Hellebore roughly translates as “lethal food” as the name derives from the Greek words for food (bora) and injures or destroys (helein).
The ancient Greek army even utilized crushed hellebore as a chemical weapon. With this in mind, surely this plant can be relied upon to ward off deer, right?
Are hellebore deer resistant? All parts of the hellebore plant are toxic to mammals and are generally avoided by deer. Hellebore has also been categorized as a “rarely damaged“ plant according to research. In harsh winters when food is scarce, however, hellebore may be eaten by starving deer if the foliage remains above snow cover.
While hellebore is known to be deer resistant, deer eating habits may be different from place to place, so it’s helpful to know how to keep them away from your plants in all circumstances.
We’ll also share our top suggestions for hellebore companion plants and other deer-resistant perennials for sunny and shady conditions.
Hellebore and Deer – What To Know
No plants are 100 percent deer proof, but hellebore comes close. Less picky, desperate deer in your area may feed on it, but fortunately, there are ways to ensure your planted hellebore remains undisturbed.
Why Deer Usually Avoid Hellebore
Hellebore is considered poisonous to mammals due to the toxic ingredients found in their leaves, flower stems, sepals, and particularly the roots, which contain the toxin helleborine which can cause vomiting and diarrhea when ingested.
Rutgers University looked into landscape plants rated by deer resistance and found that hellebore landed on the “rarely damaged” rating scale, so gardeners should feel confident about planting it.
How To Ensure Your Hellebore Are Safe From Deer
Gardeners encountering hellebore-hungry deer have recommended keeping a deer feeder nearby, spraying the bed with deer repellent, and covering it with a weighted deer netting.
Others have suggested planting pungent plants in the vicinity as strong odors will mask the natural smell in the air which deer rely on to stay alert for danger.
If you are going to spray your planting bed with deer repellent, try mixing up the deterrent scent every few weeks for it to be effective.
Hellebore Companion Plants
Aside from implementing the above deer-prevention measures, a great way to help your hellebore thrive is with companion planting.
Planting companion shrubs, flowers, and trees near your hellebore can support their growth by attracting beneficial insects and driving away pests. They can also improve soil quality, aid in water retention, and control weeds.
- Creeping phlox
- Grape hyacinth
- Bleeding heart
- Wild ginger
- Christmas box
- Girard’s crimson
- Girard’s fuschia
- Oak, maple, and beech trees
Deer-Resistant Perennials for Sun
Hellebore tends to grow best in partial to full shade in the summer months, so it’s good also to have plenty of heat-loving and heat-tolerant perennials in your garden that will keep deer at bay.
Some of the most popular picks for full-sun locations include:
- Scarlet Monardella: Tubular flowers, vibrant red color, attracts hummingbirds, blooms early to mid-summer
- Italian Strawflower/Curry Plant: Clusters of ball-like buds, changes from ruby red to pink and yellow flowers, blooms early and mid-summer
- Chocolate Cosmos: Velvety flowers with a maroon color, emits a vanilla-chocolate scent that lures butterflies, blooms early to mid-summer
- Balloon Flower: Flaring, bell-shaped flowers, vibrant blue, white, and pink colors, blooms early to mid-summer
- Sun Drops: Golden-yellow flowers, very drought tolerant, blooms early to mid-summer
- Kangaroo Paws: Tall with woolly, tubular flowers, available in a rainbow of colors, bloom early summer to fall
- Allium ‘Lavender Bubbles’: Globular heads of star-shaped flowers, dusky purple color, blooms mid to late summer
- Mojave Sage: Silvery-green foliage with spiky lavender flowers, small and compact habit, tolerates extremely dry conditions, blooms mid to late summer
Deer-Resistant Perennials for Shade
If you’re growing a beautiful woodland garden, you can’t go wrong with some shade-tolerant perennials to brighten up your space. Deer are known to hate the following well-loved varieties:
- Bleeding Heart: Arching branches of heart-shaped flowers, available in bright pink and many other colors, blooms late spring to early fall
- Columbine: Five-petaled flowers with brightly colored contrasting spurs, available in various colors, low-maintenance, blooms mid-spring to early summer
- Siberian Bugloss: Silvery heart-shaped basal foliage with a spray of tiny blue star-shaped flowers, prefers rich and moist soil, highly pest and disease resistant
- Toad Lily: Striking star-shaped blossoms covered in purple specks; white, yellow, and light purple colors; blooms late summer to fall
- Windflower: Snowdrop-like flowers with ferny foliage, commonly white but available in various colors, blooms late spring and early fall
- Japanese Painted Ferns: Lacy silvery foliage with burgundy stems, compact, clumping habit, rabbit resistant, attracts butterflies
- Astilbe: Erect feathery flower spikes, fern-like foliage, available in various colors, blooms mid to late summer
- Lungwort: Small drooping flowers on white speckled or variegated foliage, blossoms change from pink to blue, blooms late winter to early spring
Do Rabbits Eat Hellebores?
Hellebores are poisonous to many animals, so rabbits tend to avoid them. All parts of the hellebore variety ‘Christmas Rose’ (Helleborus niger) are toxic to rabbits, especially the leaves, so it’s likely they will avoid similar types.
Hellebores are one of many beautiful rabbit-resistant plants to grow.
Is Hellebore Poisonous To Touch?
Great care should be taken when handling hellebore as some people develop skin irritation and burning after touching the leaves or stems.
This plant contains the toxins glycosides, saponin, and helleborine, which can collectively slow the heart rate and cause drowsiness, vomiting, and diarrhea when ingested.
Are Hellebores Poisonous to Dogs?
Yes, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) recognizes hellebores as toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Clinical signs of poisoning to watch out for in your dog include drooling, diarrhea, colic, abdominal pain, depression, vomiting, and lethargy.
Hellebores can provide some gorgeous winter color in your garden and have the bonus of keeping deer and other wildlife away due to the toxic ingredients found in the roots, stems, and leaves.
While they are categorized among plants that are least likely to be damaged, it’s wise to throw less picky deer off the scent with repellent sprays and netting, and perhaps consider companion plants for extra protection.