Most of us cried when Bambi’s mother died, but when it comes to our flowers and landscaping, the majority of us are doe foes. Seems it’s easier to fawn over the beautiful creatures in the movies than it is your garden. You can solve the problem of unwanted guests by refusing to offer them a buffet and planting deer-resistant shrubs in your yard.
Trees and shrubs are the “bones” of your landscape, providing structure to any design. Unlike trees, shrubs are versatile, come in many varieties, and can be planted in many different areas. And there are some shrubs that deer find distasteful.
Whether these shrubs taste acidic or have an off-putting odor, deer tend to avoid them. Many common shrubs are both deer-resistant and aesthetically pleasing. Depending on where you live, and what you’re looking to add to your landscape, there are countless options.
6 Best Deer-Resistant Shrubs
1. Boxwood shrubs
Boxwood shrubs are a garden staple. Boxwoods are broadleaf evergreens. They have wide leaves like deciduous plants, but they keep their leaves and stay green in the winter. They come in numerous shapes and sizes and need little maintenance. Boxwoods are ideal for formal hedges, borders, and topiaries, and you can prune them into different shapes. This plant is deer-proof because its alkaloids are bitter tasting.
USDA zone: Boxwoods can handle Zones 5 through 9. Some varieties are hardy to Zone 4.
Color: Foliage can be anywhere from dark green to yellowish green.
Sun tolerance: Boxwoods prefer partial shade but can tolerate full sun. Overexposure to the sun can burn or bronze the foliage.
Drought tolerance: Boxwoods are extremely drought-tolerant once established.
Soil type: Boxwoods will adapt to various types of soil, but prefer loamy, evenly moist, well-draining soil. The ideal soil pH is 6.5 to 7.
These evergreen shrubs are extremely versatile. Juniper serves as ground covers, accent plantings, topiaries, and privacy screens. Juniper repels deer because of the oils in its needles and its prickly texture. A bonus? Juniper is also low maintenance. Junipers come in more than 170 varieties, but the three most common types are blue star juniper, blue rug juniper, and Chinese juniper.
USDA zone: Junipers thrive in Zones 3 to 9, depending on the variety.
Color: Juniper foliage can be blue, green, yellow, gray, or silver.
Sun tolerance: Prefers full sun but can handle light shade.
Drought tolerance: High, once established.
Soil type: Juniper tolerates a wide range of soils, including clay, but prefer a well-drained sandy clay or loam. Juniper grows best in a moderately acidic to slightly alkaline soil, between 6.0 to 7.5 pH.
3. Russian sage
Technically a subshrub, Russian sage is a low-maintenance perennial that produces small, bluish-lavender flowers throughout the summer. Russian sage has fragrant foliage that attracts hummingbirds, honey bees, and butterflies. But like other shrubs on this list, the scent of Russian sage repels deer. This shrub also flourishes in dry conditions, making it a go-to option for xeriscaping.
USDA zone: Russian sage thrives in Zones 4 to 9.
Color: Silver-green stems with blue-purple flowers in the summer.
Sun tolerance: Prefers full sun.
Drought tolerance: Once a Russian sage plant is established, it needs little water.
Soil type: These shrubs thrive in well-drained soil but can also tolerate clay. Russian sage prefers alkaline soils of pH 7 and greater.
4. Arrowwood viburnum
This flowering shrub is not only deer-resistant, it also bears beautiful red foliage and blue and red berries in the fall and white flowers in the late spring. Arrowwood viburnum is also generally low-maintenance, only needing an annual pruning. This shrub can spread quickly, so if you want to keep it contained to one area, remove its suckers. The name “arrowwood” for this plant comes from Native Americans who used the strong shoots for arrow shafts.
USDA zone: This shrub can handle Zones 2 to 8.
Color: White flowers, dark green foliage, and bluish berries.
Sun tolerance: Likes full sun but will tolerate part shade.
Drought tolerance: Low. The shrub needs moist soil.
Soil type: Arrowwood viburnum grows well in a variety of soil conditions with proper drainage. It can tolerate soil that’s acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, silty and loamy, and clay.
Deer avoid lilac bushes because of their strong aroma. The white, purple, and Persian fragrant flowers add color to your landscape as soon as they start to bloom in early spring. The shrub resists deer but not pollinators. Butterflies and bees will flock to your yard. The shrubs are easy to grow from cuttings or you can buy young shrubs at your garden center.
USDA zone: This shrub blooms in Zones 2 to 7.
Color: White, pink or purple flowers, dark green foliage
Sun tolerance: Lilac needs full sun if you want it to flower.
Drought tolerance: Low. Lilac needs moist, well-draining soil. But too much water will stunt its growth.
Soil type: Lilacs thrive in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil. They need a pH near 7.0.
The dogwood bush is another subshrub that brings color to your yard. This fast-growing woody plant comes in several varieties including the Canadian bunchberry. The most common is the flowering dogwood that goes dormant in the winter and blooms again in early spring. The fruit of this plant appears in late spring. Dogwood is toxic to humans and distasteful to deer. They ignore the fruit, fragrant flowers, and the bright red twigs in the winter.
USDA zone: This shrub thrives in Zones 5 to 8.
Color: White, red, or pink flowers in spring and red twigs in winter.
Sun tolerance: The shrub needs full sun to part shade.
Drought tolerance: Dogwood’s shallow root system makes it vulnerable in drought conditions. It needs well-draining soil as too much water is also detrimental.
Soil type: Flowering dogwoods prefer acidic to neutral soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 7.0.
How Deer Damage Yards
Before you complain to PETA or email us about being Bambi-haters, keep in mind the damage deer can do to your yard. Their droppings are high in nitrogen, and can burn your lawn. Those droppings often contain E. coli, which will contaminate the fruit and vegetables in your garden. The bucks will also ruin your trees by rubbing their antlers on the bark.
If you want to attract the deer to a part of your yard, try planting tulips, arborvitae shrubs, or cherry trees. Deer find them irresistible.
Deer-resistant plants will make it easier to control the deer population, but there’s no guarantee they’ll keep the hungry-deer out of your garden. Some other ways you can deter deer from wrecking your yard is by hanging up windchimes or installing a motion-activated sprinkler.
Deer are scared of loud noises and sudden movement.
You could also plant aromatic herbs, such as lavender, mint, thyme, chives, or rosemary, throughout the garden. If all else fails, try deer repellent or a tall fence. Just make sure it’s at least 8 feet high. Deer can jump.
Main Photo Credit: Brenda Ryan / LawnStarter