Wildlife use vegetation for a number of reasons: food, water, protection, physical and territorial behavior. A deer’s diet includes foliage, fruit (acorns), flowers and flower buds, but not necessarily all on the same plant, while young stags use the bark of small trees to “rub the velvet from their antlers and mark their area.” (Appleton, 2008) Deer like to eat plants that are young, easily accessible, over-fertilized, overwatered, pruned often, and have new growth. Deer do not like to eat plants that are odoriferous, have either grayish, leathery, or thorny foliage, or have foliage that has milky or sticky sap.
Reducing landscape damage by deer needs to be a community-wide effort. Feeding deer will only lessen their natural fear of humans and encourages them to encroach on residential areas. There are several options to keeping deer off your property. Installing seven-foot fencing will reduce chances that deer will jump onto property. Using chemical repellents are not always effective and can be expensive, foul-smelling, and need to be applied before plants are eaten and on a continuous basis.
There are no deer-proof plants. Deer eat a wide variety of flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, but some plants are less desirable than others. Plants normally consumed by deer in the South may not be eaten by deer in northern states and inversely, with deer-damaged plant species in the North; they may not be eaten by deer in the southern states. During years with high deer population, severe weather conditions such as droughts or flooding that lessen vegetation or eradicate their usual diet, deer will eat plants not normally browsed on. Also, deer will become used to unfamiliar plant species, (like loropetalums) and graze on vegetation that for seasons were previously left uneaten.
The suggested plants are not guaranteed to be deer-proof but have been shown to be not severely affected by grazing, and should recover. Plants should be selected first by soil and sunlight conditions and then reviewed for favorability by deer. The plant options are compiled from several older lists (1999) and updated to include newer plant species grown in Zones 8 – 11. Protect new, smaller shrubs/trees for first few years with fencing or tree shelters.
Suggested Central Florida Plants Least Preferred By Deer
References and resources:
Deer in the Urban Landscape - Texas A & M
Deer Resistant Plants - Proven Winners
Deer-Resistant Landscaping - Iowa City Government
Deer Resistant Species - Native Plant Information Network, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Ornamental plant susceptibility to damage by deer - University of Florida
Landscape Plants Rated By Deer Resistance - Rutgers University
Deer and Rabbit Resistance - University of Arizona
Northern Gardening Web - Deer Resistant Plants