Are Succulents Deer Resistant?

Ever since I started gardening, I figured that my spiny companions were totally deer-proof. So is it true what they say? Are succulents and cacti really deer resistant?

The answer is yes, succulents and cacti are in fact deer resistant, though some more so than others. This is not at all the same as being deer proof though. A herd of deer will most likely feast on your spiny succulents and cacti last, but they will try anything once. A hungry deer will try it more than that.

deer nose smelling for succulent food
Deer have a keen sense of smell. That will either bring them into your garden, or keep them out.

I remember as a kid growing up during the long, cold Ohio winters. My family used to live right next to a large state park.

I remember every year once January hit, nearly all vegetation would die. Around that time, I used to see the bark on the lower part of the trees begin to disappear. The closer we got to mid-April, the bark would be chewed off up over my head.

The deer learn to survive the harshest conditions by being as resourceful as they were elegant. Now, of course, we weren’t able to keep outdoor succulents due to the cold winters back in the midwest, but that’s not really the point.

The point is when a deer is hungry, a deer will try just about anything. They take risks that they simply wouldn’t when food and water are plentiful.

deer herd waiting to eat your succulent
Deer need to eat too, and hunger won’t stop them from at least trying a bite or two…

I know it sounds grim, but worry not! There are several things you can do to deter Bambi.

Some succulents ARE more deer resistant than others

Several species of cacti and succulents have spiny natural defense systems, making them more painful to eat than other plants.

This makes particular species such as Hens and Chicks, Prickly Pear Cactus, and Yucca (Red Leaf and Soft Leaf Yucca) good choices if you’re looking to help deer resist temptation.

Other good choices known for being on the more deer resistant site include agave parryi, Sempervivum, aloe plants, and Sotol.

Again, these varieties are not at all deer proof. They are, however, known for being some of the most resistant to grazing deer.

prickly pear cactus are not a favorite of deer
These prickly pear cacti have a natural defense that makes them less desirable than other plant life that doesn’t pack quite such a prick

Deer are a wiley bunch they can be a real pain to keep them out of your garden. If they have the will, they can oftentimes find the way. The suggestions below, however, will give you the best shot at keeping your prized succulents safe and secure from hungry deer.

Companion planting

The more aromatic the plant, the faster it moves down the preferred deer lunch list. Mind you, these rules are thrown out the window when they encounter a starving deer, but if you put your succulents around other non-preferred food, the less likely they are to get eaten.

Companion planting is one of my favorite things aside from planting from the preferred succulents list above. A well-rounded garden is a truly magnificent thing, and the list I’m about to give you will not only make your yard a more balanced ecosystem but will also make it smell great and be visually appealing.

So, here are a few varieties known to be deer resistant that you can plant very close to your succulent garden to help keep away the herd.

Better yet, plant these around the perimeter of your yard to mask some of the other tantalizing tidbits. You might find the herd that used to graze on your property in your neighbor’s yard instead.

Maximilian sunflower

This is a perennial and has average water needs and requires full sun. This is to your succulents benefit is it can also provide partial shade for it, a necessity for many succulents.

They can grow anywhere from 4 feet tall to 10 feet tall and is perfect the plant 3 to 4 feet apart.

Bees and butterflies love them and then bloom a brilliant yellow during the mid-fall. It grows well from Western South Carolina all the way out to San Diego and from parts of Wyoming down to Texas.

They are pretty hardy plant depending on your soil alkalinity, humidity, and rainfall, as they can withstand temperatures from -30°F to 35°F depending on the previously mentioned variables.

lavender plant good for companion planting with succulents
Lavender plants are fantastic companion plants for your succulent garden. The aromatic oils will help keep the deer out

Lavender

One of my favorite companion plants on the list. Lavender looks beautiful, smells amazing, and takes great in lemonade. The oils are the reason this plant is so effervescent.

The oils are also what make this plant (usually) one bite and done with the deer.

They are drought tolerant, can grow from 12 to 48 inches tall, and grow pretty well from neutral to alkaline soil types. It grows great in full sun to partial shade and is a perennial. It does need water from time to time, but what’s great about lavender is you never need to soak it.

In fact, it doesn’t do well at all if overwatered, so keep the watering light & semi-frequent and your all good.

Rosemary

What’s better than a plant that deters deer and also tastes great on chicken? What’s nice about these aromatic/herbal varieties is that the deer know it’s there before they can even see it. Their sense of smell is so keen that it knows to just stay away.

Russian sage

Another perennial that does great in cold weather climates and is drought tolerant. It’s important to note that wearing gloves is a must for handling this plant.

It can cause skin irritation and in some people, allergic reactions. This might be one reason why this perennial is known for its deer resistant properties.

This plant likes all types of soil from strongly acidic to alkaline and does especially well in the Southwest United States.

Hyssop

Hyssop is an extremely pungent member of the mint family. Just like rosemary and lavender, the oils of this plan been used for centuries, most notably for respiratory ailments and earaches internally and externally for cuts, bruises, and rheumatism.

Pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees absolutely love this plant species and help make your property a healthy, happy ecosystem. A member of the Agastache species, deer and rabbits both are known to avoid this as much (and even more) than almost any other plant on this list.

Hummingbird mint is one of our favorites in this category. They have a really long bloom time but do best in regions that accumulate 30 to 40 inches of rainfall in the Western United States.

Other fantastic plants of note include:

  • Oenothera

    • In particular, the Evening Primrose is a particularly pleasing variety. They come in a wide variety of colors and their blooms are spectacular.
  • Foxglove

    • If you want to have some fun, look up the South African foxglove. It’s an absolute hidden gem that is an easy annual to maintain. Want to stand out from the Smiths? Look no further.
  • Salvia

    • Although it’s known for its deer repellent properties, it tends to attract teenagers and neighborhood burnouts. Seriously, YouTube it.
  • Agapanthus

    • Fun fact, the Lily of the Nile is neither a Lily nor from the Nile. Although it’s a fun fact for a dinner party, it’s cluster flowers will pop blue, white, or purple in the summertime.

Next time you go on a hike near your residence, look out and see what’s growing naturally.

That’s your best bet to find in a sustainable, ecological solution to your deer eating your succulents.

Try to surround your garden with them as much as possible and plant them throughout as well to throw them off from even entering. Strong oils and distinct smells of the name of the game.
When done right, it can even benefit your family through your cooking pot too!

Put up a fence

I know, no one wants to hear this one. Not only is a good amount of sweat equity and cash involved (especially if you’re paying somebody to put the fence up), you have to build it very high (I’ve seen a whitetail buck clear an 8-foot fence back in Ohio).

It’s not pleasing to the eye, but a little bit of ivy goes a long way. You’ll have to trim it to keep it from taking over and it can block out a lot of sun when it grows thick, but it beats the heck out of the look of a stainless steel chain-link fence.

If you’re opposed to a tall fence and want to keep your succulents intact, netting or cage wire can sometimes be a great option for you. It’s not ideal, but you want your babies to bloom, right?

If you have a good sized yard and the critters keep getting in, this really is one of your best options for keeping your garden intact. This is by far the least aesthetically pleasing option and for that reason alone I think I’ll keep it at that.

Deer Repellants

These can be a very good option, especially if your succulent is very young. Repellents like dehydrated Wolf urine are perfect to use in conjunction with companion planting, especially when your succulent is in its adolescence and its natural defenses have not yet matured.

These can get pricey, but how can you put a price on your precious succulents?

When used properly, they can also help you do without an 8-foot fence. I promise it’s cheaper and less invasive than fencing a 5-acre plot of land.

We have some favorites, although there just personal preference. Check out our resource list for our favorite deer repellents here.

Other potential threats

In certain parts of the country, deer may be the least of your problems. Critters like rats and rabbits are known to feast on succulents, especially in the southwestern region of the United States.

Another item to note is that deer in different parts of the country are more tolerant of certain plants than others. Deer in Washington state, as an example, might be more apt to eating lavender than say, Tucson Arizona.

Certain plants will be more deer resistant in one region than in another, so give yourself a little leeway in your trial and error.  See what’s growing naturally around you and nature will lead you in the right direction.  If you need a little help, see the local garden shop.

Although there is no such thing as deer proofing, you can help your succulents grow and flourish by planning deer resistant species throughout your yard.

Happy repelling!

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