The 20 Best Deer-Resistant Shrubs to Plant (Because Bambi is Getting on Your Nerves)
Bambi is adorable. Until she starts chewing on your roses or chowing down on your azaleas. The truth is that as suburbia has spread, deer have to go somewhere. And that could be your garden. You may not want these woodland animals to leave your property per se, but you’d appreciate it if you could have some greenery to enjoy—and that’s where these deer-resistant shrubs come in. We’ve rounded up the top 20 shrubs to plant, and have a few tips for living peacefully with your neighborhood deer (without letting them take over your yard).
But First: How Do I Know Deer Are Damaging My Garden?
If you notice chewed-up plants and you’re not sure you have deer damage, look for ragged edges. Because deer have no upper incisors, they bite and tear plants from ground level up to about 6 feet off the ground.
Nature also is contrary: You may have deer traipsing through your yard on a regular basis, while your neighbor a few doors down doesn’t. It’s also tough because once deer find something good to eat, they’ll be even more persistent. (And deer populations can double in two to three years with adequate food sources, meaning this issue could snowball…quickly.)
What Can I Do to Keep Deer from Eating My Plants?
A fence that’s 6 to 8 feet tall is most effective for keeping them out of gardens, but it’s not always practical. You can try scare devices, capsaicin or putrescent repellants (yes, they smell like rotten eggs, though the smell fades in a few days), but research shows they only work about half the time. Plus, you usually need to rotate types and reapply after rain. As for homemade repellants (bars of soap, hair, coyote urine), they just don’t work. Deer are incredibly adaptable and will learn to put up with a lot of things once they learn they’re not really in danger.
Your best bet is to combine control method: Use repellants but also plant shrubs they don’t love. If they get hungry enough, if there’s a large deer population in the area, or if it’s an especially harsh winter, deer will eat anything—even plants they usually don’t like. But you can at least give these plants, which they’re less likely to munch on, a try. The bottom line: There’s no such thing as deer-proof plants, only deer-resistant.
The 20 Best Deer-Resistant Shrubs to Plant
Boxwood has been a favorite garden shrub for hundreds of years, thanks largely to its classic, uniform look. These shrubs can be left in their natural forms or sheared into shapes for hedges or topiaries.
Deer tend to leave junipers alone, and they’re available in many different forms, from ground cover types to more upright shapes. Junipers are super-hardy shrubs in sun, cold or drought conditions, so they work almost anywhere.
The bright yellow flowers or forsythia bloom in very early spring before the leaves have emerged, providing a little cheer in an otherwise gloomy landscape. (Spring is coming!) New types are more compact.
Blooming from spring to frost, this hardy shrub needs little care. It can withstand the cold well and tolerates any type of soil.
Beautyberry is a real showstopper in the autumn landscape. This gorgeous shrub has white flowers and stunning pink or purple berries throughout that time of year.
7. Inkberry Holly
Inkberry resembles boxwood, but it’s more disease-resistant. Even better? This compact little evergreen maintains its rounded form without you needing to prune it.
8. Rose of Sharon
These reliable summer bloomers add late season color to your garden. New varieties are more cold-hardy and have lacy blooms that come in lovely shades of pale pink or blue.
9. Red Osier Dogwood
This attractive shrub has bright red stems in winter, which contrast beautifully against a field of snow. Look for dwarf varieties, which are more manageable in small gardens.
10. Mugo Pine
This rugged dwarf evergreen has a charming, squat shape and interesting “candles” in the spring. Mugo pines have a great architectural form and make excellent foundation plantings or accent plants.
Pieris is also called lily of the valley shrub for the oodles of dangling pink or white bell-shaped flowers that appear in very early spring. It’s an eye-catching shrub that should be part of every garden for its charming appearance and welcome spring color.
Bees love caryopteris (particularly its brilliant blue flowers) in late summer to early fall, when many other garden plants are fading. This lesser-known shrub is a great addition to any garden.
14. Arrowwood Viburnum
This hardy native shrub has tons of white flower clusters in early summer, followed by pretty blue fruit in the fall. Arrowwood viburnum tops out around 5 feet tall, so it won’t overwhelm most gardens.
Barberry is a compact shrub that maintains a nice, rounded or pillar shape with no little or no pruning. Look for newer varieties that have gorgeous bright orange, red or chartreuse foliage all season long.
Weigela has beautiful burgundy, green or variegated leaves with stunning tubular flowers in spring. Some types rebloom later in the summer, too, so you get more bang for your buck.
This classic spring bloomer has the most amazing scent that works well in traditional or cottage gardens. New varieties of lilac also are more compact and less leggy, and some types rebloom in summer or fall.
This hardy shrub has tiny clusters of flowers that appear in late spring to early summer. Spirea comes in many different varieties, but look for dwarf types if you don’t have a lot of space. Reblooming types offer a second show later in the season.
This low-growing shrub makes a beautiful groundcover or foundation planting. Deutzia also has lovely arching branches and a profusion of lovely pink or white flowers in spring.
20. Siberian Cypress
This compact evergreen hugs the ground and has feathery foliage that turns bronze in winter. It can take even the harshest climates (it is called “Siberian,” after all).