• Tried and true deer-resistant plants for the Sierra Foothills

    Deer resistant plants for a California garden

    When food sources dwindle for deer in late summer and Fall, they will eat to survive, but, these plants have deterred deer in the “test garden” here in Oakhurst-Yosemite area for the last five years. Some gardeners, like me, would rather have the deer strolling through than become attached to any plants, but you will be delighted to know that it is possible to have both!


    New mountain area gardeners may become discouraged when their neighbors shake their heads and say, “Oh, I can’t grow anything, but the deer eat it!” Don’t be discouraged, just try these:

    (Hint- Look up any unfamiliar plants at Dave’s Garden PlantFiles Search…a great research tool!)

    Acer palmatum, Japanese maple
    Acer negundo, Box Elder
    Achillea, Yarrow
    Agastache, Anise hyssop, Hummingbird mint
    Ajuga, Carpet bugle
    Allium, Wild onion
    Aquilegia formosa, Western Columbine

    Asclepias, Butterfly weed
    Berberis thunbergii, Barberry
    Berlandiera lyrata, Chocolate Scented Daisy
    Brachycome multifida, Rock Daisy
    Buddleia, Butterfly bush
    Campanula, Bellflower
    Carpenteria, California anemone
    Ceanothus, Wild lilac
    Cerastium tomentosa, Snow-in-Summer
    Centranthus ruber, Jupiter’s beard
    Chamaecyparis, False Cypress

    Chrysanthemum parthenium, Golden feverfew
    Cercis occidentalis, California Redbud
    Cistus, Rockrose
    Chrysanthemum maximum, Shasta Daisy
    Chrysanthemum paludosum, Ox-eye Daisy
    Coreopsis, Tickseed
    Diascia, Twinspur
    Dicentra formosa, Western bleeding heart
    Digitalis, Foxglove
    Dudleya cymosa Hen & Chicks
    Echinacea, Cone flower


    Epilobium, California fuschia
    Erigeron karvinskianus, Mexican daisy
    Erysimum,  Wallflower
    Eschscholzia californica California Poppy
    Euphorbia,  Spurge
    Gaillardia grandiflora, Indian Blanket
    Grass and grass-like plants
    Helleborus, Hellebores
    Hemerocallis, Day lily
    Heuchera, Coral Bells
    Hypericum, St. Johnswort
    Hyssopus, Hyssop
    Laurentia fluviatilis, Blue Star Creeper
    Lavandula, Lavender
    Lilium, Asiatic Lily
    Lonicera, Honeysuckle
    Lupinus albifrons, Silver bush lupine
    Lysimachia nummularia, Creeping Jenny

    Mahonia, Oregon grape
    Mentha, Mint
    Miscanthus sinensis, Maiden Grass
    Monarda didyma, Bee Balm
    Monardella, Coyote mint
    Myrtus, Myrtle
    Narcissus, Daffodils
    Nepeta, Catmint
    Nigella damascena, Love in a Mist
    Nicotiana, Flowering tobacco
    Origanum, Oregano
    Oxalis oregana, Redwood sorrel
    Papaver, Poppy
    Perovskia, Russian sage
    Phlomis, Jerusalem sage
    Phlox subulata, Creeping Phlox
    Picea glauca, Alberta Spruce
    Potentilla, Cinquefoil
    Pyracantha, Firethorn
    Romneya coulteri, Matilija poppy
    Rosmarinus, Rosemary
    Rudbeckia hirta, Gloriosa Daisy

    Salvia apiana, White sage
    Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’
    Salvia clevelandii, Cleveland sage
    Salvia leucophylla, Gray sage
    Salvia mellifera, Black sage
    Salvia sonomensis, Sonoma sage
    Salvia spathacea, Hummingbird sage
    Santolina, Lavender cotton
    Senecio, Dusty miller
    Sisyrinchium bellum, Blue-eyed grass
    Solanum, Potato vine
    Spiraea, Spirea
    Stachys, Lamb’s ears
    Syringa vulgaris, Common Lilac
    Tagetes lemmonii, Mexican bush marigold
    Teucrium, Germander
    Thymus, Common thyme
    Umbellularia californica, California bay
    Verbascum, Mullein
    Verbena bonariensis, Tall Verbena
    Veronica, Speedwell
    Vitex agnus-castus, Chaste tree



    Good sources for these plants are the Western Sierra Nursery in Oakhurst and Intermountain Nursery in Prather, both in the Mountain Area .

    48 Responses to Tried and true deer-resistant plants for the Sierra Foothills

    1. April 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Since not all of your readers know the proper names of plant, could you give your lists in common names as well? Names such as daisy, marigold, lavender, poppy, etc. I love your site but have to go to a different one because of this.

      • April 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm

        Thanks, Lynn, for the reminder,…I will try to do that always in the future! 🙂 Sue

    2. Beth
      February 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Nice Site. Thank you.

      I am moving to a new property in the hills. I have a black thumb and am looking for plants that will be resistant to my lack of gardening skills while also being deer resistant.

      Also, I am looking for a type of creeping/climbing vine. Would you be able to identify or highlight these?

      Thanks for any ideas or help you can provide.

      • February 10, 2013 at 3:51 am

        Hi Beth, Best wishes for your move into our beautiful foothills. As you spend time here, I hope you come to like whatever native plants you happen to have on your property now. They will be your best friends since you feel challenged by gardening. We have groomed up our native trees and shrubs to look neat and park like. Take this list to your closest nursery,…they will all be very hardy, as deer resistant as possible and beautiful. If all else fails, depend on two plants, lavender and rosemary. California natives are the absolute best, naturally, whenever you can find them.

        • Connie
          September 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm

          Hi Sue,
          I’m looking for only 4 or 5 deer-resistant plant for the Sierra foothills area. Other than lavender and rosemary, what other 3 or 4 plants-out of this long list would you recommend?

          • Sue Langley
            September 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm

            Hi Connie, a couple favorites are Ceanothus, Wild lilac, in any size needed and sage, especially Autumn sage, of which I must have 40 plants! They’re all blooming now and have since spring. A third might be Lamb’s ear,…a perennial that adds a pop of white to the garden.

            • Lori
              November 16, 2016 at 6:06 am

              Hi Sue,

              When you say “Autumn Sage”, are you referring to Salvia greggii, ‘Autumn Red’?. We will be moving to the Sierra Nevada Foothills and I would love to be able to grow this plant.



            • Henry
              February 1, 2018 at 8:16 am

              Hi Sue,

              Like your site, neat, adventurous and informative. I have to admit, that is a long list.

              I am up in Placerville, and a frequent guest at our local Front Yard Nursery., to which also has a pretty in depth list of supposed deer resistant plants.

              As you know, Deer are inquisitive creatures and not very much creatures of habit. One year the local herd samples a little of this and that, and well, I think you know the rest of the story.

              What caught my eye on this particular post, is that the local deer around here have always loved to nibble on our many Ceanothus, Rock Roses, and various others. And, as much as I hate to transplant or throw any of them away, I just either let them have their way as they do a clean prune :), or I just simply prune away their last feast.

              I’ll have to make a list for you of all the plants I have scratched off of the Nurseries long list.

              Hey, they need to eat too!

      • Pamela Fitts
        May 25, 2016 at 10:02 am

        THE most deer resistant plant that’s also drought tolerant and attracts hummingbirds is from the sage or salvia family Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) It reseeds freely and comes in pinks to reds -with an off-white plant every now & then. It blooms on & off all year long at 1200′

        • Sue Langley
          May 25, 2016 at 1:42 pm

          Pam, I find that Autumn sage is one of the most useful and colorful plants in my garden… I must have more than 25 and I also find they do well in containers. I hope you’ve also tried the Blue Oak sage, Salvia chamaedryoides, which has soft grey foliage….a nice contrast!

        • Lori
          November 16, 2016 at 6:08 am

          I will be at 3000 ft. Will Salvia greggii do well there?.

          • Lori
            November 16, 2016 at 6:09 am

            Foresthill, Ca.

          • October 23, 2017 at 3:30 pm

            Salvia greggii does not survive the winter at my elevation of 2650 near Grass Valley.

    3. joselyn
      May 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      best list I’ve seen on the web! most helpful–thanks so much!

      • Sue Langley
        May 25, 2013 at 7:39 pm

        Thanks so much, Joselyn,…many times people scoff and say they can’t grow anything here. LOL! It’s not true! Happy planting…

      • October 23, 2017 at 3:33 pm

        Many of the plants on this list are eaten by the deer in our region, both in Nevada and Placer Counties. I have been observing their preferences for 40 years in my own and others’ gardens.

    4. Nick
      May 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Sue. Nice list. Very impressive!

      I’m planning a garden in the Auburn area, and was wondering what flowers would fare best in this environment, while also surviving the deer. Your help would be greatly appreciated!

    5. Beni
      August 4, 2013 at 11:03 am

      You have given a good list of plants for deer resistant gardens, but everyone should know that there are variables to any such list. What is ignored in one neighborhood may be a treat in another. The time of year makes a difference, as does the population density. Fawns seem to “sample” just about everything, and nursing moms get desperate if their habitat can’t provide enough food. Talk to your neighbors about what works for them. Leave the plant you want in its pot, set it in the area where you want to plant it, and watch it for a few days to see what happens. Be prepared to install a protective barrier if it’s needed, and be flexible about your choices.

      • October 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm

        Nursery-grown plants may be particularly vulnerable because of the nitrogen fertilizers commonly used, so setting a.container out is not a good test of deer-resistance. Better to plant and protect until the plant is no longer under the influence.

    6. Sue Langley
      August 4, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Thanks for your advice, Beni. You probably have your own tested list of plants you succeed in growing….nice…

    7. Karen johnson
      September 18, 2013 at 8:31 am

      Stumbled across your lovely
      site while searching for deer resistant plants. I am a starting a new garden in similar conditions north of Ashland, OR. Have many deer, which we love to watch. Also love to garden… I can see its going to be a challenge!

    8. Suzanne Biddle
      May 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      The only thing I have found they will not eat even if hungry is vinca or periwinkle. That is here in Cuero, Texas, they do not eat them. I have had few problems here this year, but last year was terrible. They ate everything.

    9. Catana
      November 20, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      We have several large containers and this is our idea of planting them. We would like to put in a type of shrub that blooms and is deer resistant. But… also, we would like to be able to put bulbs or other deer resistant annuals around the shrub. Can you give us some ideas. I like the list of plants but I do not know where to start. Thanks so very much Sue. Enjoyed your presentation last Thursday. =)

      September 7, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Hello there. I’m so glad to have found your website!! I am an avid gardener, but from So Cal. – The Santa Monica Mountains. We also have deer, rabbit, skunk, and millions of ground squirrels, but not as hungry as the ones up here. I have solved a few of the problems, but would love some ideas of Shade Plants that are deer resistant. I’ve been using digitalis and iris, but they just ate the base of my Boston Ivy that was to cover a very ugly side of my house. I’m trying to discourage them with shade cloth, but will need some more good natives or others that will grow in the shade, but will also be resistant to deer. I adore the deer, but they have nibbled on a few of my favorites. Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated. I’d like to get the shade plants in soon. Thanks for everything!

      • Sue Langley
        September 7, 2015 at 7:51 am

        I’ve had good luck with Rhododendron, Azalea and Abelia in the shade. All of these are shrubs and Rhodos will eventually grow tall.

        For a faster grower, consider Firethorn Pyracantha) but just know it has thorns. It’s a sun plant but grows in part shade as well,… will grow tall and hide many flaws.

        For other shade plants, I grow Coral bells (Heuchera), Western Sword Fern, Bergenia,…a favorite, favorite plant now since it’s deer and drought resistant and is very green even now in the driest season. It blooms in Feb!

        St John’s Wort grows in shade and will spread…Columbine grows in shade or part shade,…very beautiful and self sows. All these are deer resistant in my garden. I only have time for survivors now, it seems.

        I’ll have to expand on this and show photos in an article. It’s a question many need answered so thanks for the question!

        • March 18, 2016 at 4:37 pm

          Nice site!!

          I have observed the deer in my Sierra foothill garden (near Tahoe) for 38 years. Some perennials for shade include Phlomis russeliana (Jerusalem sage), Brunnera macrophylla, Digitalis (foxglove, all species), Paeonia (peony), Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’ (golden feverfew), Helleborus (hellebore, all species), Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae (Mrs. Robb’s bonnet), Best grass for shade is Chasmanthium latifolium(spangle grass, wild sea oats).

          Excellent groundcovers include Rubus calycinoides (creeping raspberry), Lamium maculatum (all species), Lamiastrum galeobdolen.

          Shrubs include Sarcococca (sweet vanilla plant), Choisya ternata (Mexican orange), and Osmanthus fragrans. Sadly, the native Carpenteria CA is browsed by deer, so I am protecting it while it is young.

          Many of the plants on this list have been eaten by deer in our region.

          Try to avoid plants that have been fertilized. Deer are far more likely to damage a plant fed with nitrogen. Protect young plants at least until new growth is strong. And fall planting is always best….roots can grow during the late fall and early spring.

          • Sue Langley
            March 18, 2016 at 6:35 pm

            Thanks for your suggestions, Carol. After speaking to many gardeners even in our local area, it seems some deer eat one thing and some another. These are the ones the deer pass by in my garden and for beginners,…it’s a good starting place.

            It’s so satisfying to carefully watch our ‘daily deer’ as they go by and see what they eat and don’t eat.

    11. Pam
      November 24, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      I came across your beautiful website while researching plants to grow in my low maintenance, deer resistant, drought tolerant garden in the Sierras at about the 4000 foot elevation. I am looking for evergreen vines to cover a heavy wire fence, what would you recommend in addition to Lonicera?

      • Sue Langley
        November 25, 2015 at 1:55 pm

        Hi Pam, I personally don’t know of any cold hardy (to 4000( evergreen vines. You might Google this. I did seet this article on fast growers,…a few seemed to be hardy. Good luck!


        • March 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm

          Hardy, fast, and evergreen, Clematis armandii fits the request….I garden at 2650 foot elevation, where it is a strong grower and has proven hardy to 10 degrees F.

          If you don’t need it to be evergreen, the California native grape (Vitis ca) is very fast and excellent fall color (especially ‘Roger’s Red’).

    12. Lizzy
      January 29, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      HI like your blog… will be planting an enormous hillside jute covered for erosion control.. i did it correctly.. I was under the impression that California lilac was deer resistant. i would consider us in a low deer population area. But when i look at the descriptions for various species like Concha, it is said that deer love some of them.. What is your opinion. We are In the Tehachapi mountain area. at 4000 feet elevation,on 10 acres. Tjankx

      • Sue Langley
        May 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

        Lizzy, deer may forage a bit from ceanothus in winter, but I’ve found that they don’t ever eat the entire plant but merely trim it. Try Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ It grows fast and gets to 15 ft tall and wide… It covers a lot of ground you won’t have to weed again.

        Maybe fill in with rockrose, especially ‘Sunset’ an low growing form and creeping sage ‘Bee’s bliss’ This combo should only need water in the first two to three years and then a monthly watering in summer months.

    13. Sue Langley
      January 30, 2016 at 12:10 am

      Lizzy, Ceanothus ‘Concha’ is very deer resistant as all are,…and very beautiful. I have seen deer nibble it a bit this month but it’s when they need a little trimming anyway. They grow so quickly, too.
      For your slope, I’d also suggest Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’…I’t’s lovely and carefree.

      • March 18, 2016 at 4:58 pm

        All Ceanothus in our area (Sierra foothills nnear Taho) are seriously damaged, as is ‘Howard McMinn’.

        Just this morning I visited a landscape I did many years ago (15?) on a large south-facing slope. Both upright and trailing rosemary looked great, as did Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (creeping manzanita). I interspersed drifts of Muhlenbergia rigens (basket grass, AKA deer grass).

        A gray-leafed form of Cotoneaster (C. buxifolius) was untouched by the deer.

        Berberis darwinii was in beautiful full bloom.

        In smaller detail areas I used trailing thymes (Thymus species), common sage (Salvia officinalis), lavender cotton (Santolina), germanders (Teucrium species), and small-leafed cotoneaster.

        This landscape is water-efficient and deer-resistant.

    14. Karen Baxter
      April 6, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      I live in Paradise at 1600 ft. Under oak and pines. The house is 8 yrs old but no landscaping has ever been done. Lots of wild animals are here but deer are most evident. I will use this list like a bible to select the plants I include. I want it to look like a natural woody area but without the moisture of Oregon’s rainy woodlands I am sceptical.

      • April 8, 2016 at 8:04 am

        Mahonia (Berberis), AKA Oregon grape is a good place to start. They range is height from low groundcovers to taller cultivars. There is even a beautiful one with gold undertone to the leaves. Contrast with Muhlenbergia rigens (basket or deer grass) for your natural woody area. Shadiest areas could highlight drifts of Dicentra (western bleeding heart). Keep your initial planting simple and gradually introduce additional plants that are possibly deer-resistant.

    15. Pamela Fitts
      May 25, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Sue, I love all your helpful hints. Gardening in the hills is NOT like city gardening. I thought I knew most everything until I moved here and discovered deer.

    16. May 25, 2016 at 11:48 am

      Unfortunately, this Salvia is not hardy at 2600-foot elevation.

      • Sue Langley
        May 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

        Which Salvia is that, Carolyn, not hardy at 2600 feet? 🙂

    17. Jane John
      June 13, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      I moved to the Foresthill area and have been slowly trying to bring life to the once very neglected yard. My next project is to find a drought and deer resistant ground cover that is also non-invasive and will remain green all year round. I’m on a very strict budget, so I am looking for something that will not require purchasing hundreds of dollars of plants. I realize that I am asking for a lot here, but I am hoping that with your knowledge you may be able to help. Thank you very much for your consideration.


      • July 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

        There are dwarf forms of common oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Nanum’ and Origanum ‘Betty Rollins’ that would work. As the plants spread you can take cuttings spring/summer or lift divisions in fall/winter to increase the spread at no cost.

        • GEORGEANN
          October 24, 2017 at 7:21 am

          I have St. John’s Wort as a ground cover under my Oaks, but would love to also plant Arjuga. It is gorgeous and has lovely leaves. I have mother and baby deer coming nightly and daily into the garden. Before I plant the Arjuga, do you think the deer will leave them alone? I’m struggling to make my garden abundant, but it is a challenge. Any thoughts? I know not to plant directly under my oaks, but these plants mentioned are a bit outside the drip line, so I’m thinking it’s o.k.

    18. Susan
      July 17, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      I’m looking to plant clematis in my garden. I live in Pioneer CA. I have a small fenced garden and the rest of the yard is open to all of nature. Would the clematis grow better inside or outside the fence? Am I able to actually grow it? We have very hot summer’s and snow in the winter. In my limited experience anything I can successfully get to survive for a year usually does quite well. The first year is tricky, usually a 50-50 chance. I hate to plant something just to have it fail. I’m wondering if clematis will work for me or might there be something better? Thank you.

      • July 17, 2017 at 12:16 pm

        Clematis are strong vines, but the deer love them, so protect them until they are out of reach. I have tested many in 40 years, and the only one that is usually left alone is the evergreen Clematis armandii.

        October 24, 2017 at 7:14 am

        I have planted Evergreen Clematis in my garden in the Sierra Foothills at about 2000 feet. They are doing great. However, the deer are now browsing them….eating the new leaves and some of the large leaves as well. My garden is not fenced, so I would recommend that you plant them inside a fence. This is just during the Fall months, but it definitely thinned out the plants.

        I have Bees Bliss, Rosemary and Russian Sage, as well as Spanish Lavendar, which they don’t touch. However during the ‘hungry months’ the deer are a problem with almost everything else I’ve planted. I’m saving up for a deer fence!

        Good luck with your garden.

    19. Gerry Braynard
      October 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      what would make a good ground cover for a hillside of mostly decomposed granite. Some would be in sun others in shade. I have lavender, iris, and sage.
      I am looking for something low to the ground and fast spreading. Thank

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