Contents on this page:

Deer Resistant Plants~Native Gardening Basics~Importance of Keeping Leaves

Deer Resistant Plants

We’ve been asked a few times about deer-resistant plants, and we’ve done some research and have compiled the below list sorted by sun requirements.To assemble the document we cross-referenced from different sources that report these native plants as being deer resistant.  Sources include personal experiences from prairie restorationists, Prairie Moon Nursery, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Special Collections pages: (http://www.wildflower.org/collections/collection.php?collection=deer), Morton Arboretum: (http://m.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/files/plants_deer_avoid.pdf)A very helpful page is http://www.wildoneslansing.org/uploads/9/8/9/0/9890611/deer_resistant_native_plants_for_mid-michigan_5_7_14.pdf

Unless noted, soil conditions are assumed to be typical garden soil here in the Chicago area–clay/loam which tends to hold onto moisture but still drain.  Plants in the full sun group can generally take part sun too, and those in the shade group can likewise take part sun.  To determine correct plants for your site, further research should be done.  Many of our sources warn that hungry deer in the spring are less discriminate about their meals then.  Just as a note, not all deer resistant plants are rabbit resistant.

Let us know if you have a plant that deer seem to avoid in your garden, and it’s not listed here.  We’ll add it.

Full Sun Plants

Plant nameBloom timeHeightSpecial notes
Monarda speciesSummer3-4’ Hummingbird/Bumblebees
Rudbeckia sppSummer/Fall2-3’ depending on speciesButterfly host plant
Asclepias sppSummer2-4’ depending on speciesMonarchs
Solidago sppFall2-5’ depending on species Provides for many insects
Coreopsis sppSummer 
Filependula rubraSummer4′ with spires 
Echinacea sppSummer3-4’Butterfly host plant
Eupatorium sppSummer/Fall3-5’ depending on species 
ArtemesiaFall–flowers generally inconsequential–foliage is silvery grayButterfly host plant
Allium sppSummer12” Some species provide early nectar
Liatris sppSummer2-5’ depending on species 
RuelliaSummer1-2′ May feed Buckeye butterfly caterpillar
Amorpha sppSummer2-3’Butterfly host plant
Asters sppFall varies; you can pruneButterfly host plant
Eryngium yuccifoliumSummer 3-4′ 
Vernonia sppSummer/Early Fall4-5’ 
Parthenium integrifoliumSummer (long bloom time!) 2-3′Great pollinator plant
Agastache sppSummer 3-4’ 3′-4′ depends on speciesGreat pollinator plant; seeds for birds
Baptisia sppSpring1-3’ depending on speciesButterfly host plant
Senna hebecarpaSummer4’5’ can be prunedButterfly host and great pollinator plant
Pycantheum sppSummer2-3’Great pollinator plants
Euphorbia corollataSummer2-3’ 
Hypericum sppSummer2-4’ tall depending on speciesAmazing pollinator plants
Dalea purpureaSummer 

Part Sun 

Plant nameBloom timeHeightSpecial Notes
Anemone candanesis(grows in shade too)Late springadaptable, aggressive, good for groundcover
Shooting StarSpring1-2’ 
Gentian sppFall 2′ 
Solidago sppFall 2-5′ depends on species 
Phlox divaricataSpring/Summer 1′ 
Helianthus strumosusSummer/Fall3-5’ 
Penstemon digitalisSummer 3′ 
Eupatorium maculatum Summer 3-4′ 
Zizea aureaSpringBlack swallowtail host plant
Ceanothus americanusSummerHosts azure butterflies, duskywing
Asters sppSummer-Fall varies Pearl Crescent butterfly
Campanula sppSummer 2′ 
Verbena sppSummer 
Chamaecrista fasciculataSummer Great pollinator plant; hosts sulphur butterflies
Lobelia spSummer3-4’Hummingbirds
Helenium autumnaleFall3-4’ 
Physostygia virginiaSummer3-4’Can be aggressive, hummingbirds
Iris virginicaSpring 3’ 2-3′Moist soil
Pedicularis canadensisSpring 


Plant nameBloom timeHeightSoil
Sanguinaria canadensisSpringmax 12” 
Tiarella cordifoliaSpring“  “ 
Solidago (Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Zig-zag Goldenrod are a couple examples that will take shade)Fall varies 
Polemonium reptansSpring 1-2′ 
Asters spp  varies 
Actea sppSpring flowers and berries in fall 1-3′ 
Cimicfuga racemosaSummer5’ when in bloom 
Asarum canadenseSpring, interesting flowersGround cover 
Arisaema triphyllumSpring, interesting flower and berries late summer1-2’ 
Geranium maculatum (can handle range of light conditions)Spring1-2’ 

Native Gardening Basics

by Marni Curtis for West Cook Wild Ones

There are many ways to start using native plants in your garden. You can start to incorporate native plants into your existing landscape – or – you can start completely from scratch.


First, make an assessment of the environmental conditions (shady or sunny, drainage, soil types, irrigation, etc.). Also, make an inventory of your existing plants.

It is also helpful when creating a naturalistic landscape design to consider the associations found in specific plant communities (a prairie, wetland or forest). You may also want to visit some local natural areas to observe these associations first-hand.

Planning and planting a native garden does not have to be done all at once. It can be installed in phases as your budget and time allows.

Soil Preparation

If weeds are a big problem, you may want to consider not only hand-pulling, but maybe even covering them with a sheet of clear plastic for several months – a process known as solarization. Other methods to kill weeds are pouring boiling water or vinegar on them. By eliminating weeds first, as much as possible, before planting, it will be much easier than trying to control them in a newly planted site.  Just as anote, methods that involve solarization, vinegar, boiling water may also kill the beneficial life in the soil.  If you use those methods, allow some time for pH of the soil to return to normal and consider adding good compost or healthy soil from other areas of your garden to help repopulate your soil with beneficial microorganisms.

Native plants usually do not require fertilizer. Many thrive in poor soil and applying fertilizer could chemically burn them, or stimulate either lush or spindly, weak foliage growth with few flowers.

  If you are planning to replace your lawn with a prairie type garden, you may want to consider the using the sheet        mulching method – water your lawn and then cover it with newspaper or cardboard. Water the newspaper or  cardboard and cover with mulch. On top of the cardboard you can put grass clippings or fall leaves on, and then cover    with mulch.  Allow a month or two before planting to make sure you have won the battle.  Fall is a great time to do  sheet mulching.

  Plant Selection and Plants

Choose species based on the soil, light, and water conditions of your site and for the size, shape, texture, and color you   desire.

  Suggested Prairie Plants (full sun):


Spiderwort, Golden Alexanders, Prairie Smoke, Prairie Phlox, Cream Prairie Indigo


Purple Prairie Clover, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Butterflyweed, Culver’s Root


New England Aster, Smooth Blue Aster, Stiff Goldenrod, Showy Goldenrod


Little bluestem, Big Bluestem, Prairie Dropseed, Indian grass, Switch Grass

Suggested Woodland Plants (shade):



Wild geranium, Virginia bluebells, wild columbine, celadine poppy                               


Marginal shield fern, ostrich fern, Christmas fern


Wild ginger, May apple, Allegheny foam flower

Three-Season Plants:

Solomon’s seal, Solomon’s plume, white baneberry


Short’s aster, large-leaf aster, elm-leaved goldenrod, zig-zag goldenrod


Hazelnut, witch hazel, arrowwood viburnum, pagoda dogwood

Maintaining Your Landscape

Your native plants will need time to become established. The critical period for watering and weeding is two to three weeks after planting – or longer if you are planting in warm, dry seasons. If you are planting trees or shrubs, apply a four to six-inch layer of organic mulch around them (but, not touching the main stem) and a one-inch or less mulch layer for perennials. Mulch can help control weeds, reduce temperature fluctuations, help retain moisture and give a finished look to the landscape.

Enjoy the butterflies and birds that visit. Each year add more native plants. Make more prairie and/or woodland spaces. Educate your neighborhood by example! Once you get started, it becomes easier and easier every year to maintain your property/grounds — less mowing and watering; more wildlife and soil improvement.



What’s in a Leaf Pile?

Many beneficial (and beautiful) insect overwinter in our yards. For instance, the Katydid (important food source for birds during late summer) and Preying Mantis overwinter as eggs attached to twigs, stems, and/or leaves. Ladybugs and Lacewings also spend the winter in our gardens.  Native bees find winter homes in soil, plants (stems, under grasses), and leaves. Cutting down a garden and removing all litter in the fall reduces these insect populations, most of which are beneficial. According to the University of Maine, 97% of insects in our yards are beneficial (http://umaine.edu/publications/7150e/).  Furthermore, many of these insects are critical food sources for migrating birds and for birds raising their young. 95% of birds feed insects to their young even if the adults eat seeds (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home).  Keeping your healthy leaves either as garden mulch or in piles under trees or shrubs will offer you many benefits over the year:

Luna Moth Cocoon Jack Gibson
Luna moth cocoon secured to an oak leaf. Photo courtesy of J. Gibson

• feed microrganisms which feed your plants (there are complicated relationships under ground); these organisms in turn clean the water and air and improve soil texture.  Many woodland/savannah plants require the leaf layer for the resulting rich humus.

• keep water levels stable–absorbs more water, drains better, and keeps moisture available to your plants through drought(lots of seeming contradictions but it’s true)

• mulch your garden through the winter

• provide cover for overwintering bees, butterflies, moths, and other beneficial insects

• provide food for those above creatures provides food for birds

• reduce the need to buy bags of mulch or compost (and then the associated pollution and costs connected to those items (plastic bags, transportation))

• reduce pressure on finances and resources of the village; money saved there could go to more positive use

Tiger Swallowtail Wood Lily
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail–overwinters as a chrysalis, usually attached to a stem or twig but could attach to a leaf. Many trees are host plants: Ashes, Tulip Tree, Magnolias, Birches, Willows, Black Cherry.

For further reading: Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalist and Gardeners, James B. Nardi.

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition,                 Lowenfels and Lewis