Sage deer resistant plants

Choosing Deer Resistant Plants

In recent years, the great increases of deer entering residential neighborhoods in the US has sounded an alarm with many gardeners. While most people love deer, and enjoy seeing them, they are not amused when “Bambi” walks in and strips a newly-planted vegetable garden, wildflower planting, or display of beautiful spring tulips.

The obvious solutions are sometimes difficult. A homeowner can fence a vegetable plot, but that’s not usually possible when people are trying to landscape a larger area. Also, the whole idea of flower gardens, wild or not-so-wild, is to create a beautiful landscape. A secure fence is not usually part of the plan. So more and more of our customers are asking, “What flowers are deer proof?.” Well, read on.

What to do? We deal with thousands of flower gardeners in every state. And the ones that have the most success in warding off unwanted deer use repellent. Deer repellants such as “Deer Off”, which is widely available at garden center stores across the country, are much more effective than choosing certain flowers to plant.

Deer eat “everything.” This is not really true, of course, but basically, we need to understand that deer are a “grazing” species, which means they generally feed on whatever vegetation is available. And as most homeowners know, they usually favor “new growth” – new spring twigs on trees and shrubs, and of course, tempting food crops that we plant in our vegetable gardens. Most flowers are just as appetizing to deer, but there are exceptions.


Coping with the deer by the use of deer resistant plants.

by Forrest W. Appleton
Parson’s Archive ssistant Answer Man
Retired certifed nursery professional, Bexar County Master Gardener

Many of us who live in the suburbs must share our environment with the native wildlife. For the most part, we can live in harmony with these creatures and derive considerable pleasure from their presence. At times the squirrels can cause great exasperation as we try to keep them out of the bird feeders and fruit and nut trees but the entertainment they provide as they frolic about the yard offsets any inconvenience they cause. We may speak harshly of the occasional skunk, possum or armadillo when they dig holes in our lawns as they search for grubs. And that pesky roadrunner seems to always have one of our insect eating anole lizards in his beak.

However, none of these critters seems to cause irreparable damage. The one that brings to bear serious heartburn though is the whitetail deer. Their natural ability to assimilate themselves into the residential community is exacerbated by those who delight in putting out food to attract them into their yards.

This graceful animal has absolutely no respect for the property of his human neighbors and possesses great athletic ability, making it difficult if not almost impossible to preclude its presence. They leap six-foot fences with ease. They come under the cover of darkness to determine what new delicacies have appeared since their last visit and I can not help but believe that they take the greatest of pleasure in nipping off the almost open buds of tomorrow’s blossoms.

Much has been written and said about what the serious gardener can do to lessen the impact of the deer in his landscape. This usually includes a listing of those plants which deer are not supposed to like and the unqualified statement that repellents exist to fend them off your prized plants. I have found these writings and proclamations to be of little value to the person who is trying to put some variety into his landscape and do his share to improve the beauty of his surroundings. At the end of this article I will list those plants which I, through trial and error, have found to be least bothered by the deer.

The physical damage caused by the deer by means other that browsing is something that is seldom addressed by either those who would have us believe that the deer are a definite plus in our communities or by the horticultural experts as they dispense their advise. No small tree or shrub is safe from the buck that is rubbing the velvet from his antlers or marking his area. They not only cause breakage, but will rub the bark completely off a plant, girdling it and causing its eventual death. The only protection that I have found to be effective is to place an unsightly cage of fencing or concrete reinforcing mesh around the plant. Since I usually install small plants, this means a lengthy period of eyesores in the landscape.

This article is not meant to be a complete condemnation of the deer. They are, no doubt, here to stay. My main purpose is to pass on those things with which I have had some success. I have had good luck with most of the gray leaf plants, those with highly fragrant foliage, all of the salvias and most of the lantanas. Here is the listing of the plants which the deer do not seem to like well enough to severely damage by eating. However this list must be caveated like others I have seen; deer can’t read and when they are hungry, they will eat almost anything.

Shrubs
Agarita (Berberis trifoliolata)
Boxleaf Euonymus (Euonymus japonica ‘Microphylla’)
Bush Germander (Teucrium fruiticans)
Ceniza/Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.)
Elaeagnus or Silverberry* (Elaeagnus pungens)
Esperanza (Tecoma stans)
Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens)
Firebush (Hamelia patens)
Goldcup (Hypericum spp.)
Gray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophylla)
Japanese Boxwood (Buxus microphylla japonica)
Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus)
Nandina (Nandina domestica)
Oleander (Nerium oleander)
Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana)
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Primrose Jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi)
Reeve’s Spirea (Spirea reevesiana)
Soft Leaf Yucca (Yucca recurvifolia)
Sotol (Dasylirion spp.)
Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)
Upright Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Viburnum (Viburnum spp.)
Yaupon Holly (regular and dwarf) (Ilex vomitoria)
Yucca (spp) All yucca with a sharp, stiff point
Thryallis (Galphimia glauca)
Ground Covers
Prostrate Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Prostratus)
Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys)
Gray Santolina or Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)
Green Santolina (Santolina virens)

Thyme (Thymus spp)
Wedelia (Wedelia trilobata)
Frog Fruit (Phyla incisa)
Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis)
Perennials
Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum x Johnsonii)
Angel Trumpet (Datura spp )
Bouncing Bet / Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
Silver King Artemisia (Artemisia ludoviciana)
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii )
Bearded Iris (Iris spp)
Blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lemonii)
Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)
Elephant Ears (Alocasia spp./Colocasia spp.)
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)
Goldmoss Sedum (Sedum acre)
Gray Santolina or Lavender Cotton (Santolina hamaecyparissus)
Green Santolina (Santolina virens)
Hummingbird Bush (Anisacanthus wrightii)
Indigo Spires Salvia (Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’)
Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa)
Lantana (Lantana spp)
Mallow Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Marguerite (Chrysanthemum frutescens)
Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea )
Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnaris)
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera )
Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida)
Mexican Oregano (Poliomintha longifolia)
Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Spined Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp)
Split Leaf Philodendron (P. selloum )
Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea)
Wedelia (Wedelia trilobata)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)
Evergreen Pavonia (Pavonia hastata)
Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum Pseudocapsicum)
Perilla/Shiso (Perilla frutescens ‘Atropurpurea)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Society Garlic (Tulbaghia fragrens)
Ornamental grasses
Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Gulf Muhley (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Lindheimer’s Muhley (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)
Pampas Grass(Cortaderia selloana)
Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
Flowers
Indigo Spires (Salvia spp.)
Larkspurs (Delphinium consolida)
Marigolds (Tagetes spp)
Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea )
Periwinkles (Catharanthus roseus)
Zinnias (Zinnia spp)
Spider Flower (Cleome Hasslerana)


Parson’s Archive Index | Aggie Horticulture
Updated 01 Sept 2008

Deer-Tolerant Ornamental Plants

Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Deer like nutrition-rich plants, especially in spring and summer when does are pregnant or nursing, when young deer are growing and when bucks are growing antlers. Fertilized plants, such as those in home landscapes, provide protein, energy-rich carbohydrates, minerals and salts. Deer also get about one-third of their water from the moisture in irrigated plants and young, succulent vegetation on expanding leaves, buds and green stems.

Nuisance deer that feast on home gardens and bucks that damage young trees by rubbing them with their antlers during the rutting season are difficult and expensive to control in residential communities. Although there are a number of commer cially available deer repellents on the market, none of them are 100 percent effective. Most “home remedy” repellents, such as soap, human hair and animal dung, are unreliable. Shooting deer or using noise guns is prohibited in most residential neighborhoods, and many citizens are opposed to this method of control. Fencing whole communities or individual properties is often not practical, and may be against local ordinances or community covenants. Trapping and relocating deer is costly and often harmful or fatal to deer.

If deer are overabundant in your neighborhood, and deer herd reduction or management is not feasible, a good way to prevent deer browsing in landscapes is to plant ornamental plants that deer do not like to eat.

There is no such thing as a deer-resistant plant, and when deer populations are high and food becomes scarce, deer may feed on plants that are thought to be deer-tolerant. However, deer generally do not like plants with pungent aromas. Some gardeners have reported success with planting strong-scented plants like lantana, catmint, chives, mint, sage or thyme adjacent to plants that deer frequently browse. Deer also shy away from plants with prickly or rough leaves and plants with a bitter taste. Sometimes, deer browse new plantings or established plants with tender new growth, then avoid those same plants when their leaves are mature.

Over the years, wildlife organizations, universities, botanical gardens and garden writers have constructed many lists of deer-tolerant and deer-susceptible ornamental plants. Because most of these lists are constructed from observational trial-and-error data instead of controlled scientific studies, they are open for criticism. Furthermore, many variables influence deer feeding preferences.

The list below is a compilation of ornamental plants for Georgia hardiness zones that appear in published literature (see References) as well as observations by the authors. It is intended to be a guide for selecting ornamental plants for landscapes where deer browsing is a problem. Plants known to be invasive and a serious problem in natural areas, regardless of their level of deer tolerance, were excluded from the list.

Plants Deer Occasionally or Frequently Browse
(Protection is recommended)
Common Name Botanical Name
American Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis
American Beautyberry Callicarpa acmericana
American Elder Sambucus canadensis
American Sycamore Platanus occidentalis
Arrow-wood Viburnum dentatum
Asiatic Lilies Lilium spp.
Beech (low branches) Fagus spp.
Bittersweet Celastrus scandens
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia spp.
Blackgum Nyssa sylvatica
Blanket Flower Gaillardia spp.
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
Carolina Ash Fraxinus caroliniana
Carolina Buckthorn Frangula caroliniana
Carolina Yellow Jessamine Gelsemium sempervirens
Chrysanthemum (fall mums) Chrysanthemum spp.
Coleus Coleus spp.
Cosmos Cosmos spp.
Crossvine Bignonia capreolata
Daylily (prefer flowers and flower buds) Hemerocallis spp.
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis
Flowering Crabapple (small trees and low branches) Malus spp.
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
Fothergilla (flowers and new growth) Fothergilla spp.
Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera jamesonii
Grape Hyacinth Muscari spp.
Green Ash (tender new growth) Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Greenbriar Smilax spp.
Hawthorn Crataegus spp.
Hibiscus Hibiscus spp.
Some Hollies
(some, such as Lusterleaf, Mary Nell, Nellie R. Stevens, Blue)
Ilex spp.
Hollyhock Alcea spp.
Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos
Hop Hornbeam Ostrya virginiana
Hosta Hosta spp.
Hydrangea (bigleaf, oakleaf, climbing) Hydrangea spp.
Impatiens Impatiens walleriana
Indian Hawthorn Rhaphiolepis indica
Japanese Maple (tender new growth) Acer palmatum
Morning Glory Ipomea spp.
Trumpet Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens
Pansy Viola spp.
Petunia Petunia spp.
Redbay Persea borbonia
Red Maple Acer ruburm
Rhododendron Rhododendron spp.
Rose Balsam Impatiens balsamina
Roses Rosa spp.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea
Soloman’s Seal, Polygonatum spp.
Sourwood (tender new growth) Oxydendron aroreum
Strawberry Bush Euonymus ameicanus
Summersweet Clethra Cletra alnifolia
Swamp Cyrilla Cyrilla racemiflora
Sweetbay Magnolia Magnolia virginiana
Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus
Titi Cliftonia monophylla
Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans
Tulips Tulip spp.
Violas Viola spp.
Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica
Yew (English and Japanese) Taxus spp.
Trees Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Bald Cypress Taxodium distichum
Carolina Silverbell Halesia carolina
Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus
Crape Myrtle Lagerstroemia indica
Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Deodar Cedar Cedrus deodara
Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana L.
Falsecypress Chamaecyparis spp.
Fir Abies spp.
Ginkgo Ginko biloba
Goldenraintree Koelreuteria paniculata
Gordonia Gordonia lasianthus
Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica
Katsura Tree Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Kousa Dogwood Cornus kousa
Pawpaw Asimina triloba
Palm Many genera and species
Pine Pinus spp.
Saucer Magnolia, Japanese Magnolia Magnolia x soulangiana
Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora
Smoketree Cotinus obovatus
Spruce Picea spp.
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum
Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
Tuliptree, Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera
Shrubs Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Banana Shrub Michelia figo
Barberry Berberis spp.
Beautybush Kolkwitzia amabilis
Bottlebrush Buckeye Aesculus parviflora
Boxwood Buxus spp.
Butterfly Bush Buddleia spp.
Common Witchhazel Hamamelis virginiana
Cotoneaster Cotoneaster spp.
Deutzia Deutzia spp.
Drooping Leucothoe Leucothoe fontanesiana
European Fan Palm Chamaerops humilis
Firethorn (Pyracantha) Pyracantha coccinea
Flowering Quince Chaenomeles speciosa
Gardenia Gardenia spp.
Glossy Abelia Abelia spp.
Some Hollies
(yaupon, inkberry, Chinese and Japanese)
See occasionally browsed list.
Ilex spp.
Japanese Andromeda Pieris japonica
Japanese Plum Yew Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Japanese Rose Kerria japonica
Junipers Juniperus spp.
Needle Palm Rhapidophyllum hystrix
Oleander Nerium oleander
Osmanthus Osmanthus spp.
Pineapple Guava Feijoa sellowiana
Pomegranate Punica granatum
Primrose Jasmine Jasminum mesnyi
Sotol Dasylirion wheeleri
Spirea Spiraea spp.
Sweet Box Sarcoccoca hookeriana
Viburnum Viburnum spp.
Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera
Weigela Weigela florida
Winter Daphne Daphne odora
Yucca Yucca filimentosa
Ornamental Grasses Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Fountaingrass Pennisetum alopecuroides
Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis spp.
Hakone Grass Hakonechloa macra
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium
Northern Sea Oats Chasmanthium latifolium
Pampas Grass Cortaderia selloana
Pink Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris
Purple Moor Grass Molinia caerulea
Ravenna Grass Erianthus ravennae
Sedge Carex spp.
Sweet Flag Acorus spp.
Switch Grass Panicum virgatum
Vines and Groundcovers Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Bugleweed (Ajuga) Ajuga reptans
Columbine Aquilegia spp.
Confederate Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides
Creeping Raspberry Rubus calycinoides
Creeping Lantana Lantana montevidensis
Dwarf Mondograss Ophiopogon japonicus
Japanese Pachysandra Pachysandra terminalis
Junipers Juniperus spp.
Liriope Liriope spicata
Plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Prostrate Rosemary Rosemarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum (Asperula odorata)
Thyme Thymus spp.

Herbaceous Perennials and Bulbs Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Allium Allium spp.
African Lily Agapanthus spp.
Amaryllis Hippeastrum spp.
Anise Hyssop Agastache spp.
Aster Aster spp.
Astilbe Astilbe spp.
Balloon Flower Platycodon grandiflorus
Beebalm Monarda didyma
Boltonia Boltonia spp.
Bush Cinquefoil Potentilla fruticosa
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa
Candytuft Iberis spp.
Cardinal Flower Lobelia spp.
Catmint Nepeta spp.
Christmas Fern Polystichum arcostichoides
Cinnamon Fern Osmunda cinnamomea
Columbine Aquilegia spp.
Crinum Lily Crinum spp.
Crocosmia Croscosmia spp.
Crocus Crocus spp.
Daffodils Narcissus spp.
Dahlia Dahlia spp.
Delphinium Delphinium spp.
Elephant Ears Alocasia spp. / Colocasia spp.
False Indigo Baptisia australis
Foamflower Tiarella cordifolia
Forget-Me-Not Myosotis spp.
Four O’Clock Mirabilis jalapa
Foxglove Digitalis spp.
Gay-feather (Liatris) Liatris spp.
Globe Thistle Echinops spp.
Goldenrod Solidago spp.
Green Jerusalem Sage Phlomis spp.
Hens and Chickens Sempervivum spp.
Iris Iris spp.
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphylum
Lamb’s Ear Stachys byzantine
Lantana Lantana spp.
Larkspur Consolida ambigua
Lavender Lavandula spp.
Lavender-cotton Santolina chamaecyparissus
Lenten Rose Helleborus spp.
Lily-of-the-Nile Agapanthus africanus
Lupine Lupinus spp.
Marjoram Origanum marjorana
May Apple Podophyllum peltatum
Meadow Rue Thalictrum aquilegifolium
Mint Mentha spp.
Money Plant Lunaria annua
Oregano Oreganum vulgare
Peony Paeonia spp.
Perennial Sunflower Helianthus spp.
Pinks Dianthus spp.
Poppy Papaver spp.
Primrose Primula spp.
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Rose Campion Lychnis coronaria
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis
Royal Fern Osmunda regalis
Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia
Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis
Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea
Speedwell Veronica spp.
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum (Asperula odorata)
Statice Limonium latifolium
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
Threadleaf Coreopsis Coreopsis verticillata
Toad Lily Tricyrtis hirta
Texas Sage Salvia greggii
Wallflower Cheiranthus spp.
Wild Indigo Baptisia spp.
Wormwood Artemesia spp.
Yarrow Achillea filipendulina
Annuals Deer Rarely Browse
Common Name Botanical Name
Ageratum Ageratum houstonianum
Alyssum Lobularia spp.
Annual Periwinkle Catharanthus spp.
Annual Salvia Salvia spp.
Baby’s Breath Gypsophila spp.
Bachelor’s Buttons Centaurea cyanus
Basil Ocimum basilicum
Calendula, Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis
California Poppy Eschscholzia californica
Cock’s Comb Celosia spp.
Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria
Flowering Tobacco Nicotiana spp.
Lantana Lantana spp.
Marigold Tagetes spp.
Parsley Petroselinum crispum
Scarlet Sage Salvia coccinea
Swedish Ivy Plectranthus spp.
Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus
Spiderflower Cleome spp.
Strawflower Bracteantha bracteata
Stock Matthiola incana
Sweet Pea Lathyrus odoratus
Verbena Verbena x hybrida

Adler, Bill Jr. 1999. Outwitting Deer. The Globe Pequot Press., ISBN: 1-55821-629-4

Appleton, Forrest. 2008. Deer in the Urban Landscapes: Coping with the Deer by the Use of Deer-Resistant Plants.

Halls, Lowell K. and Thomas H. Ripley. 1961. Deer Browse Plants of Southern Forests. Published by the Forest Game Research Committee of the Southeastern Section of the Wildlife Society.

Hart, Rhonda Massingham. 1997. Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden. Stipes Publishing Co., ISBN:088266-988-5

Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance. Rutgers University Cooperative Extension.

Larson, Richard. 2001. Deer-Resistant Plants — Shrubs and Trees for the Deer-Plagued Gardener. Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Moreland, David. A Checklist of the Woody and Herbaceous Deer Food Plants of Louisiana. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Nuss, Robert J. 2001. Deer Resistant Plants. Penn State Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet No. GH001.

Perry, Leonard. Choosing Deer-resistant Landscape Plants. University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Status and Revision History
Published on Apr 27, 2010
Published with Full Review on Apr 30, 2013
Published with Full Review on Feb 01, 2016

Gardening How-to Articles

Deer-Resistant Plants: Shrubs and Trees for the Deer-Plagued Gardener

By Richard A. Larson | December 1, 2001

Over the past few decades, plant damage caused by deer has risen to alarming levels in North American rural and suburban gardens. As a result, many homeowners feel they’ve no choice but to erect an ugly battery of defenses against invading herds. Where I live in Ohio, gardeners often quip that they have an interesting collection of fences, along with some great plants.

Why are we so besieged by deer? Well, it’s our own fault. Clear-cutting for agriculture in the last century contributed to the disappearance of large predators and created ideal browsing habitat for deer, triggering a massive population explosion. Nowadays, the conversion of farmland into residential subdivisions is depriving deer of their traditional food sources. Inadequate culling measures in some states are exacerbating the situation.

Read More: Keeps Rats Out of Your Garden

But besides eradication through hunting and exclusion by fencing, what can a gardener do? Deploy repellents? In my experience, bags of human hair, bars of smelly soap, concentrated garlic products, and synthesized chemicals are only effective—and unreliably at that—when browsing pressure is very light.

There is another strategy: selecting plants that deer won’t eat. However, here again we encounter problems. It can be difficult, for instance, to acquire some of these plants. Virtually every nursery in the country offers a nice selection of yews (Taxus), most of which happen to be relished by deer. But it’s rare to find one that sells or knows anything about the plum yews (Cephalotaxus), an excellent group of plants that deer generally avoid.

Then there’s the myth of the “deer-proof” plant. We simply cannot predict the behavior of hungry deer. These ruminants have complex nutritional needs. The more desperate they become, the more likely they are to shift their attention to plants avoided in the past. Such has been the case with the western red cedar (Thuja plicata), long hailed as a deer-proof evergreen but now on Bambi’s bill of fare.

I prefer the moniker “deer-resistant.” It doesn’t signify a sure thing but rather a pretty good bet. The following is a list of deer-resistant woody plants that look very appetizing to us in the garden but not to roaming herds of deer. At least, not yet.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

When the thick, pithy stem of a pawpaw is damaged, it emits a fetid odor—and this is probably what keeps the deer away. A large, multistemmed, suckering plant reaching up to 20 feet in height, the pawpaw is native from southern Ontario west to Nebraska and south to Florida. In the garden, it is most commonly used as an understory shrub. The pawpaw also adapts well to open sites, where it can grow into a tall, densely branched tree. It prefers a rich, moist, acid soil and is hardy from Zones 6 to 8.

The pawpaw adds an interesting boldness, an almost tropical look, to a garden. It has large, simple, mid-green leaves, 6 to 15 inches long, which turn a stunning yellow to coppery red in fall. Its cup-shaped, one to two inch purple flowers appear sparingly in mid-May. They develop into large, delicious berry-shaped fruits, which ripen in September to a yellow-brown color. The flesh of the fruit is comparable to that of banana in texture. Several pawpaw cultivars have been selected for their improved fruit quality: Asimina triloba ‘Mitchell’ and ‘Overleese’ have exceptionally large fruits that weigh close to a pound when ripe.

Boxwood Species (Buxus species)

Buxus microphylla ‘Jim’s Tru Spreader’ (littleleaf box). Photo by Blanca Begert.

In the garden, the genus Buxus is represented predominantly by three shrubby species—the common boxwood (B. sempervirens), littleleaf boxwood (B. microphylla), and Korean littleleaf boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis)—and their numerous hybrids and cultivars. Boxwoods retain excellent glossy green foliage year-round and bear tiny but extremely fragrant yellow-white flowers in late April and early May. They respond well to intense shearing and thus are most often used as hedges in formal settings. Left alone, they develop broadly conical shapes and make interesting specimen plantings. All perform well in dry, shady sites with fertile soil.

The common boxwood is native from southern Europe and northern Africa eastward to the Caucasus and Russia. Although less hardy (USDA Zones 6 to 8) than its Asiatic cousins, it has larger, glossier leaves. The straight species can reach up to 15 feet tall, but many distinct selections have emerged. You can choose from tight columnar forms such as ‘Graham Blandy’ and ‘Angustifolia’, or settle for low-growing groundcovers like ‘Anderson’ and ‘Suffruticosa’. The dense, five-foot-tall, variegated cultivar ‘Elegantissima’ creates refreshing contrast in the landscape with its cream-yellow-margined leaves. The cultivars ‘Asheville’, ‘Nela Park’, and ‘Pullman’ are particularly hardy and useful for colder regions.

Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia)

Native to Asia, the evergreen, coniferous plum yews (Cephalotaxus) closely resemble English and Japanese yews (Taxus). They have coarse, one to two inch needles that vary in color from medium to dark glossy green. On female plants, inch-long fleshy cones ripen in autumn from green to olive-brown, looking like small, downward-hanging plums. Plum yews can play much the same role as yews in our landscapes. They may be tightly clipped into attractive formal specimens or left to grow naturally into large, dense screens. As with the yews, they do well in dry, shady sites.

The surprisingly cold-hardy Japanese plum yew, C. harringtonia (Zones 6 to 9), has a lot of potential for northern gardens. The straight species can grow 20 feet tall, occasionally taking the form of a small tree. The cultivar ‘Fastigiata’ is a beautifully formal, broadly conical shrub growing to 15 feet. ‘Prostrata’, a spreading groundcover less than three feet tall, originated at Hillier’s Nursery, in England, and is slowly becoming popular in the United States.

Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compactum’)

The genus Mahonia consists mainly of evergreen woody shrubs or shrubby groundcovers native to the western United States. A few species, such as the leatherleaf mahonia (M. bealei), are indigenous to Asia. Mahonias are grown for their glossy, spiny-margined foliage, their clusters of bright yellow, fragrant early-spring flowers, and their handsome blue-black berries, which ripen from late July to September. Mahonias are drought-tolerant and pest-free, but their cold-hardiness varies widely. Tender coastal species, such as the Fremont mahonia (M. fremontii), are hardy from Zones 8 to 10. The creeping mahonia (M. repens), on the other hand, makes its home in the subalpine regions of Montana and is best suited to Zone 4.

One of the features I like best about mahonias is the bronze-red color of their newly emerged leaves. It’s particularly evident on M. aquifolium ‘Compactum’, a handsome dwarf form of the Oregon grapeholly. The plant grows between two and three feet tall, prefers a moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil, and likes full sun to partial shade. It’s hardy from Zones 5 to 9, perfect for cooler gardens in the North.

Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Black tupelo is a premier shade tree valued for its pest resistance, dense branching habit, and excellent foliage. It grows from Ontario south to Florida and Texas, and west to Michigan and Wisconsin. I normally observe this tree in association with oaks (Quercus) on dry, upland sites, in slightly acid soils. But it will tolerate heavier, wetter soils as well. Hardy from Zones 5 to 9, it averages 30 to 50 feet in height; however, cultivated open-grown specimens will occasionally approach 100 feet tall. In youth, its habit is somewhat stiff and broadly conical. Older trees take on a more appealing rounded to flat-topped appearance.

Black tupelo’s tiny greenish-white summer flowers and its small bluish-black fall fruits are nothing to write home about. Its foliage, however, has few rivals among woody plants. During summer, the plant’s simple two to three inch leaves remain incredibly dark green and glossy. Their beauty intensifies with the arrival of fall, when they turn a mix of scarlet, orange, and yellow. A few selections of black tupelo have made their way onto the U.S. market. The cultivar ‘Miss Scarlet’ is valued for its exceptional fall color. ‘Pendula’ is a semi-weeping form that’s been offered by specialty nurseries for many years. However, it is likely to be supplanted by the recently introduced ‘Autumn Cascades’, a rapid grower with a pronounced weeping habit and fine orange-red fall color.

More Deer-Resistant Trees and Shrubs

  • Bald cypress (Taxodium species)
  • Bayberry (Myrica species)
  • Cinquefoil (Potentilla species)
  • False cypress (Chamaecyparis species)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia species)
  • Fringe tree (Chionanthus species)
  • Spirea (Spiraea species)
  • Spruce (Picea species)
  • White forsythia (Abelio-phyllum distichum)

Richard A. Larson , M.S., is the plant propagator at the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio.

I am constantly being asked about deer resistant plants. As beautiful as they are, deer can wreak havoc in gardens by demolishing the new growth of trees and shrubs and damaging the bark and stems by rubbing.

I prefer to use the term deer resistant, rather than deer proof, because tastes vary from individual to individual. A species that is shunned by the majority may be enjoyed by some.

In other cases deer will have a go to see if they like a plant, demolishing it before they write it off as unpalatable.

Here are my top ten deer resistant shrubs:

1. Rosa rugosa

Deer love roses, and it really is not worth growing them if you have a deer problem. However Rosa rugosa varieties are largely resistant. The prickly stems and pleated apple green leaves are not appealing, and the buds seem to escape to bloom and produce those tomato like hips. The added bonus is that Rosa rugosa is disease free and grows on that light sandy soil other roses hate.

2. Ribes sanguineum

The flowering currant has strongly aromatic foliage and tough foliage. It blooms early and the flowers and buds also have that strong blackcurrant smell. It is a tough easy shrub to grow and there are shades of red, pink and white to make the choice more appealing. Grows on any soil, in sun or semi-shade.

3. Choisya ternata

The Mexican orange is a member of the rue family, closely related to lemon and other citrus. The evergreen leaves are pungently aromatic to the extent that some people find them unappealing. Deer leave it well alone and don’t even nibble the buds and flowers that appear in spring and again in autumn. Good on any well-drained soil in sun or part shade.

4. Hydrangea paniculata

Most hydrangeas are deer resistant, and there are plenty to choose from. I would choose one of the varieties of Hydrangea paniculata for its lilac-like flowerheads that appear in late summer and autumn. It is cut back hard in late winter every year to promote vigorous shoots which flower at the tips. Good under the light shade of trees on most soils. If it does get “pruned” by deer it recovers easily.

5. Buddleja davidii

Butterfly bush is one of the most insect friendly plants with its long sprays of tiny scented blooms in late summer which are butterfly magnets. When deer are at their most active in spring and early summer buddleja is woody and unappealing with felty foliage and no nice juicy shoots. Cut back hard in late winter and grow on poor soil for best results.

6. Lonicera nitida

Small- leaved basic evergreen shrubs that are good for hedging and for adding lighter, airy character to shaded foliage plantings. ‘Baggessen’s Gold’ is the most popular with light sprays of tiny golden leaves, lime in shade. Grows on any soil and very useful even if it sounds a bit boring.

7. Mahonia japonica

It is hardly surprising that deer do not find the tough, holly-like leaves of mahonia appealing to eat. Some are tougher than others but they are largely left alone, unless the deer are particularly ravenous.

8. Philadelphus coronarius

I have known deer to nibble the new shoots of the mock orange at times; but I would still plant it where deer are around because once it gets going they should leave it alone. Summer flowering, white and deliciously fragrant it is worth the effort.

9. Laurus nobilis

Sweet bay has strongly aromatic leaves which we find appealing but deer do not. My neighbours have a major deer problem (we are fenced) and the large bay in their garden goes untouched by their grazing visitors. A great choice as a structural evergreen of for pots bay likes a sunny, sheltered spot. Try the golden-leaved form for winter interest too.

10. Magnolia x soulangeana

The familiar tulip magnolia is a large shrub or spreading tree with glorious waxy blooms in spring. Although the flowers can be susceptible to frost damage few shrubs create such a spectacle. Magnolia x soulangeana prefers neutral to acid soil (I’ve seen it growing happily on alkaline). It does not like shallow chalk and it loves clay. Deer may be curious but they leave it alone.

Tip:

Always protect any newly planted trees and shrubs with suitable mesh for several months after planting. Deer are nosy creatures that check out new plants to see if they are worth eating. They are likely to damage any newly planted subjects, deer resistant or not.

Your suggestions: Do let us have your suggestions for deer proof shrubs below. Between us we could come up with quite a list – spread the word, get your friends’ suggestions too. I’ll do another blog on deer proof perennials soon.

Deer Resistant Plant List – Learn About Plants That Are Deer Resistant

Watching deer is an incredibly enjoyable pastime; however, the fun stops when the deer decide to make a lunch buffet of your garden. Deer resistant gardening is a hot topic amongst gardeners who don’t necessarily want to scare off the deer but also want to keep their lovely gardens intact.

With more and more natural land being taken from deer and in areas where population control is not practiced, deer can definitely become a nuisance. To create a completely deer resistant garden is never 100 percent guaranteed, but the key to keeping Bambi and his clan at a distance lies in understanding which plants deer prefer and which they usually pass over.

Deer Resistant Garden Plants

Although the type of vegetation that deer prefer seems to vary somewhat between different parts of the country, it is still possible to identify deer resistant garden plants that should be safe no matter where you live. Sometimes finding out what your deer will and will not eat becomes a process of elimination. Keep in mind, hungry deer that have been through a difficult winter will eat just about anything. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if even some of your so-called deer resistant plants become a quick snack.

Deer Resistant Plant List

While there are numerous plants that can be used to create a deer resistant garden, a deer resistant plant list of this size would be too extensive to include here. Therefore, the following deer resistant garden plants are considered to be some of the more common.

Deer Resistant Annuals

Popular annual plants that are deer resistant include the following:

  • Bachelor buttons
  • Calendula
  • Sunflower
  • Zinnia
  • Snapdragon
  • Four o’clock
  • Salvia
  • Cosmos
  • Dusty miller
  • Baby’s breath

Deer Resistant Perennials

Deer resistant perennials either have an offensive aroma, texture or taste. Plant these lovely flowers to discourage deer in your garden:

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Columbine
  • Flax
  • Ferns
  • Sage
  • Iris
  • Lavender
  • Lupine
  • Butterfly weed
  • Shasta daisy

Deer Resistant Shrubs

Although deer love to browse on the tips of both evergreen and deciduous shrubs, there are many varieties that they tend to leave alone.

  • Barberry
  • Lilac
  • Wild rose
  • Snowberry
  • Golden currant
  • Juniper
  • Sagebrush
  • Holly
  • Boxwood

Deer Resistant Herbs

Planting a few deer resistant herbs in and around your garden may create a protective boundary for other plants. Deer do not favor any of the following:

  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary

Deer-Resistant Annuals

Give deer the brush off by planting deer resistant annuals. While there’s no such thing as a deer proof annual, you can stock your garden with plants these four-footed munching machines generally dislike. Just remember that when natural food is scarce, like during a drought or early in the growing season, deer may find your garden more tempting than usual. In these times, even deer resistant annuals might prove palatable to a hungry deer.
Some deer resistant annual flowers serve up leaves with a bristly texture that delivers a nasty texture to a hungry deer mouth. Heliotrope, with its richly perfumed blooms, has a hairy, almost sandpapery leaf that deer don’t usually nibble. Sunflower and zinnia also serve up a rough-textured leaf, as do gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta). Deer have been known to munch on sunflower seedheads, so if you’re raising sunflowers for the seeds, slip a mesh bag or other netting over flowers to protect them.
Persian shield (Strobilanthes) has a leaf texture deer avoid, along with Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum), in all sizes. Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), with its willowy form and pretty purple blooms, adds an airy element to any planting. It’s a great annual to have in a garden because of its serendipitous self-sowing. A bonus is that it seems to be a deer resistant annual. In some Southern regions, tall verbena is becoming invasive in waterways, so be sure to investigate that potential in your area before adding it to your garden.
Other deer-resistant annuals include the popular annual vines, morning glory and moonflower. Use these vines on a fence around a garden area with plants deer like, and you might discourage browsing. At the very least, you’ll have non-stop flowers ‘round the clock once vines start blooming.
Cool-season bloomers larkspur (Consolida), sweet William (Dianthus), snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and lobelia (Lobelia erinus) all are reported to be deer resistant annuals. Heat-loving annuals that deer tend to ignore include lantana, Cosmos sulphureus, angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia) and summer snapdragon (Angelonia).
Plants with milky sap, like Diamond Frost-type euphorbia (Euphorbia graminea), are ones deer dislike, as are annuals with strong odors, like marigolds. Cleome (Cleome hassleriana) combines an odor and thorns to make it unpalatable to deer, while plants like strawflower (Helichrysum) have a coarse texture that deer leave alone.
Another fun deer resistant annual that is a star performer in the summer garden is four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa). This time-telling bloomer adds a shrubby form to the garden and opens colorful flowers daily around 4 p.m. Two edible flowers that you can grow to grace your mealtimes—calendula and nasturtium—fall into the deer resistant annuals category. It’s not surprising that deer dislike nasturtium, with its peppery flavors.
Quite a few cutting flower favorites seem to fit the deer resistant annuals category, such as zinnia, Shirley poppy, larkspur, sunflower, tall ageratum and Verbena bonariensis, which makes having a cutting garden a strong possibility even when you’re wrestling with deer visiting your yard.

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