One way to beautify your property, and protect your landscape plants against hungry deer, is by selecting deer resistant shrubs. They come in many varieties including flowering bushes and evergreens.
Deer prefer to dine on less-woody plants, but when those are in short supply, they will settle for many varieties of bushes commonly used in landscaping. This is especially true during winter when snow cover may reduce available food sources for wildlife.
If deer have ever fed upon your decorative shrubs and plants, you know they can do some significant damage.
Deer Resistant Evergreen Shrubs
In addition to being off the preferred grazing menu, these deer-resistant evergreen shrubs will add color to your landscaping year-round:
Juniper varieties are from the cypress family and are very fragrant. Like many of the other deer resistant shrubs, their scent wards off hungry foragers. Juniper is low maintenance, needing only some occasional pruning. Depending on the variety you select, juniper can be used as ground cover or as a bush. It requires full sun and grows best in zones two through eight. Juniper foliage can be blueish, yellow, green or even have a silver tint.
Russian Cypress, Siberian Cypress
Russian cypress is an easy, low-profile shrub but with enough spread to be used as a groundcover. Plan to give it 3-4 feet of surrounding space. Russian cypress is a good choice for planting near trees, walls or buildings where it might receive shade for part of the day. Deer dislike the foliage texture.
Boxwoods are evergreens with broad leaves. They make great hedges and are fairly low maintenance. Boxwood shrubs grow best in gardening zones 5 through 8 and prefer full sun, but they’ll tolerate partial shade. Deer do not care for the taste of boxwoods because the leaves and branches have a high alkaloid content.
Andromeda shrubs are evergreens, but in the spring, they also produce pink flowers. Andromeda prefer full sun, are low maintenance and do well in zones five through eight. When they bloom, they give off a powerful scent that repels deer. The shrub itself contains a compound called andromedotoxin that can cause mouth irritation and illness in deer.
Deer Resistant Flowering Shrubs
There are many varieties of deer resistant flowering shrubs, including these:
Brooms are rugged shrubs, and most species display good tolerance to heat, drought, and poor soil conditions. Broom gets its common name from its spikey branches that were once a popular source for making broom bristles. Brooms add a burst of color to the landscape with their bright yellow, fragrant flowers that appear in late spring or early summer. Most broom species can be sensitive to extreme cold and grow best in zones 6 through 9. The leaves and stems of broom plants tend to be tough, making them unappealing to deer.
Arrowwood viburnum offers a variety of colors at different times of the year. You’ll get red leaves and blue berries in the fall, then white flowers in springtime. Arrowwood viburnum does well in zones two through eight and prefers full sun, but will tolerate some shade. This shrub can grow to over 10 feet high and will spread on its own if allowed to do so. Hungry deer are likely deterred by the fine hairs that are produced on the leaves and stems of arrowwood viburnum.
(Caryopteris x clandonensis)
Bluebeard is a shrub that works well as a border and along fence lines. It produces small blue flowers in late summer and is a favorite of pollinators. Butterflies love it. The plant’s scent, however, acts as a deer repellent. You can grow this shrub in zones five through nine in areas with full sun to partial shade.
Speaking of butterflies, the butterfly bush is among their fragrant favorites. This low-maintenance bush is a prolific producer of white, pink, lavender, yellow or purple flowers. As with other strongly scented plants that draw pollinators, deer tend to avoid the butterfly bush because of the fragrance. This shrub does well in zones 5 through 9 and requires full sun.
In general, roses make great deer resistant shrubs. Climbing varieties do well on fences while bush varieties look beautiful anywhere. Roses thrive in zones 4 through 9 if they have full sun. The sharp thorns on rose branches are enough to fend off hungry deer. Their flowers can be purple, yellow, white, red or pink.
Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’
(Daphne x burkwoodii)
Unlike other shrubs requiring full sun, the Carol Mackie Daphne is a deer-resistant shade shrub that only requires partial sun and produces highly fragrant pink or white flower clusters and red berries. The fragrance and poisonous berries make this shrub unattractive to deer. Daphne can be grown in zones 4 through 9.
Fragrant Sumac ‘Gro-Low’
(Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’)
Fragrant sumac is a native plant found throughout much of North America. The ‘Grow-Low’ hybrid is especially well-suited for home landscaping where it can be used as groundcover, on slopes for erosion control, or planting in the foreground of a shrub border. ‘Grow-Low’ typically stays in the range of 18-24 inches in height, but can spread as far as 6-8 feet so allow it some room. Deer are deterred by the aromatic foliage which is fragrant when crushed.
Technically, Russian sage is a subshrub so it’s on the small side as far as shrubs go, but it’s worth mentioning because its fragrant foliage is rarely touched by deer. Russian sage tolerates dry climates and sandy soils, and will flourish in zones 5 through 9 in areas of full sun. The plant produces finely textured, gray-green foliage and airy lavender-colored blooms that combine for a soft look.
“Deer resistant” is not the same as “deer proof”
If you live in an area frequented by deer foraging for food, planting the right bushes can make the difference between your landscaping becoming the target of a feeding frenzy, or surviving to grow another day. Remember, “deer resistant” is not quite the same as “deer proof.”
In extreme circumstances, where food is sparse due to environmental conditions, deer may resort to eating whatever is available. But by planting shrubs that are low on the list of deer favorites, you should be able to deter all but the hungriest of your deer friends; allowing you to enjoy their company without worrying too much about any damage they might otherwise inflict.
For more detailed information about these shrubs and other plants, please visit our plant library.