Deer Resistant Plants That Attract Pollinators

Pollinator-Attracting Herbs, Vegetables and Flowers that Deer Avoid

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
April 2, 2024

Bee-friendly plants that repel deer? It sounds like a gardener’s dream. As it turns out, quite a large number of flowers, herbs, and even vegetables are deer resistant pollinator plants.

Gardeners and farmers who struggle against deer damage know how difficult it is to grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables with these voracious browsers about. At the same time, growers depend on bees, flower flies, butterflies and hummingbirds to pollinate farm and garden crops. If you select carefully, you can have both together: plants that attract pollinators and are also unpalatable to deer. (Article and plant list continue below slideshow.)

Prickly plants like globe thistle, globe artichoke (above), and cardoon resist deer and are tremendous attractors of bees, when in flower. Deer also usually avoid plants with thick, leathery or spiky textures.
Plants with fuzzy leaves and hairy stems such as cucumbers, squash, borage (above), and phacelia typically turn away deer. The tiny flowers of borage and phacelia are amazing attractors of bees.
Deer avoid strong-scented herbs and aromatic flowers. The strong fragrance of marigolds (above), lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, chamomile and other herbs can interfere with a deer’s sense of smell (which it relies on to detect danger).
Mint family plants (Lamiaceae) are reliable deer deterrents. These include bee balm, catnip, anise hyssop (above), lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, salvia, thyme, and savoury.
While deer may nibble on new spring onion shoots or chives, flowers from leeks, onions and native alliums such as Nodding onion are generally deer-resistant. Leeks (above) and other allium flowers are beautiful, powerful attractors of bees.
Deer avoid bitter-tasting plants like snowdrops, yarrow (above), foxgloves, bleeding heart and poppies (including California and Oriental poppies). Fawns learn while young to avoid these plants, which contain alkaloids.
Wildflowers, such as deer-resistant woolly sunflower (above), yarrow, and phacelia, co-evolved with pollinators for centuries. Native plants have co-relationships with specific bees and pollinators that protect diversity.
Blue, violet, white, and yellow flowers, such as salvia, lupine (above), alyssum, and zinnias are attractive to bees. Bees cannot see the colour red. They look for shallow or tubular plants with a landing platform.
Tiny clusters of flowers attract a variety of beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, flower flies, ladybugs and parasitoid wasps, which pollinate and also prey on garden pests. Parsley, dill (above), and fennel are a prodigious draw for these beneficials.
Bright (especially violet or red) flowers, such as purple coneflower, delphinium, and cosmos (above) with wide landing pad areas attract butterflies. Hollyhocks and lupine host butterfly larvae and help support butterflies into adulthood.
Scarlet, red and orange tubular flowers such as columbine (above), comfrey and foxgloves attract hummingbirds. A hummingbird can access nectar from deep within the flower using its long narrow bill and tongue.
Yellow and white flowers, like calendula (above) are good attractors of flower flies (also known as hover flies or syrphid flies). Flower flies are valuable pollinators. Although they often look similar to wasps or bees (a mimicry they’ve developed to ward off predators), they do not sting.
Prickly plants like globe thistle, globe artichoke (above), and cardoon resist deer and are tremendous attractors of bees, when in flower. Deer also usually avoid plants with thick, leathery or spiky textures.

Create a Deer Resistant Pollinator Garden

To create a deer resistant, pollinator attracting garden, you need to look at which plant characteristics draw pollinators and which traits repel deer.

Phacelia - deer resistant pollinator plants

Phacelia, a native wildflower, is a huge attractor of bees.

A pollinator-friendly garden includes:

– A succession of plants that provide pollen and nectar throughout the season
– Fragrant flowers
– Brightly coloured blooms
– Native wildflowers
– Clusters of flowers grown together
– Pesticide-free plants. These include plants that are free of systemic neonicotinoids (sometimes embedded in nursery seeds and starts). To avoid this, purchase plant starts from certified organic growers.

A deer-resistant garden includes:

– Herbs and flowers with strong aromas
– Prickly plants
– Plants with fuzzy leaves
– Bitter-tasting plants

While plants with these characteristics deter deer, be aware that no garden without a high fence can be completely deer proof. Deer are browsers. This means they may sample almost anything, especially young tender shoots.

A Guide to Deer Resistant Pollinator Plants

Below is a list of deer resistant pollinator plants, including herbs, flowers and vegetables that attract bees, butterflies, flower flies, and hummingbirds to the garden. Plants that are sometimes vulnerable to deer damage are marked as “moderately deer resistant”.


Allium (onion family flowers, including wild onions) – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Angelica – bees, flower flies
Basil – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Bee balm (Monarda) – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds (moderately deer resistant)
Borage – bees, butterfly larvae (caterpillars)
Chamomile – bees, flower flies
Cilantro (Coriander) – flower flies (moderately deer resistant)

comfrey - deer resistant pollinator plants

Comfrey has long tubular flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds.

Comfrey – bees, hummingbirds
Dill – bees, butterflies, flower flies
Catmint (Nepeta) – bees, butterflies
Fennel – bees, butterfly larvae (caterpillars), flower flies
Hyssop – bees, butterflies, flower flies
Lemon balm – bees
Lavender – bees, butterflies
Marjoram – bees
Mint – bees, flower flies
Oregano – butterflies
Parsley – bees, butterflies, flower flies (moderately deer resistant)
Phacelia – bees
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea) – bees, butterflies (moderately deer resistant)
Rosemary – bees
Sage – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Savoury – bees
Tarragon – bees
Thyme – bees, butterflies, flower flies


Alyssum – bees, butterflies, flower flies
Aster – bees, butterflies, flower flies (moderately deer resistant)
Black-eyed Susan – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Bleeding heart – hummingbirds
Butterfly bush (Buddleja) – butterflies, hummingbirds
Calendula – bees, butterflies, flower flies (moderately deer resistant)
Candytuft – bees, butterflies
Columbine – hummingbirds
Cornflower/Bachelor’s Buttons (considered invasive; grow in pots or confined areas) – bees, flower flies
Cosmos – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Crocus – bees

Purple conflower (echinacea) - deer resistant pollinator plants

Purple coneflower, also known as Echinacea, attracts bees and butterflies.

Croscosmia – bees, hummingbirds
Daisy (Shasta Daisy) – bees, butterflies
Delphinium – butterflies, hummingbirds
Forget-me-not – bees, flower flies
Foxglove – bees, hummingbirds
Globe thistle – bees, butterflies, birds
Goldenrod – bees, butterflies
Heather – bees
Hollyhocks – butterflies, butterfly larvae (caterpillars), hummingbirds
Iris – bees, hummingbirds
Lupine – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, butterfly larvae (caterpillars)
Marigold – butterflies, flower flies
Pearly Everlasting – butterflies, butterfly larvae (caterpillars)
Penstemon – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Poppies – bees
Primrose – bees, flower flies
Salvia – bees, hummingbirds
Snapdragons – bees
Snowdrop – bees
Sea blush – bees, butterflies
Verbena – bees, butterflies, hummingbirds (moderately deer resistant)
Woolly Sunflower – butterflies
Yarrow – butterflies, flower flies
Zinnia – bees, butterflies, flower flies, hummingbirds (moderately deer resistant)

Vegetables (when flowering)

Cucumbers - deer resistant pollinator plants

Deer dislike the fuzzy stems and bitter leaves of cucumber plants.

Asparagus – bees
Cardoons – bees, butterflies
Cucumbers – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Eggplant – bees
Florence fennel – bees, flower flies
Globe artichokes – bees, butterflies (moderately deer resistant)
Ground cherries (Cape gooseberries) – bees
Leeks – bees
Peppers – bees, flower flies (moderately deer resistant)
Onions – bees
Squash – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Tomatillos – bees
Tomatoes – bees (moderately deer resistant)
Turnips – bees, flower flies



More articles:
The Deer Resistant Food GardenThe Deer Resistant Food Garden

Plant a Bee Attracting GardenPlant a Bee Attracting Garden

Plants That Attract Beneficial InsectsPlants That Attract Beneficials

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

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