Top 5 deer-resistant annuals (I hope)


Love in a Mist (Nigella) seeds can be sprinkled directly onto the soil. Photo credit; Ian Sutton

I need more plants.

One of the joys and frustrations of starting a new garden is watching it grow. For once I’m trying to be restrained and allow room for the trees, shrubs and perennials to expand to their natural shape and size without jostling neighbors yet that means I can see bare soil -definitely not my usual garden design style.

The main problem exists in a large island border where all plants have to thrive in full sun, be reliably drought tolerant and deer resistant. I also need BIG plants that make an impact due to the scale of the border as well as its setting within our 5 acre property. No wimpy pansies here! Even though the deer have so far ignored the trees and shrubs I’ve planted they still seem to think that it is acceptable to walk through my new border rather than go around. (It seems my dog was easier to train in that regard).

So to eliminate the deer-freeway,  reduce visible bare ground and to fill the gaps between immature plants I have decided to use annuals in a few spots. For budget reasons I have grown these from seed but most can easily be purchased as plugs from the nurseries.

'Fireworks' is an apt name for this sizzling annual (Globe amaranth)!

‘Fireworks’ Globe amaranth (Gomphrena) – This one is new to me ; a good enough reason to include it! It quickly grows to form a full, dense, landscape sized specimen, eventually reaching 3-4' tall and 1-2' wide which equates to a lot of plants for a $3 packet of seeds. Tons of strong, tall stems are topped with exploding bursts of full, large 1" blooms in hot pink tipped with bright yellow. A showstopper in the garden and conversation piece when cut for a mixed bouquet. Should be gorgeous.

At a glance you could easily mistake this 'Mahogany splendor' hibiscus as a Japanese maple. Photo credit;

Hibiscus ‘Mahogany splendor’ –  A beautiful foliage plant, this attractive variety has shiny, maple shaped leaves in deep, dark burgundy giving the appearance of a choice Japanese maple at a fraction of the cost. Every part of this plant is dark, making it a good choice for contrast with silver foliaged plants such as wormwood (Artemisia). Grows 3-5 feet.



Love-in-the-mist isn't nearly so delicate as it looks. Photo credit;

Love-in-the-mist (Nigella) – I have a love/hate relationship with this pretty annual. It self-seeds which means free plants next year BUT they will undoubtedly re-seed where I don’t want them! Thankfully the extras are easy to identify and pull out. Dainty, multi-faceted blossoms are followed by striped fairy lantern seedpods over delicate feathery foliage. Blue is the usual color but I have selected white and simply scattered the seeds amongst ‘Walker’s low’ catmint (Nepeta). This soft color scheme will break up areas of bolder colors and is anchored by my favorite narrow conifer;  false cypress ‘Wissels’ saguaro’ (Chamaecyparis l. ‘Wissel’s saguaro’).


'Violet queen' spider flower will gain plenty of attention from friends but thankfully not from deer. Photo credit;

‘Violet queen’ spider flower (Cleome) usually comes in shades of rose or white but this variety has unusual purple flowers which intrigued me. What really got my attention though was its promise of heat and drought tolerance and ability to survive neglect! It is also a butterfly and hummingbird magnet – my kind of plant. At 4’ tall and with a succession of blooms all summer long this may become a ‘regular’ even after the garden has filled out.

Castor bean plant makes a strong architectural statement in the summer garden. Photo credit;

‘Carmencita’ castor bean (Ricin communis ‘Carmencita’) –The deep red maple like leaves make quite a statement on stems that can reach 5’ tall. Flowers resemble red pompoms held high on bamboo like stalks. All parts of these plants are extremely poisonous so do not include in the garden if you have small children or pets who are likely to eat fallen seeds or leaves. I’m planting a large mass of these near some Canna ‘Tropicana’ which I saved from last year, with the burnt orange ‘Flasher’ daylilies in front and a wave of feathery blue star (Amsonia) to one side which will turn bright yellow in fall.

You don't need to have deer in your garden to choose these plants! If you are looking for an inexpensive way to fill a large sunny space with color that doesn't need deadheading and is remarkably drought tolerant then these top 5 picks could be perfect for you too.

Other sunloving, drought tolerant, deer resistant annuals you light like include;

snapdragons, poppies, helichrysum (great for foliage), sage varieties, zinnia, ageratum




  1. debsgarden on May 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    My garden is over 20 years old, and I still am contending with bare spots in places. A garden is never done; at least mine isn't! Annuals make great fillers while we wait. Your castor bean combination with Tropicana Canna lily, daylilies, and Amsonia ought to be spectacular! I hope you post a photo when all is up and blooming.

    • Karen Chapman on May 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      It's always a bit risky when you announce to the gardening world what your 'plans' are. Like you I'm hoping that group will be spectacular but I'm already wondering if rabbits will stop by for a midnight snack. I may end up with another 'what the wildlife left behind' post!!

  2. Elaine Jonson on May 21, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Well I would think these selections might also not be "bunny lunch" as well. Thanks for the info Karen. Hope all is going well. Such a busy time of the year and my garden is looking pretty good_very small as compared to your 3 acres but enough for me to handle with the crunch of professional work.

  3. Mark and Gaz on May 21, 2012 at 4:20 am

    This is a handy guide Karen, especially if you live in an area where deers are more commonly seen. Ricinus 'Carmencita Red' is a gorgeous plant.

    • Karen Chapman on May 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      So far the Ricin is still standing despite rabbits, deer prints and a monsoon!

  4. Jennifer on May 22, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Hi Karen, I have a brand new bed in the garden this year as well as a couple that went through a recent cull and are looking a bit empty. I have thought to add som annuals, but none of the great ones you have recommended. I particularly like Love-in-the-mist and the drama of the caster bean plant.

  5. Stacy on May 22, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I had to laugh at the image of you trying to train both the dog and the deer. If only deer were as eager to please as dogs (mostly) are! I'm just beginning to come around to annuals again and see how incredibly useful they are – I've grown them in pots before but not as much in the landscape. That particular gomphrena just radiates NM style!

    • Karen Chapman on May 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Stacy – I hope the Gomphrena lives up to its reputation too but it was certainly recommended by a lot of people

  6. Karen Chapman on May 22, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I have never been much of a one for annuals except to beef up containers so this is a new venture for me too. Cheap, fast growing and if you choose wisely they'll fill a BIG space.

  7. John on May 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Not to sure about the Castor Bean Plant, Ricinus communis. These can tend to be a bit of weed in the wrong place. Certainly anywhere warm.

    • Karen Chapman on May 24, 2012 at 7:31 am

      Here in Seattle they die off at the first frost and look great until then. I do find they need to be planted fairly close together to look good though.

  8. PlantPostings on May 27, 2012 at 5:47 am

    I'm so jealous of your sunny garden! I have a very small plot of sun–otherwise I have to be content with plants that prefer shade. Cleome has always been a personal favorite, and you've convinced me I must try Nigella. Beautiful!

    • Karen Chapman on May 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      It's funny but when I had mostly shade I desperately wanted more sun. Now I'm struggling to find homes for all my hostas, ferns etc that I brought when we moved, so am having to create a shade garden!