Shade shrubs deer resistant

George WeigelLenten rose (Helleborus) is one species that deer hardly ever bother. Hardly ever.

Q: We live on about 5 acres of land, half of which we mow and half of which is woods. We have constant problems with deer eating our plants. This year has been particularly bad. We have too many plants to use repellents, and the deer have even knocked over pots and somehow pulled off the netting to get at our potted impatiens. We know it’s deer because we came home one night and caught it in the act.

I have an area under trees where I need some color. Are there any perennials or shrubs that would grow in the shade and that the deer would leave alone? There are a lot of tree roots and not good soil there.

A: You have my deepest empathy because gardening in deer country is difficult and frustrating. Deer think those hosta and rhododendrons you’ve set out are a tasty gift of nature. At least they could have the courtesy to let behind a thank-you note…

There are some plants that are reasonably tolerant of dry shade and root competition and that deer are less likely to eat. The problem is that when deer are hungry enough, they’ll eat almost anything — including plants with thorns and plants on those “deer-won’t-eat” lists.

Their diets also vary depending on what else is around and on the season. For instance, they might not eat burning bush during the growing season, but if that’s the best thing you’ve got in the dead of winter, they’ll even browse those to stay alive.

The bottom line is that the only sure-fire way to stop deer is to fence them out of the area altogether.

A sturdy plastic mesh fence at least 8 feet tall will do the trick. So will an electric fence or two parallel fences about 5 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet apart or one 6-foot-tall fence that’s slanted outward. Some people have had success by stringing sturdy filaments (i.e. fishing line) every foot apart from tree to tree for a height of 6 feet. Deer apparently bump into it and get confused. (You might want to hang ribbons from it every few feet so you remember it’s there.)

If you want to try the plant-selection strategy first, two of the best sources I’ve encountered are lists from Rutgers University and the deer-plagued Mohonk Mountain House in New York.

Using those two lists and filtering in the shade and roots, here are plants you might try:

Shrubs: St. Johnswort, boxwood, beautyberry, Hinoki cypress, deutzia, Virginia sweetspire, smooth hydrangea, Oregon grapeholly, Japanese plum yew, leucothoe, Russian cypress, sumac, sweetbox, elderberry, arrowwood viburnum.

For the full list of deer-resistant plants from these two places, here are links:

Find out how to keep your garden looking beautiful with these deer resistant shade plants that will help to prevent the animals from dining on your flowers.

As many of you know, both my mother and I have fairly large shade gardens. So we’ve written quite a bit about plants that thrive in the shade.

One of the questions that I always get asked is if those plants are deer resistant.

So I thought I would do a little research and find out.

I actually live in an area where deer are plentiful. It wasn’t that many years ago that most of the land around here was wooded. Recent construction in the area has replaced a lot of those forests with subdivisions which means lots of deer looking for alternate food sources.

My house happens to back onto a ravine, so I see deer on a fairly regular basis…and occasionally hear a misguided deer hunter back there trying to take home a prize (I do live in city limits, so hunting back there is illegal, not to mention dangerous!)

Despite all of that, I have never had a problem with deer eating my plants, even though lots of my neighbors have. I always thought that the deer just weren’t hungry enough to jump the 6 foot fence I have surrounding the back yard.

But after looking into deer resistant shade plants, I think part of it may be that I (unintentionally) chose the right plants! (the ones that deer don’t like very much).

One thing to keep in mind, though…no plants are totally deer proof. And different herds of deer have different tastes in food…kind of like we do 🙂 So these are some of the plants that are least likely to be eaten by deer…but there are no guarantees!

Keep reading to find out my favorite deer resistant shade plants, or use the links below to skip directly to the list you want to see.

Other Gardening Information You Might Like

More Ways To Keep Deer Out Of Your Garden

More Information On Shade Plants

Deer Resistant Shade Shrubs

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These bushes all grow well in the shade and are not on the deer dinner menu.

Pieris Japonica

White and pink pieris japonica | © PATARA –

Zones 5-8

Pieris Japonica is an easy-to-grow, larger sized shrub that has really pretty pendant-like flowers in early spring.

It can be toxic to pets, so if you have a dog that likes to chew on your plants, you may want to be careful about planting this.


Daphne | © c11yg –

Zones 5-10

Daphne is a small, very fragrant and evergreen (usually) shrub that blooms in late winter. Which already makes it one of my favorite plants.

The fact that deer don’t like to eat it is just a bonus as far as I’m concerned!

PJM Rhododendron

PJM Rhododendron

Zones 4-8

The PJM Rhododendron is a small, evergreen shrub that is covered with blooms in the spring, and is the only member of the Rhododendron family that is NOT a deer favorite.

Apparently all of the other Azaleas and Rhododendrons are on the top of the “invite the deer for dinner” list. So if you’re a big Rhododendron fan like I am, you may have to be careful where you plant them.


Boxwood – Green garden balls in France | © wjarek –

Zones 4-10

Boxwoods are another easy to grow evergreen bush, and are well known for being easy to shape.

It’s a good thing the deer don’t like them. If I spent a bunch of time making them into balls like this garden in France, I’d be really upset if a deer came along and wrecked it all!



Zones 6 – 11

Gardenia is a small to medium-sized (depending on the variety) evergreen shrub with beautiful fragrant white flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer.

It thrives on hot and humid weather, so it’s perfect for my South Carolina summers. Another one of my favorites!

Deer Resistant Shade Perennials

Lenten Rose (Hellebore)

Hellebore flowers | © dukeito –

Zones 3-9

If you’ve ever been in my garden, you know that I love Hellebores! They start blooming in the winter and are often still blooming in June.


As an added bonus, Lenten Rose doesn’t seem to be phased at all by growing in total shade.Just look at this patch growing on the north side of my house which is so close to my neighbor’s house they don’t get any sun at all.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Pulmonaria obscura | © na9179126124 –

Zones 2-9

Lungwort is a semi-evergreen low-growing perennial that is covered in blooms in the early spring, and is much prettier than the name suggests!

Depending on the variety, the foliage can be variegated, silver or spotted which makes it an interesting woodland plant all year round.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

Bleeding heart flowers (Dicentra spectabils) | © serhii –

Zones 2-9

Bleeding Heart is a beautiful lacy-leaved plant with pretty drooping flowers that blooms in the spring.

The plant totally disappears when it starts getting hot so don’t be alarmed when that happens…it will come back again next spring!


Ferns | © smolskyevgeny –

Zones 2 – 9

Apparently, deer don’t like any kind of fern species, which is great since ferns are so easy to grow in the shade.

Japanese painted ferns

I absolutely love my Japanese painted ferns! Who needs flowers when the leaves are so pretty?


Pink Astilbe | © Zanoza-Ru –

Zones 4-8

Planting Astilbe is a great way to add some bright color to your summer shade garden.

Just make sure to buy the varieties for shade, as some of them require full sun.

Columbine (Aquilegia)

Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine Flowers | © Casey E Martin –

Zones 2-9

Columbines are a really low maintenance plant with really pretty blooms.

They do tend to self-seed so you may find them popping up in places where you didn’t plant them. I like them so much I usually just let them grow. But they aren’t very aggressive so you can easily pull them out if you don’t want them to naturalize.

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)

Toad lily

Zones 4-9

Toad lilies are somewhat unusual looking plants that bloom in the late summer and fall, but are much prettier than the name suggests!

I have to admit that I have not had much success growing toad lilies. I have tried a few times and they never seem to survive more than one season.

However they are so pretty that I keep trying! If anyone has any advice on how to keep them alive, I would love to hear it!

Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

Brunnera with patterned leaves | © zgurski1980 –

Zones 4-9

Brunnera is another plant that has pretty blooms in the spring, but also has beautiful foliage. These silver colored leaves really stand out in the shade garden!

Windflower (Anemone sylvestris)

Anemone sylvestris (Snowdrop Anemone or Windflower) | © oksenoyd_irina –

Zones 2-9

Windflower (or Snowdrop Anemone) have pretty white flowers over ferny foliage that bloom in late spring or early fall. They are great to plant with tulips and daffodils as the blooms and foliage will distract from the dying bulb leaves.

These anemones will spread so make sure to plant them where they have room to do so.

Jack In The Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack in the Pulpit | © Matthew Antonino –

Zones 4-9

Jack in the Pulpit is a native woodland plant that is easy to grow, has really interesting blooms in the spring, and produces berries that birds like to eat.

It isn’t attractive to deer since it has a very strong peppery taste and contains a chemical (calcium oxalate) which will cause painful irritation if ingested raw.

That’s it for my list of shade plants that deer will avoid. However, if you want to check a plant that isn’t on this list, you can try looking it up on the deer resistant plant list from Rutgers University or the North Carolina State University Coop Extension.

Do you have any suggestions for other deer resistant shade plants? Tell us in the section below.

Deer-resistant, shade-loving plant suggestions

Credit: natureniche/iStockphoto


Q: The deer have feasted on my Stargazer lilies in my front garden for the last time! I am moving them and want to replace them with a deer “resistant” plant. The garden receives semi-shade and is beneath large Douglas fir trees. Are day lilies a good bet? Would chrysanthemums be better? And is now a good time to dig up my Stargazers and replant in a safer location?

Lily bulbs do not like to dry out, so if you lift them during the summer, get them replanted and watered deeply right away.

GardenWise Editor Carol Pope gardens with deer and suggests these shade perennials:

  • Mint
  • Geranium macrorrhizum
  • Foxglove
  • Columbine.

(Mint doesn’t like to dry out, so make sure the soil is rich and wet for the mint.)

These shade- and drought-tolerant evergreen shrubs are also easy to grow:

  • Aucuba japonica cultivars (Japanese aucuba)
  • Buxus ‘Green Mountain’ (boxwood)
  • Cephalotaxus harringtonia (cowtail pine, plum yew)
  • Choisya ternata (Mexican mock orange),
  • Elaeagnus ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ (variegated hybrid elaeagnus)
  • Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata'(golden elaeagnus)
  • Mahonia nervosa (cascade Oregon grape)
  • Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo)
  • Sarcococca (sweet box)

Let us know how these do in your garden!

Strongest reblooming weigela on the market today!

Weigela is an undemanding deciduous shrub that is easy to grow. Recent breeding has brought us colorful new selections and noted improvements from older varieties including:

  • Prolific flowering- numerous and showy 1 1/2″ funnel shaped blooms
  • New and interesting flower colors
  • Reblooming flowering period

Sonic Bloom® Pink forms clusters of 1 1/2″ hot pink buds that open to pink funnel-shaped blooms in late spring. Biggest flowers show in late spring, but this new variety will rebloom well into fall without any deadheading. Loved by butterflies & hummingbirds. Grows 4-5 feet tall and wide.

Landscape value

A multi-stemmed shrub is ideal for border, foundations and containers, even groundcovers. Glossy green foliage throughout the growing season provides an excellent background to perennials and other shrubs. If you wish to retain a tidy form, pruning can be done immediately after flowering.

  • Drought and heat proof
  • Vigorous growing
  • Deer & rabbit resistant
  • Thrives in sun and partial shade
  • Adaptable to different soil types from clay to loam
  • Highly tolerant of urban conditions
  • No serious disease or insect issues
  • Long lived shrub

This is an enduring shrub with a forgiving nature in less than perfect soil. Why not treat yourself to this trouble-free shrub today.

Special features: Attracts butterflies, Cold hardy, Deer resistant, Drought tolerant, Easy care, Heat tolerant, Attracts hummingbirds, Pest resistant, Rabbit resistant

Deer Resistant Plants

Deer can cause a great deal of damage to a garden in a very short time. Excluding deer from your property using fences is very expensive. Repellents can work, but need to be reapplied regularly. One of the easiest and most cost-effective way to minimize the impact deer have on your landscape is to plant deer resistant plants and avoid using plants that deer are known to prefer.

This list covers some options for deer resistant plants, organized by how frequently they are known to be damaged: “rarely” and “occasionally”. Keep in mind that a few factors can affect whether or not deer eat certain plants, and when under extreme stress from starvation deer will eat almost anything. No plant should ever be considered “deer proof”.

Plants that deer tend to avoid have some characteristics that can help you identify possible deer-resistant plants to try that are not on this list.

  • Plants with thorny or prickly leaves or stems
  • Plants with strong scents and pungent tastes, such as herbs
  • Plants that are poisonous or produce thick, latex-like sap
  • Plants with hairy leaves

Occasionally, deer will taste test plants they are unfamiliar with. This can result in minor damage to plants newly installed in your landscape. Smaller plants (annuals in particular) that are newly planted can be pulled completely from the ground as deer taste test. To prevent this, use deer repellent for a few weeks after planting until the new plants are solidly rooted into the ground.

Buck Rub damage

Adult male deer can damage smaller trees by rubbing their antlers on the trunks. Bucks prefer smaller trees 1-3″ in diameter to rub on. Trees planted near wooded areas where deer herds spend a lot of time are particularly at risk. This “buck rub” can peel off large sections of bark from the tree and is at the very least disfiguring. In severe cases it can kill the tree due to girdling. If you have large herds of deer near your landscape, consider protecting young trees until the tree is large enough to not interest the deer. Trees can be surrounded with protective fencing or an odor repellent (dried blood or predator urine) can be used. Planting resistant tree selections will not prevent buck rub damage.

Deer Resistant Shrubs

Shrubs are attractive to deer because they usually are just about the right height for a grazing deer. Deer resistant shrubs can be classified about the same way we classify deer resistant trees – that is those species that are not around deer. This is obviously not ideal if you live in an area with a deer population. The good news is that there are shrubs that deer do not prefer. Deer tend not to like shrub foliage that is sticky, hairy, feathery, or emits an order that is not appealing. Deer also tend to develop regional tastes for shrubs. Shrubs that are native to an area may not be preferred or may be ignored by deer because they did not develop a taste for that shrub species. However, a a hungry deer can very quickly acquire a taste for a shrub that seemed resistant in the past.
Some deer resistant bushes would be those shrubs that repel deer because of their spines or stickers – these include plants such as the Barberry and Holly. Deer very seldom attack the barberry and holly species. The Boxwoods are also fairly deer resistant because the deer do not care for for their taste or smell. Another shrub that does show some regional deer resistance is the lilac. But in some areas deer seem to treat lilacs as just another plant on their diet. We always suggest researching a local list of resistant shrubs to identify those shrubs and hedges that exude deer resistance in your area. Our suggestions of deer reisistant bushes come from experiences of growers and data pulled from broad areas of the United States.

Zone 7 Deer Resistant Shrubs: What Are Bushes That Deer Don’t Like

Cities have been formed for thousands of years by man’s need to group together and be near each other. In days when nature was much more wild and dangerous, this made perfect sense, as there is strength in numbers. These days, though, many people long for a quiet little cottage in the country or a charming cabin in the woods. Oftentimes, when we get that peaceful dream home away from the city, we realize it’s still wild and not as easily controlled as we thought. Wild animals, like deer, can become a problem. Continue reading for a list of zone 7 deer resistant shrubs.

About Zone 7 Deer Resistant Shrubs

Even in little subdivisions on the edge of town, trees, flowers and shrubs invite wildlife into the yard. Certain plants can be more appealing to certain animals. Birds flock to ripening berries, not caring if it’s the native shrub you planted specifically to attract birds, or your patch of strawberries. Squirrels

build nests in large trees and forage for seeds and nuts in your yard, and bird feeders. In the blink of an eye, a hungry deer can strip a large shrub of its foliage or rub huge wounds in a tree’s bark. Fortunately, while certain plants attract certain animals, certain plants are also avoided by them, usually.

If food or water is scarce, a desperate deer may eat any plant it comes across. Deer get about a third of their water from eating plants. In times of drought, thirst can make even the leaves of a thorny plant irresistible to a deer. No plant is 100% deer resistant, but some are less likely to be eaten than others. Deer like tender new growth on plants in springtime, and they also like to treat themselves to certain sweet smelling flowers. They do tend to avoid thorny plants and plants that have strong, displeasing odors.

Deer repellent sprays can help deter deer, if you reapply them often. Even then, the allure of certain plants may be too great for a deer to resist. Just as we plant native berry producing shrubs for birds, we can plant sacrificial plants near the edges of our yards for deer to browse on, in the hopes that it will keep them away from our favorite ornamentals. Still, our best defense is choosing shrubs that deter deer for the landscape.

What Are Bushes That Deer Don’t Like?

Below is a list of deer resistant shrubs for zone 7 (Remember: even resistant plants don’t mean foolproof, as deer will browse anything when regular food sources are limited):

  • Abelia
  • Banana Shrub
  • Barberry
  • Beautyberry
  • Boxwood
  • Bottlebrush
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Caryopteris
  • Cotoneaster
  • Daphne
  • Deutzia
  • Drooping Fetterbush
  • Forsythia
  • Fothergilla
  • Holly
  • Japanese Andromeda
  • Japanese Privet
  • Juniper
  • Kerria
  • Lilac
  • Mahonia
  • Mugo Pine
  • Pepperbush Clethra
  • Pomegranate
  • Pyracantha Firethorn
  • Quince
  • Staghorn Sumac
  • Tea Olive
  • Viburnum
  • Wax Myrtle
  • Weigela
  • Winter Jasmine
  • Witch Hazel
  • Yew
  • Yucca

Plant these 6 deer-resistant evergreens

While deer-browsing habits are always more aggressive in the winter, this winter and early spring seem to be especially bad. I’ve been hearing from gardeners across the region about how the deer have nibbled their foundation plantings to the nub.

If deer are problematic in your neighborhood and you’ve had a similar experience this winter, here are a few things you can do next fall to avoid the same problem again.

In future years, it’s always a good idea to cover your shrubs each autumn and winter with black plastic bird/deer netting. This fine mesh netting is almost impossible to see from just a few feet away. You don’t have to erect a large fence or attach the netting to posts; simply drape the netting over the shrub and make sure it covers it completely. I use good old-fashioned clothespins to hold it in place on the back side of the plant, where no one can see them. I don’t cover all of my shrubs, but I do cover the ones the deer are fond of.

Another technique is to spray your shrubs with a commercial deer repellent every three weeks throughout the fall, winter and early spring. There are many different commercial deer repellents on the market. While you may scoff at the cost of the more expensive brands, know that replacing all your shrubs is far more expensive than a few gallons of deer spray. Switching brands throughout the winter does help some gardeners limit deer damage even further. If the deer clearly have a feeding habit and pattern established at your home, you’ll have to work hard to break them of the habit by being religious about protecting your plants and spraying them regularly.

And, what might be the most successful way to limit deer damage is to replace all the shrubs they favor with ones they don’t.

While I would never say that a plant is 100% deer proof, there are several excellent evergreen shrubs for foundation plantings that are highly deer resistant.

Here are some of my favorites:

Boxwoods (Buxus species): There are many different species and cultivars of boxwoods, all of which have excellent deer resistance. Yes, occasionally a young deer takes a nibble of the boxwoods across the front of our home, but the feeding never extends beyond a little taste. Boxwoods do, however, have some other issues that can affect their health. The first is a small insect called the boxwood leafminer and the second is boxwood blight. Still, if deer are your main nemesis, boxwoods are an excellent choice.

Andromeda (Pieris japonica): Andromeda shrubs are lovely additions to the landscape, and they’re a great choice for deer-plagued gardens. The soft sprays of tiny white bell-shaped flowers in the spring are fragrant and long lasting. Like all of the other shrubs on this list, the foliage is evergreen, making it a great choice for foundation plantings.

Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster species): There are many different species and varieties of this plant that are commonly used in landscape plantings. Low-growing varieties make excellent shrubby ground covers. They’re very winter hardy and green year-round. Tiny white flowers appear in the spring, followed by red berries that attract berry-eating birds.

Bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’): This dwarf conifer has a natural rounded shape and a beautiful form. It’s very slow growing, reaching just 3 to 5 feet tall and wide some 10 years after planting. This shrub works great under windows, along driveways or in any sunny area. They’re low care, but like other evergreens, bird’s nest spruces should be fertilized every year or two with an acid-specific granular fertilizer.

Junipers (Juniper species): Another genus of plants with many varieties to choose from, junipers are prized by gardeners for their resilience and deer resistance. Low-growing varieties are excellent for covering slopes, while tall, upright selections are ideal for plantings at the corner of your home. Species that are more rounded are best suited to foundation plantings and gardens. Softer-needled species aren’t the best bet for gardens where deer pressure is high; for those gardens, choose juniper varieties with sharp, hard needles instead.

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo): Mugo pines have been popular landscape plants for a long time. Their low growth habit, coupled with their long needles and classic “pine” appearance, make them a favorite of many gardeners. The straight species is relatively slow growing and tops out at about 4 to 5 feet, but dwarf varieties stay a compact 2 to 3 feet, even without pruning. Mugo pines are very winter hardy and easy to care for.

  • Horticulturist Jessica Walliser is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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