There's nothing worse than walking outside and finding your lovingly tended garden looking like a well-pillaged buffet table. Deer, rabbits and squirrels are often prime suspects in these crimes against your green-thumb efforts. Planting flowers and other plants that these critters just don't like can help keep them at bay.
Plants That Deter Deer
Deer are browsers, and when they nibble on plants they leave behind torn stems and leaves. The following plants deter deer most of the time. If vegetation is scarce or the local deer population is substantial, they will sometimes eat plants they consider unpalatable.
- Deer are not fond of plants that have strong fragrances, including many herbs. Options include rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), which thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10, and common sage (Salvia officinalis), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
- Some flowering plants are also considered distasteful, such as pot marigold (Calendula officianalis), found in all USDA hardiness zones, and French marigold (Tagetes patula), found in USDA zones 2 through 11.
- Plants that contain thorns, such as American holly (Ilex opaca, USDA zones 5 through 9) deter deer, as do plants that contain caustic sap, such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate), grown in USDA zones 3 through 6).
The sap from milkweed can also irritate human skin and can be harmful to the eyes. When working around this plant, wear gloves, safety goggles, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes. Milkweed can also be toxic if ingested.
Plants That Discourage Rabbits and Ground Squirrels
Rabbits and ground squirrels feed mostly at ground level, which puts many of your plants on the menu. Add to your garden some plants these animals tend to avoid. As with deer, if food is scarce, rabbits and ground squirrels will eat what's available.
- Rabbits and squirrels tend to stay away from plants with thorns, such as creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens), hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8.
- Like deer, they also avoid plants with strong scents, including sagebrush (Cotoneaster acutifolius), found in USDA zones 4 to 7, and chives (Allium schoenoprasum), grown in USDA zones 4 to 8.
- Shrubs that are usually off the menu include golden or clove current (Ribes aureum), USDA zones 4 through 8, and cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius), USDA zones 4 through 7.
- Most spring bulbs are quickly devoured, but both animals are repelled by daffodils (Narcissus spp.), hardy in USDA zones 3b to 10.