Did you know that a lot of landscape shrubs aren’t what deer like to eat? They will still eat them if they’re starving, but there are deer resistant shrubs available that they won’t touch. During colder weather, snow, or times when the deer’s natural food source is depleted, your flowers, plants, and shrubs are fair game. They can devastate these plants in quick order. Sometimes, the damage may only be cosmetic and your plant will slowly recover. However, deer can strip the bark from the tree or shrub, and this will kill your plant.
If you live in an area that is thick with deer, buying deer resistant shrubs is one way to ensure that your plants survive no matter what the deer have for food sources. There are evergreen shrubs, flowering shrubs, and ornamental picks that the deer are likely to avoid, even if they’re really hungry. Since I want you to have a beautiful yard all year-round, I’ve picked out 21 deer resistant shrubs you can plant around your home or business. They’re easy to care for, easy to plant and maintain, and they look lush and full. Let’s dive in!
First up is boxwoods, and this is one of the most versatile evergreens available for putting together a deer resistant garden. You can get them in several shapes and sizes, and these are the shrubs that you can prune and trim into fun shapes. They make wonderful formal hedges, topiaries, or borders around your yard and garden, and they have glossy green foliage that carries a strong scent that puts deer off. It needs zones four to eight to thrive, and it likes well-drained soil. They need regular water to develop a strong root system, and you’ll prune them to help keep your desired shape.
Junipers are members of the Cypress families, and they all release a strong scent. This is a low-maintenance plant that requires minimal pruning to help control the growth and spread. They grow in zones two to eight, and they can have silver, yellow, green, or blue foliage. They need full sun and sandy but well-draining soil to survive, and you can get small, rounded, slow-growing bushes that make excellent accent pieces around your yard. They work well as ground cover, and you can even shape them into pom poms to create a whimsical look around your yard. They’ll keep their foliage all year-round.
Better known as Blue Mist Shrub, this plant blooms throughout the late summer months when most bushes are dying back for the year. It’s extremely tolerant to drought, and this makes it popular in desert landscaping. Additionally, it can survive in full sun to part shade without a problem, and it likes a well-draining soil with a neutral pH level. You should cut it back in the early spring and make a point to prune away diseased or dead portions as needed. It grows in zones five to nine, and it comes in pink, purple, or blue flowers with medium-green foliage.
This is a very dense flowering deer resistant shrub that the deer will avoid due to the fragrance the flowers release. It’s an evergreen shrub, but it looks the best each year in the early spring with the flowers first start to bloom and give off a heavy scent. It grows in zones five to eight, and it is a slightly low-maintenance choice that requires minimal pruning to help keep your desired shape. You will have to protect it from the winter winds, and it needs rich, slightly acidic soil that will drain well. Plant it in full sun to part shade to see the deep rose, pink, or white flowers bloom.
When you get this deer resistant shrub, you get a 3-for-1 deal. It’ll bear brilliant red-hued foliage in the fall months and white flowers with blue berries in the spring and summer. It’ll grow between 6 and 10-feet tall, but it’ll grow even taller with the correct growing conditions. You should prune it annually to help control the height, and it’ll spread if you don’t watch it. You’ll need zones two to eight with part sun to full sun, and it likes an average soil that is well-draining with medium moisture. The dark green foliage showcases the flowers and makes them stand out.
This variegated bush has very fragrant flowers that help to keep the deer away almost as well as homemade deer repellents do. They bloom in the spring, and they have poisonous berries to keep deer at bay. They’re also toxic to pets and people, so mind your animals and kids around them. It’s slightly more difficult to grow as it needs a rich and moist soil with excellent drainage and neutral to acidic makeup, and it needs part shade to part sun. In zones four to nine, it’ll grow white or light pink flowers that last well into the summer months.
Generally speaking, Shrub Roses are a good choice to plant where you have a deer problem because they have very thorny stems that keep the deer away. They offer vibrant colors and heavy fragrances that make them nice additions to any yard or garden in zones four to nine. They produce stunning flowers that will attract pollinators to your space, and you should prune them early on in the spring before they bloom to keep the plant healthy. Put them in well-drained but evenly moist soil under full sun exposure. They’ll reward you with blooms in white, yellow, purple, red, or pink.
If you live in zones three to seven and have more difficult growing conditions in your yard, Bayberry is a nice shrub to consider. You’re more likely to see it growing wild, but some people do put it in their yards due to the fragrance. This plant will tolerate erosion, drought, and salt without a problem, and it’s usually a low maintenance choice. It needs well-draining soil with dry to medium moisture content, and it likes part shade to full sun. It produces silver-grey berries and yellow-green flowers with deep green leaves that look a little like holly leaves.
Although this is technically a subshrub, Russian Sage offers pretty blue-tinged flowers with a silver-gray foliage that stands out against your other plants. It resists deer and it’s very drought-tolerant, so it’ll survive if you forget to water it once or twice. The plant spreads through runners on the ground, and it’s very low-maintenance aside from light pruning. You’ll need to be in zones five to nine for it to do well, and you should plant it in an alkaline clay or sandy soil under the full sun for it to thrive. The plant’s flowers will release a fragrance that is strong enough to deter deer.
Butterfly weed or bush is one shrub that many areas consider invasive, however, it makes a striking addition to almost any landscape. They are pollinator magnets that deer tend to avoid, and they require very little care to do well. If you want to keep the bush compact, you’ll have to routinely prune it. It grows in zones five to nine under full sun conditions, and it’ll need a neutral to slight acidic soil that drains very well. If you get the conditions correct, it’ll produce highly fragrant flowers in shades of white, red, yellow, pink, or bluish-purple that start in the early spring and go until the end of summer.
Any gardener who wants a shrub that will produce tight clusters or red, white, or pink flowers should take a look at Japanese Spirea. This is considered an invasive species in some parts of the eastern and southern United States and eastern Canada, but it is a very versatile addition to your yard. It can grow from two to six feet tall and wide, and the leaves have a fine texture with a blue-grey coloring. They can also have golden-yellow foliage that turns a deep red in the fall, and they need well-draining soil that is acidic to slightly alkaline. It also needs at least six hours of direct sunlight a day to bring out the vibrant coloring.
This is one of the best picks if you want season-long coloring because it’ll easily brighten up any corner of your garden or yard with saucer-shaped flowers starting in June and going through September. The finely textured leaves come in a blue-green coloring, and deer find them unpalatable. You can use them as groundcovers or hedges, and the dark green foliage sets them off. It’s a very common type of bush that can survive low temperatures, and it grows around three-feet high by three-feet wide. You don’t have to worry about it taking over your space when you plant it.
Fringed Bleeding Heart
This is one of the very few native woodland plants that deer avoid. It won’t give you as showy of flowers as you’d get with a regular Bleeding Heart plant, but it offers delicate fern-like foliage that will continue to grow well into the summer months. If you live in a cool climate, it’ll grow even longer. You get smaller heart-shaped flowers in pink or white, and they have longer leafless stems. It needs rich and fertile soil that drains very well, and you’ll have to put it in a location that gets partial shade. If it stays too wet, fungal infections or rot could kill the plant.
Growing best in zones two through eight, Peonies are highly sought-after for their larger, bright, fragrant blooms. These are a long-lived, reliable, and tough plant that is almost pest-proof, and they make for a colorful addition to any garden or landscape. Deer generally leave this plant alone due to the flower’s scent, and they love full fun locations where they get at least six hours of direct light every day. They should have shelter from strong winds, and you may need to stake larger plants to keep them from drooping. The soil should be rich but well-draining, and this plant dislikes competing for nutrients, so plant it out in the open.
Better known as Bugbane or Snakeroot, Black Cohosh offers flower spikes in the shape of bottle brushes. This adds height as well as drama to your landscape, and the white flowers will slowly open up to give you a full two feet of showy flowers. There is deeply lobed foliage in a dark green coloring that sets the flowers off even more, and the spikes can grow up to seven-feet tall. You shouldn’t need to stake them to keep them upright, and they have a bitter taste with an unpleasant smell that keeps the deer far away.
Growing in zones three to eight, Monkshood is a highly poisonous plant that you should never handle without gloves and adequate protection. Despite this, the gorgeous deep coloring makes it an excellent contender to plant in your backyard or by your pond. The indigo-blue flowers rise away from the plant on spikes, and it has deeply divided dark green foliage that creates a striking picture. It blooms starting in the late summer and going to the early fall, and it needs a decent amount of sun without a lot of heat. Your soil should drain very well but be rich to support the vibrant coloring.
Working as a very attractive and eye-catching accent plant, Dusty Miller brings a nice silvery-grey foliage to your yard or garden. It has a light felt-like coating on the leaves that deer don’t like, so they tend to leave it alone. Some offer lace-like leaves while others give you large oak leave-esque foliage. You’ll need well-draining soil for this plant to do well, but it’ll survive well into the fall until the first frost hits. It likes to be in areas where it gets afternoon shade, and it can thrive in acidic to loamy soil, so this makes it more versatile than others on the list.
Lily of the Valley
This is a deer-resistant groundcover, and Lily of the Valley loves shade. You’ll get very small flowers that have a bell shape to them, and they put out a very heavy floral fragrance in the early spring when they bloom that keep the deer away. After the plant flowers, they produce bright red berries. The leaves have a lance shape to them with a deep green coloring that helps set off the flowers and berries, and they last well into the fall months. You’ll need well-draining soil in partial to full shade for this plant to thrive. It does well in zones two through nine.
If you trim Verbena back in the midsummer months, you’ll get a range of deer-resistant blooms until the first frost hits. They produce slightly smaller flowers with five petals, and they come in a huge range of colors including pink, white, purple, blue, lavender, yellow, dark red, or bicolors. The leaves are dark green or green-gray, and they have a toothed, oblong shape. They need full sun with compost-amended soil to grow, and they like medium moisture to encourage them to bloom in the hot weather. They grow well in zones 7 to 11, and some species do come back every year while some are annuals.
Snapdragons are an excellent low-maintenance landscaping idea that bring dramatic spikes of color and height to your yard or garden. They offer large flower spikes in almost every color imaginable, and they will start to bloom at a rapid rate in the cooler fall or spring weather. You can get dozens of different cultivars that range from dwarf and trailing plants to three-foot hybrids. They need well-drained, moist soil, and you’ll want to put them in full sun to get the most blooms. They make very long-lasting cut flowers that look fabulous placed around your home or business.
Any marigold species will turn deer off because they release a very pungent and strong scent the entire time they bloom. Some have a lemony or citrusy flavor that make them popular in cooking, and you can get a huge host of colors surrounded by green foliage. They thrive in areas that get full sun, and they love the hotter weather that comes with summers. They need well-drained soil that is moderately fertile, but they can also grow in moist soil. You can plant them in the ground or in containers with success, and they’ll need very little care once you plant them and they establish themselves.
Deer Proofing Tips
Even with planting deer resistant shrubs, plants, and flowers, there are other steps you can take to protect your garden or flower beds. Doing so may not be necessary, but you don’t want to spend hours working on your yard to come out one morning and notice that the deer have ravaged it. The following tips will help you stay ahead of them.
Put up a Fence
To keep the critters out of your garden, deer resistant shrubs, or yard, you can easily put up a cheap fence. Keep in mind that deer can jump between six and eight-feet high, so it’ll have to be taller to keep them out. You could create your fence around your garden or any prized flower beds you have, and you could get climbing plants and train them to cover your fence so you don’t have a large structure sitting in the middle of your yard.
Apply Deer Repellent
Many deer find the new shoots on plants or groundcovers irresistible, and you could have a hard time keeping them out. This includes on some deer resistant shrubs. Before the deer come in, go and buy a strong commercial-grade deer repellent and put it around your plants, shrubs, and flower beds. Just be careful that you don’t get it on more sensitive plants or on plants you intend to eat. You’ll have to periodically reapply it to keep it strong. THe scent should dissipate after a few hours, but it’ll be strong enough to keep the deer away.
Plant Perennial Herbs
There are many aromatic perennial herbs that you can interplant among your flowers and deer resistant shrubs that won’t hurt your plants, but the scent will deter the deer. Thyme, mint, chives, lavender, rosemary, sage, and French tarragon are all excellent choices. They’re small enough that they won’t seriously compete with your other plants, and they won’t take over your garden or area in your yard. What’s even better, you can go out and pick them to use them in your cooking whenever you need.
Hang Noisy Yard Decoration
By nature, deer are skittish prey animals. They don’t react well to sudden noises or movement, and they prefer to flee rather than stand around or charge you. Hang up one or two wind chimes or loud yard ornaments around your plants or flowers. Even some deer resistant shrubs can use a boost. There are deer-specific noise makers and ultrasonic options you could try out if you have particularly stubborn deer hanging around.
The 21 deer resistant shrubs I outlined above will give you an excellent idea on what you can plant and help thrive if you have pesky deer around. Try a few and see how well they stack up against your other plants, shrubs, and flowers. You just may turn your entire yard into one that has a huge variety of deer resistant shrubs that look nice all year round.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.