There is nothing more disheartening than waking up one morning to discover that deer have devoured the beautiful plants in your butterfly garden. All the expense and work you put into your garden disappeared overnight.
Short of installing a nine-foot-tall fence, there are few sure cures for the problem, but planting things deer don’t prefer to eat will help. If deer are a problem in your area you will need to plant deer-resistant plants. Here are twelve plants that deer typically will pass by in your garden in favor of tastier treats down the road.
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) on Verbena on a Stick (Verbena bonariensis)
Verbena on a Stick (aka Tall Verbena)
Verbena bonariensis, zones 7-10
Verbena bonariensis can be grown from seed and blooms the first year. The tall stems are topped with clusters of rosy-purple flowers make it a wonderful addition to any garden. It’s a host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly. Verbena bonariensis is hardy in zones 7-10, and can be grown as a self-sowing annual in colder regions. It’s very vigorous and drought tolerant. Purchase seeds here.
Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea) is a butterfly magnet!
Echinacea purpurea, zones 3 to 9
This native wildflower is a must for every butterfly garden! Coneflower is easy to grow and provides masses of tall purple blooms. The daisy-like blooms of the coneflower will also attract bees and birds from miles around, and the hummingbirds love them too! Purple Coneflowers have long been known to be one of the most effective plants at helping to establish butterfly populations as well. Purchase plants here.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Liatris.
Blazing Star (aka Gay Flower)
Liatris spp., zones 4-9
These native prairie plants add beautiful spikes of color to the garden. This flower has an interesting blooming habit, as it blooms from the top down on the flower stalk rather than from the bottom up. This makes it a great choice for cut flowers. Blazing star is a favorite nectar crop for monarchs and many other butterflies and hummingbirds. Once the blooms are done, it makes a great snack for finches, too. Find Liatris bulbs here.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).
Agastache foeniculum, zones 4-10
Anise Hyssop has very showy flowers, fragrant foliage and seems to be of little interest to deer. It self-seeds readily and often blooms the first year. It’s a bee, hummingbird, and butterfly magnet and makes an excellent addition to herb gardens, borders, perennial gardens, and prairies. It’s heat and drought tolerant and blooms for weeks in late summer. Plus it’s a great cut flower. Find Anise Hyssop seeds here.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).
Joe Pye Weed
Eupatorium purpureum, zones 4 to 9
This tall, native perennial prefers moist soil where it can stretch up to 9 feet high. The clusters of pink-purple blooms smell faintly of vanilla. Joe Pye-weed blooms well into fall, bringing the season’s last butterflies to your yard. Find seeds here.
A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sipping nectar from Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma). By Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6691558
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Wild Bergamot, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69205264
Monarda didyma, Monarda fitulosa, Monarda punctata, Monarda citriodora, zones 4 to 9
Butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy its rich nectar of this native perennial. The tubular flowers are typically shades of red, purple, pink and white, and resemble small fireworks. They are late blooming, adding lots of color to the garden when other flowers have finished. Find plants here.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia).
Perovskia atriplicifolia, zones 4-9
Russian sage has fragrant foliage and attracts hummingbirds, honey bees, and butterflies. This is a tough plant that needs little care. This is a vigorous, hardy, heat-loving and drought tolerant plant that will fill the garden with lavender-purple flowers that bloom from summer until fall. Purchase plants here.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa).
Asclepias tuberosa, zones 3 to 9
Butterfly Weed is not only a host plant for Monarch butterflies, but the flowers it produces are also attractive to many other kinds of butterflies. This resilient plant is a must-have addition to any garden. It tolerates dry soil and prefers plenty of sunshine. Click here to purchase plants.
A Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) enjoys the bloom of Cosmos.
Cosmos spp., zones-5-11
Cosmos are easy to grow from seed and easy to maintain. They come in a variety of colors and are gorgeous to use a cut flower as well. I planted cosmos for the first time last summer in my garden and I was delighted how these delicate blooms attracted a variety of butterflies. Find Seeds here.
A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sipping nectar from a Black & Blue (Salvia guaranitica). Photo by Kathy Greene Jones. (Used with permission.)
Salvia leucantha, Salvia coccinea, Salvia guaranitica, Salvia greggii, Salvia azurea, Salvia elegans, zones 7 to 10
If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, plant salvia. While its fragrant foliage is not preferred by deer, all sorts of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are dazzled by its blooms which appear around early summer. There are many different salvia species are excellent for butterflies and hummingbirds. Most salvias are drought tolerant once established. Find seeds and plants here.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) “Miss Huff” Lantana.
Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’, zones 7-10 (annual in colder zones)
All lantanas are a wonderful addition to your pollinator garden, but my personal favorite is “Miss Huff”. It is the most cold hardy lantana known – established clumps have survived temperatures as low as 0°F. Pink, orange and yellow flowers bloom continuously from early summer to frost attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It is drought tolerant and does well in clay soils. Find seeds and plants here.
There are other strategies you can use to keep the deer at bay. One friend of mine uses a blast of water to scare the deer away when they come into her yard. She installed a motion activated water blaster. She says it has saved her flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds.
An ultrasonic animal repellent is a less-invasive way to deter deer and other critters from venturing into the garden.
Diaotec Ultrasonic Animal Repellent Solar Powered Waterproof Outdoor Animal Repeller Deterrent are highly rated at https://amzn.to/3ihtMNl
You can also apply proven deer repellents. Deer repellent products are effective in obstructing a deer’s sense of smell and taste. Deer Out is an ideal repellent to apply to your plants because they affect both senses. These repellents emit a scent that reminds deer of a decaying animal. This signals deer and other animals to vacate the yard. Additionally, the repellent tastes like garlic which makes it unappealing to deer.
Whatever you do to deter deer, don’t let the deer deter you from planting your garden for butterflies and hummingbirds!
Click here for a more comprehensive list of deer-resistant plants.