Ferns are one of the most popular ornamental plants for landscape areas and containers. This shade-loving plant can be a hiding place for turtles and frogs, but typically is not considered a snack for wildlife animals. Most ferns produce a toxin in their bitter tasting leaves which deter most vertebrates from munching on it.
According to Rutgers University, ferns are considered Rarely Damaged by deer on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged.
Deer tend to stay away from plants that are poisonous, fragrant, thorny, and fuzzy. Ferns are not on the menu for deer due to the toxins in the plant and floppy fronds. Deer are more attracted to Daylilies, Hostas, or English Ivy.
How To Keep Deer Away From Ferns
Despite the fact that ferns are rarely damaged by wandering deer, it is best to remember that no plant is truly deer resistant. If hungry enough, and if there is no better option in the garden, deer will eat anything. Try planting tactile plants such as thorny, prickly, or plants with hairy foliage. Deer are also deterred by scented plants. You can plant garlic, chive or mint near your fern plant to keep the deer away.
Deer are very skittish and can be frightened easily. Movement or sudden noises can scare deer off. Staging windchimes, scarecrows, or movable garden ornaments nearby can keep deer away from your shrubs. A more drastic option would be to put fencing around the plants or the entire garden area.
Will Ferns Come Back After Deer Eat Them?
Ferns are a very hardy perennial plant that benefits from the occasional light pruning. If an animal happens to munch on your plant, it will most likely be the outer fronds that are bothered. The healthiest fronds are at the center of the plant and are usually left untouched. A light pruning to reshape the plant will not hurt at all and the fern will bounce back very easily.
Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018