two deer in a field

White-tailed deer. Photo: James R. Holland,

Updated: April 16, 2024

Many people have had unfortunate experiences as a result of white-tailed deer overpopulation. Lyme disease, vehicle collision, and crop loss are examples. Deer can also cause significant landscape damage. Deer resistant vegetation is a key to successful gardening in modern Maryland, but lists of what plants are deer resistant vary so much they are sometimes in direct contradiction with one another. This is because deer food preferences vary depending on what else is available to eat at any particular time and location. When their favorite foods are gone, they will eat whatever remains, even toxic plants such as milkweed. Keeping in mind that under current population pressure no plant species is truly deer proof, these are our recommendations for deer resistant native plants:

Grasses, sedges, and rushes

blue sedge, Carex glaucodea
Pennsylvania sedge, Carex pensylvanica
tussock sedge, Carex stricta
Indian woodoats, Chasmanthium latifolium
slender woodoats, Chasmanthium laxum
wavy hairgrass, Deschampsia flexuosa
bottlebrush, Elymus hystrix
Virginia wildrye, Elymus virginicus
soft rush, Juncus effusus
coastal panicgrass, Panicum amarum (Coastal Plain ecoregions only)
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans

Other herbaceous plants

yarrow, Achillea millefolium
maindenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum
white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima
nodding onion, Allium cernuum (Piedmont and Mountain ecoregions only)
bushy beardgrass, Andropogon glomeratus
splitbeard bluestem, Andropogon ternarius
broomsedge, Andropogon virginicus
plantain-leaved, pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia
wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
wild ginger, Asarum canadense
milkweeds (common, butterfly, swamp), Asclepias species
lady fern, Athyrium felix-femina
green and gold, Chrysogonum virginianum
whorled coreopsis, Coreopsis verticillata
eastern hayscented fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula
wood fern, Dryopteris marginalis
squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis
purple lovegrass, Eragrostis spectabilis
flowering spurge, Euphorbia corollate
white wood aster, Eurybia divaricata
American alumroot, Heuchera americana
harlequin blueflag, Iris versicolor
great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica
ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris (Western Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountain ecoregions only)
Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica
scarlet bergamot, Monarda didyma (Mountain ecoregions only)
wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
spotted mint, Monarda punctata
sensitive fern, Onoclea sensibilis
prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa
cinnamon fern, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
golden groundsel, Packera aurea
May apple, Podophyllum peltatum
Greek valerian, Polemonium reptans
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
common cinquefoil, Potentilla simplex
western brackenfern, Pteridium aquilinum
clustered mountainmint, Pycnanthemum muticum
narrow-leaf mountainmint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
eastern coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida
black-eyed susan, Rudbeckia hirta
cut-leaved conefolower, Rudbeckia laciniata
brown-eyed susan, Rudbeckia triloba
lyre-leaved sage, Salvia lyrata
bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
narrowleaf blue-eyed grass, Sisyrhinchium angustifolium
early goldenrod, Solidago juncea
gray goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis
wrinkleleaf goldenrod, Solidago rugosa
white panicle aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum (does well despite grazing)
American germander, Teucrium canadense
rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides
New York fern, Thelypteris noveboracensis
heart-leaved foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia
red trillium, Trillium erectum (Piedmont and Mountain ecoregions only)
sessile trillium, Trillium sessile (Western Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountain ecoregions only)
New York ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis
yucca, Yucca filamentosa 

Woody plants

devil's walkingstick, Aralia spinosa
paw paw, Asimina triloba
sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia (Coastal Plain ecoregions only)
sweet fern, Comptonia peregrina
red cedar, Juniperus virginiana
American holly, Ilex opaca
spicebush, Lindera benzoin
sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua (Coastal Plain ecoregions only)
sweet bay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
wax myrtle, Morella cerifera
red chokeberry, Photinia arbutifolia
pitch pine, Pinus rigida
winged sumac, Rhus copalinum
black elderberry, Sambucus canadensis
black haw, Viburnum prunifolium

Note: Woody plants that are not browsed can still be killed by buck rubs.

Eastern red cedar tree

Although red cedar (above) is deer resistant, when deer are overpopulated they will eat the lower twigs, leaving this rather characteristic tree silhouette.

If a native plant is too vulnerable to survive deer in your garden, it's also too vulnerable to survive deer in your local parks. Although Maryland has hundreds of thousands of acres of natural areas in which native plants could thrive, species susceptible to deer are literally being eaten into oblivion. As we lose these plant species, we also lose the pollinators, insects, and songbirds that depend upon them. The only true solution to deer resistant gardening, or to the conservation of native vegetation in natural areas, is to bring the deer population back down to sustainable levels.

Deer favorites

Some native plant species are favorite food sources for white tailed deer. As a result,
they are disappearing from natural areas. Examples include:

  • white turtlehead, Chelone glabra, the host plant for our state butterfly

  • turk's cap lily, Lillium superbum

  • Solomon's plume, Maianthemum racemosum

  • all orchids, for example the lady's slippers

  • ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius

  • smooth Solomon's seal, Polygonatum biflorum var. biflorum

  • pinxter azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides

  • smooth blue aster, Symphyotrichum laeve

By Dr. Sara Tangren, former Sr. Agent Associate, University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center,  May 2019.

Additional resource

Deer-Resistant Plants | Maryland Department of Natural Resources