Rabbits and deer

Rabbit and deer resistant perennials, shrubs and trees

rabbit3Hungry rabbits and deer will munch on just about any plant they come across which can be a continual frustration to gardeners. Thankfully, there are some types of plants that are less appealing to them. For the most part, they tend to steer clear of plants that have a sticky, rough or hairy surface. Similarly, plants with fragrant leaves or spines tend to dissuade rabbits and deer from feeding on them as well. However, keep in mind that there is always a chance that rabbits or deer will feast on less appealing plants if they are starving and have no other options. The following are well suited to the growing conditions found in the Guelph area.


Native species

Prickly pear is an example of a deer resistant plant and is the only cactus native to Ontario.

Prickly pear is an example of a deer resistant plant and is the only cactus native to Ontario.

Agastache, Anise Hyssop
Amsonia, Blue Star
Aquilegia, Columbine
Aruncus, Goat’s Beard
Asclepias, Milkweed
Baptisia, Blue False Indigo
Cimicifuga, Bugbane

Coreopsis, Tickseed
Dicentra, Bleeding Heart
Eupatorium, Joe Pye Weed
Gaillardia, Blanket Flower
Geranium, Crane’s Bill
Geum, Avens
Iris Sisyrinchium, Blue-eyed Grass
Liatris, Blazing Star
Lupinus, Lupin
Monarda, Beebalm
Penstemon, Beard Tongue
Polygonatum, Soloman’s Seal
Rudbeckia, Black-eyed Susan
Thalictrum, Meadow Rue
Tiarella, Foamflower
Tradescantia, Spiderwort
Verbena, Vervain

Non-native species

Please note that catmint, oregano and periwinkle are potentially invasive or aggressive.

Acanthus, Bear’s Breeches
Aconitum, Monk’s Hood
Arabis, Rock Cress
Astilbe Heucherella, Foamy Bells
Bergenia, Elephant Ears
Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss
Cerastium, Snow in Summer
Dianthus, Pinks
Digitalis, Foxglove
Echinops, Globe Thistle
Epimedium, Barrenwort
Eremurus, Foxtail Lily
Eryngium, Sea Holly
Euphorbia, Spurge
Filipendula, Meadowsweet
Pulmonaria, Lungwort
Helleborus, Lenten Rose
Heuchera, Coral Bells
Hosta Sedum, Stonecrop
Kniphofia, Red Hot Poker
Lamium, Dead Nettle
Lavandula, Lavander
Leucanthemum, Shasta Daisy
Miscanthus, Maiden grass
Nepeta, Cat Mint
Origanum, Oregano
Osmunda, Cinnamon/Royal Fern
Paeonia, Peony
Papaver, Poppy
Perovskia, Russian Sage
Primula, Primrose
Salvia, Sage
Saxifraga, Saxifrage
Stachys, Lamb’s Ear
Thymus, Thyme
Tricyrtis, Toad Lily
Verbascum, Mullein
Vinca, Periwinkle


Native species

Aldus sp., Alder’s
Cornus sp., Dogwood’s
Hamemalis, Witch Hazel
Rosa, Rose
Sambucus, Elderberry

Non-native species

Berberis, Barberry
Buxus, Boxwood
Chaenomeles, Flowering Quince
Cotinus, Smoke Bush
Ligustrum, Privet
Syringa, Lilac


Native species

Arisaema triphyllum, Jack in the Pulpit


Non-native species

Allium sp., Flowering Onion
Colchicum sp., Fall Crocus
Frittillaria sp.
Galanthus nivalis, Snow Drop
Muscari armeniacum, Grape Hyacinth
Narcissus sp., Daffodil
Puschkinia scilloides, Striped Squill
Scilla siberica, Siberian Squill


Native species

Betula sp., Birch
Catalpa sp. 
Celtis, Hackberry
Cercis canadensis, Redbud
Corylus sp., Hazel
Fraxinus sp., Ash
Gledistia triacanthos, Honeylocust
Larix sp,, Larch
Liriodendron tulipifera, Tuliptree
Ostrya virginiana, Ironwood
Picea sp., Spruce
Quercus sp., Oak
Tsuga canadensis, Eastern Hemlock

Non-native species

Juniperus sp., Juniper


Barriers and repellents

By carefully selecting plants for the garden, one can greatly decrease the incidents of rabbit or deer problems within the garden. There are no rabbit or deer proof plants and if they are still munching away on any of the plants listed about, maybe trying some physical barriers or non-toxic repellents can help to keep them away from the garden.


Physical barriers are an effective way to keep hungry rabbits and deer away from plants. Fences are the more expensive option but can be very effective against deer if built properly. For rabbits, a simple enclosure of netting around the plants can do the trick to keep them away from desired plants. In protecting specific plants, barriers of at least 2.5m high for deer is required while rabbits require barriers of at least 0.5m. Similarly, the base of sapling trees can be protected with tree sleeves to protect the young stems from animal damage during the winter months!


Repellents play on the senses of rabbits and deer. These can include methods that affect the sight, smell, taste or hearing of the bothersome animals which cause them to leave. As rabbits and deer are prey for other animals, they are constantly on the lookout for danger and it is to this factor that repellents play towards. When using repellents, keep in mind pets and/or children when choosing what type to use and keep it safe if pets or children are a concern. Finally, to keep rabbits and deer from getting desensitized, use a variety of different repellents and change the locations every once and a while; this will increase the repellents effectiveness thereby saving your garden.


Smell based repellents are usually the most effective. These are normally used to give rabbits and deer the idea that there are predators nearby thus causing them to vacate the area. Simply spread blood meal or nylon bags full of human/dog hair around the garden to give them the impression predators are near. Alternatively, other strong smells can be used to disguise plants that rabbits or deer love to eat. Garlic, chilli powder and rotten eggs can be used effectively in this way.


Similarly, spraying plants with a mixture designed to make them taste bad can be effective as well. Garlic, chilli pepper and rotten eggs are an unpleasant smell as well as taste and mixtures made up and applied to the surface of the leaves can deter most rabbits and deer from browsing the plants. See below for how to make up your own taste repellent mixture. Unfortunately, the sprays must be reapplied every week and cannot be used on vegetables as it will make them unpleasant for the kitchen table as well.

To make your own repellent mixture

Combine 2 tablespoons hot chilli sauce, 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder or puree in 3.5 litres of water. Mix well and spray the leaves of the plants reapplying after rain or after about a week.

An alternative mixture can be made by combining equal parts milk, water, a few eggs and 2 tbsp liquid dish soap in a blender, leaving it for a few days to build the odour and then applying to plants as mentioned above.


These repellents try spooking already nervous animals into leaving the area. The old fashion scare crow works on this idea and has been modernized with motion detectors that trigger lights or sounds to turn on as animals pass by. To increase effectiveness, making devices that move and create noise in the wind and moving them every now and then will keep rabbits and deer from becoming accustomed to the sights and sounds.