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Peonies & Deer

pink peony image by Furan from

Many gardeners know the joy and the agony of planting a beautiful perennial garden only to have their best specimens mowed down by hungry deer in one night. Deer are voracious eaters of many garden plants, according to University of Vermont Extension. It is important for the gardener to find plants that the local deer population stay away from. One favorite perennial, the garden peony, is a plant many gardeners find deer resistant.

Deer Preferences

Deer have a palette for a wide variety of plants. They tend to prefer the tender leaves of shrubs and herbaceous perennials, such as hostas and roses. They usually stay away from plants with strong, herbal odors, such as lavender and rosemary. The plants that deer eat change from location to location and from season to season, so it’s almost impossible to say that a plant won’t ever be eaten by deer, according to Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Peony Susceptibility

Peonies often appear on deer-resistant plant lists. Their flavor tends to put deer off. Many gardeners, however, find that their peonies have been eaten to the ground or denuded of flowers very quickly. If deer are hungry enough, or if the plants are located conveniently along a deer trail, your peonies may be vulnerable. Ask your neighbors if their peonies are affected by deer.


The location of peonies is important. If deer are known to eat peonies in your neighborhood, plant them closer to the house--the closer to the door the better. The presence and scent of human activity usually keep deer at bay. Planting them on the perimeter of your yard increases their visibility and deer’s access to them.

Companion Planting

Reduce susceptibility by planting them near other plants known to be deer resistant. Peonies look very good with lavender, santolina and Russian sage, which deter deer with their strong fragrances and flavors. Resistant bulbs include fritillaries, alliums and lilies-of-the-valley. Plant peonies so they are sheltered among sticky barberries and smelly boxwoods.


Effective commercial repellents are available. Many contain the urine of bobcat or coyote--natural deer predators. In the same vein, some old-time gardeners use human urine, sprinkled at the base of plants, to deter deer. Strong deodorant soap hung from nearby shrubs or spikes is often effective.

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