’ and the green and yellow ‘Goldchild’ and other cultivars. No worry; deer love them all!
13: Grape Vine (Vitis spp.)
There are fruiting grape vines and decorative ones, and all are delicious to deer. The leaves are crunchy and nutritious, and the young vines are easy to snap and chew.
The damage a herd can do to a vineyard is huge, and it can mean serious financial loss. If this is what you have (in mind), your best choice is to fence it off, as many professionals do. I forgot, they also love the grapes themselves!
Red grapes, white grapes and decorative varieties are all available, and growing them is an art; like making wine, at least good wine.
This plant has been a companion of Humanity for thousand of years, and deer have been with us, and with Vitis, all along… It looks like they have taken a liking to it…
Other Climbers and Vines that Deer Love to Eat
Apart from these, do keep an eye on passion fruit, kiwi and many fuchsia varieties. Lesser known and local climbers too can become food for these animals. You know which characteristics to look out for, so, keep checking.
Vegetables That Deer Prefer To Eat
Deer love to eat many of the vegetables we too like to have on our plates, but not all. There are some notable exceptions, like onions, garlic, pumpkin and other common ones.
However, you cannot simply grow deer resistant food crops; if you have any of the vegetables below, you’d better fence off your vegetable patch.
Lettuce is leafy, fresh, broad leaf and sweet tasting vegetable that has all the characteristics that deer love. And in fact they will eat it whole and with gusto, like we do.
They prefer sweet types, like round lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, iceberg or endive, but they will also eat bitter types like radicchio and chicory, if they are hungry.
The damage deer can cause is serous; be ready to lose a whole crop overnight if one of these animals or a herd gets to it.
Considering that round lettuce is a world favorite, and that it is also our hungry herbivore’s first choice, we can name it the “leafy green” that these animals love most. If you want to grow it because you can keep it safe, here are some tips.
Spinach is yet another sweet tasting, soft and smooth leafy green that deer really love to eat. They will focus on the leaves but they may uproot some whole plants too.
Spinach can give repeat crops, so you may not be as unlucky as with lettuce. But the damage, with hoof marks and all can be so bad that maybe you are bette off replanting it – if you are in time.
There are a few varieties of spinach too; all are delicious to our leaf eaters, so, whichever you choose, make sure that they will end up on your plate, not theirs!
Beans are fresh, soft, green climbers with lots of crunchy and sweet tasting leaves, so deer really love them and they will feast in them.
Like spinach and lettuce, beans actually attract does, stags and fawns to your land. The damage can be so bad that you will have no healthy, usable plants at all after they have chosen your garden as a “free diner”.
Also beans come in a large range of varieties, from broad beans to red kidney beans, but none stands a chance if there is a herd of our animals around. You know what you need to do!
Peas are even sweeter, softer, easier to eat than beans, and very nutritious to us as well as to deer – and they know it.
Even Humans can eat a pea fresh from the pod, so horned herbivores will literally eat leaf, pods, beans, flowers and vines! Again, after a visit, you may have almost nothing left and your crop could disappear completely.
Peas too have different varieties, like English peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas, and unfortunately – you guessed – all attract deer. For them, they are really high up the list of delicious food!
Cabbage has broad sweet leaves, and they are quite crunchy as well as packed with nutrients, and deer will literally devour them. Unlike other vegetables, they have a strong smell which many people don’t like, but deer don’t mind it at all.
Once a deer plants its teeth in a cabbage, you can’t save the plant. You will be left with a short stalk, and even if you don’t your crop is gone…
Green cabbage, red cabbage, Savoy cabbage, napa cabbage, bok choy and Brussels sprouts are the most common varieties and, bad luck again, all on the menu of horned intruders… be very careful because these are winter crops, and deer may be shirt of food at this time.
Broccoli is a winter brassica packed with loads of nutrients; deer find it easy to bite into it, because it is crunchy, despite its tough and hard appearance.
The florets snap off very easily, and our protagonists feast in them, on the leaves, and even on the stalks.
Once again, an individual or a herd getting into your vegetable garden will leave you nothing to eat when it comes to broccoli.
Broccoli is very much at risk like cabbages because it grows when food is scarce for deer in many areas. And hungry deer become very persistent, ingenious and resourceful.
Make sure your barriers are strong and dense; you will be amazed at what these animals can do in the cold season…
You cannot tempt a deer with the big, broad, soft, sweet and juicy leaves of beats and expect it to resist. These plants too fall into the perfect food category for our hoofed friends;
they too will positively attract them to your garden. And if they manage to get in, they will spell disaster for your crop.
While most people think of beets simply as root vegetables, the leaves are actually fantastic food, super sweet when cooked, and with a wonderful texture, packed with nutrients. Deer, of course, will eat the raw, so keep them iff your land!
Other Vegetables that Deer Love to Eat
Our herbivorous friends will also eat other greens in our garden, like okra, sweet corn, sweet potatoes and carrot tops. Not the roots of carrots… But then how can you pull them out of the ground?
plants and deer
Keep in mind that in many cases, when you look at a plant, you think, “How beautiful!” while a deer most likely goes, “Yummy!”
We have seen the ultimate list of plants that deer love to eat, so you have a good and reliable reference.
If you are in doubt on how to protect them, check out our articles on how to to it, there are many tricks we want to share with you!
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.