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Do Deer Eat Irises? NO (Here’s Why + Other Deterrents)

As an avid nature lover and gardener, I’m often asked: do deer eat irises? Having spent years studying wildlife and cultivating gardens prone to deer damage, I’ve learned quite a bit about the relationship between deer and irises.

Deer generally do not prefer to eat irises. The strong scent, bitter taste, and tough foliage of iris plants make them unappealing to deer. However, in times of extreme hunger, deer may resort to munching on irises if no tastier options are available.

Why Deer Typically Avoid Irises

There are several key reasons why deer tend to leave irises alone:

  • Bitter taste – The flavor of iris leaves and flowers is very bitter and unpalatable.
  • Unpleasant texture – Irises have a stiff, fibrous foliage that deer dislike chewing.
  • Strong odor – Many irises give off a strong, pungent fragrance that deters deer.
  • Toxicity – Some irises contain substances like lycorine that can make deer ill.
  • Thick leaves – Deer prefer not to eat plants with leathery or succulent leaves.
  • Sharp edges – The pointed tips and ridges on iris leaves deter deer.

With so many strikes against them, it’s no wonder deer tend to avoid noshing on irises. Only in times of desperation, such as harsh winters when other food sources are scarce, will deer resort to munching on the unpalatable irises.

However, if you want to keep deer out of your garden, then you may consider some repellent like the ones below:

Iris Varieties Less Preferred by Deer

While deer don’t find any irises particularly tasty, some varieties seem to be less popular with deer than others. Here are a few of the iris types deer seem to dislike the most:

  • Bearded irises – These have a bitter taste and strong fragrance.
  • Japanese irises – Their grass-like leaves are tough for deer to chew.
  • Siberian irises – They have an unpleasantly strong scent.
  • African iris – The fan-shaped rigid leaves are unappealing.
  • Dutch iris – These bulbs smell and taste unpleasant to deer.
  • Crocus iris – The toxic lycorine makes these unpalatable.

Planting these extremely deer-resistant iris varieties is a smart tactic if you want to deter deer from dining in your garden beds or yard.

Other Plants Deer Avoid

While irises are generally deer-resistant, they aren’t the only plants that deter deer. Here are some other options to consider:

  • Chives – The strong oniony aroma repels deer.
  • Daffodils – These contain toxins that sicken deer.
  • Lamb’s ear – The fuzzy texture puts deer off this edible plant.
  • Foxglove – All parts of these poisonous plants deter deer.
  • Yarrow – Deer dislike the fern-like foliage.
  • Lavender – The strong perfumey fragrance deters deer from browsing.

Here I wrote about additional deer-resistant perennials, check it out!

Interplanting these with your irises and other beloved plants can create an unattractive buffet that deer will skip over. Just be cautious that plants toxic to deer aren’t also poisonous to pets or kids.

When Deer May Eat Irises

Generally speaking, deer will opt for tastier treats over irises any day. However, there are a few scenarios when deer may get desperate enough to munch on these unpalatable plants:

  • Early spring before native plants have leafed out
  • During dry summers when foliage is scarce
  • In winter when few plants remain green
  • If local deer populations become overly abundant
  • When does are nursing and require more food
  • If weather causes failure of acorn or other nut crops deer rely on

Basically, hunger can push deer to eat less-preferred foods like irises. Providing deer with alternative natural food sources can help prevent landscape damage during lean times. Avoid feeding deer directly, as this can lead to dependency.

Will Iris Plants Recover if Deer Eat Them?

The good news is iris rhizomes are usually unharmed if deer nibble the foliage or flower stalks. As long as the underground rhizome remains intact, the irises will regenerate new leaves and bloom the following year. Here are some iris recovery tips:

  • Cut away any damaged leaves or bloom stalks.
  • Fertilize lightly to help regrow the foliage.
  • Water during dry periods to aid regrowth.
  • Cover with chicken wire cages if nibbling continues.
  • Wait patiently for leaves and blooms to return the next season.

While losing foliage and flowers is disheartening, take comfort that the iris rhizomes should survive and regenerate the following season once deer browsing pressure is reduced.

Deterring Deer from Irises and Other Landscape Plants

If deer nibbling is still a concern, there are solutions to deter deer and prevent damage to irises and other landscape plants you wish to protect. Here are some effective deer deterrent options:

  • Plant heavily with deer-resistant species like irises, daffodils, and lavender.
  • Use commercial organic repellent sprays approved for vegetables.
  • Install motion-activated sprinklers to startle deer.
  • Put up fencing at least 8 feet tall around valuable plantings.
  • Allow dogs access to patrolled garden areas.
  • Use hanging soap bars, and shiny objects to frighten deer.
  • Apply granular repellent products to the soil before planting.

A combination of deer-resistant plantings, fencing, and repellents tailored to your specific site can provide the best protection. Be aware that hungry deer will try to defeat any deterrents, so vigilance is needed.


In summary, do deer eat irises? No, because irises tend to be quite deer-resistant thanks to traits like their bitter flavor, strong fragrance, and tough foliage. But no plant is 100% safe from a hungry deer. By companion planting irises with other unfavorable plants and using fencing or repellents, you can reduce damage and enjoy your beautiful iris blooms unnibbled.

With a little patience and persistence, you can outwit Bambi and keep your landscape lush and flourishing. I hope these iris deer-resistance tips empower you to plant confidently, knowing deer will turn up their noses at your irises in search of tastier treats.

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