21 Deer-resistant Plants for San Antonio and the Hill Country

21 Deer-resistant Plants for San Antonio and the Hill Country

There are no truly deer-proof plants — except for plastic and silk ones. But stick with these tried-and-true choices and you shouldn’t have an issue with deer feasting on your flora.

How do I keep the deer from eating my plants? This is one of the Garden Geek’s most frequently asked questions. And let me first say there are no deer-proof plants — except for plastic and silk ones.

What we are left with are native and adapted non-native species. My words of advice have always been to use all plants that are the “stinky, sticky, fuzzy or thorny.”

Here is my list, which is based on numerous articles, research, observation and experience. I’m focusing on three factors: deer-resistant, drought tolerance and low-maintenance.

Trees & Shrubs

(Tree trunks less than 3 inches need to be protected)

Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) – one of three pines adapted to the San Antonio area. It has a roundish canopy, with light to dark green 4- to 5-inch long needles.

Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) – conical canopy, ranging in needle color from silver to green. Excellent living Christmas tree.

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) – known also as Texas sage or Texas ranger, cenizo is an evergreen shrub with predominately silver-gray leaves.

Escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis) – semi-evergreen large tree with a broad canopy. Live oak is probably our most adaptable tree.

Hollies (Ilex spp) – evergreen with thick, leathery and spiny leaves. The asian species and selections do best here.

Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) – not a true buckeye and has pink spring flowers rather than white, but is adaptable to many different landscapes.

Mexican sycamore (Platanus mexicana) – a fast growing, almost semi-evergreen sycamore whose fuzzy, fragrant leaves are unpalatable to deer.

Texas mountain-laurel (Sophora secundaflora) – its fragrant flowers in the spring are a delight to people, but its thick tough leaves are not so palatable to deer.

Perennials

Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) – one of the most perfect xeric and deer-resistant plants available. Blooms yellow flowers from May to November and requires no supplemental water.

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) – germander comes in creeping and bush forms. Its foliage is grayish green and blooms blue flowers from April to November.

Herbs – no specific herbs, most are pungent enough as to be unpalatable to deer. Specifically, mint, oregano and thyme are on most deer-resistant lists.

Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) – tarragon flavored foliage makes this wonderful yellow fall blooming perennial deer-resistant.

Mexican oregano (Polomintha longiflora) – not a true oregano, but similar taste. Lavender flowers cover the plants throughout the summer.

Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) – one of the most indestructible groundcovers available. Purple heart will grow in sun or shade and provides color with leaf and flower.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) – second only to purple heart in destructibility. The most important pests: too much rain and humans. After establishment, rosemary does not require any supplemental water. Comes in two forms: upright and prostrate.

Salvia (Salvia spp) – any and all Salvias are deer-resistant. Salvias come in a multitude of colors and sizes.

Santolina (Santolina virens) – comes in a gray and green forms.

Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) – a most excellent understory perennial. Comes in red, pink and now yellow.

Vines

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) – somewhat evergreen with orange flowers in the spring. Deer will eat it, but crossvine will generally grow and recover quickly.

Queen’s wreath or coral vine (Antigonon leptopus) – this vine is a rapid grower that produces pink flowers from July until the first freeze. Of course, deer will eat it, but regrowth is so fast the deer feasting is actually helpful in keeping it from getting to overgrown.

Annuals

Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) – the “Cora” series will grow in the cracks of sidewalks.

Zinnia (Zinnia spp) – zinnias come in a multitude of sizes and colors. Look for the ‘Zahara,’ ‘Crystal,’ and ‘Profusion’ series.

Many other lists are out there, some better than others. But stay with these 21 plants and you shouldn’t have an issue with deer feasting voraciously on your landscape. 

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Mark Peterson

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Mark Peterson

Mark A. Peterson is a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you’re likely to find him hiking San Antonio’s wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.