How to Choose Deer Resistant Shrubs For Your Front and Backyard
When we think of garden pests, we often think of insects who often aren’t seen but certainly leave their mark on some of our favorite flowers, vegetables, plants, and shrubs. What certainly doesn’t go unseen, however, are the deer that have become worrisome for many people living in the Northeast, including in South Shore Massachusetts.
It’s high time we talk about deer damage, as well as what deer resistant shrubs in the Northeast can be planted to not only look great, but also keep deer at bay. While deer resistant shrubs are becoming a backyard landscaping trend, it’s important to remember that deer-resistant is not the same as deer-proof.
While we can’t guarantee that these shrubs will never become a meal for a hungry deer, they stand the best chance at remaining unscathed when other food options are scarce. Our landscaping teams have installed many plants that Deer are known to avoid
Tallest Deer Resistant Shrubs
1. Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica)
Showy flowers make pieris a popular garden choice. The dark green leaves are contrasted with stunning white flower clusters that have a drooping shape and are extremely pollinator-friendly. Pieris does better in part shade—and can even tolerate deep shade. While you may have to deal with pesky lacebugs, you’ll likely never see this shrub bothered by deer.
Japanese pieris can reach average heights of 9-12 feet tall.
2. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
When it comes to native evergreen shrubs, this is one of the best choices for a shrub that will be ignored by deer. Plus, in late spring, you’ll be blessed with stunning pale pink flower clusters that are big—up to six-inches in diameter big! The shrub itself can also be large, up to 15 feet tall and wide, however they do grow relatively slowly. Mountain laurel is great for soils that are slightly acidic, and does best in part shade.
3. Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
If you like the appearance of arborvitae and want a shrub that deer won’t eat, your best bet is Eastern red cedar (although they may still nibble on the lower foliage).
What you will provide a meal for, however, is a variety of songbirds, who enjoy the gray-blue and berry-like cones. As an extremely drought-tolerant species, Eastern red cedar will do well with dry soil and full sun, however it shouldn’t be planted near crabapple or apple trees as it may host cedar apple rust.
If you’re looking for the tallest deer resistant shrubs, the Eastern red cedar might take the cake as it can reach up to 50 feet tall.
4. Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis)
Like Eastern red cedar, this is another juniper that could host cedar apple rust, so keep it away from apples. It too is highly deer-tolerant, and grows well in dry soil (and even in drought conditions). Some varieties grow into large trees (up to 20 feet), but smaller shrubby varieties are also available.
5. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
This dense-branching deciduous shrub is native to North America, and commonly found along our eastern coast. They grayish-green leaves are beautiful, but the shrub is more commonly known for its fruits—which also happen to be coated in a waxy substance that is aromatic, used to make soap, attractive to birds, and generally repellent to deer.
Bayberry can reach a height and width of 5-10 feet.
Deer Resistant Shrubs: 5 Smallest Ones
6. Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
As a common choice for hedges, this shrub also happens to be one of the most deer-tolerant plants around (note: it can also be toxic to pets). It’s easy to maintain, can be pruned and sheared, and while it doesn’t have showy flowers, its lush, green foliage makes up for it (and can serve as a good screen). Keep in mind that while full sun can be tolerated, winter winds might lead to yellowing, so try to plant in a protected area.
Both tall and short cultivars are available, all contain alkaloids that won’t taste good to deer .
7. Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
Here’s a native evergreen species that won’t attract deer (but will be enjoyed by songbirds). The holly species has dark green and glossy leaves, and produces a small black fruit. It does best in full sun, along with acidic soil that remains moist. As several varieties are available, you can choose those that grow taller to suit your landscaping needs, although most varieties are relatively compact, growing just 3-4 feet tall.
8. Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
Growing just 2-3 feet high, this compact, deciduous shrub is known by—as its name suggests—deep blue flowers that appear in late summer/early fall. The drought-tolerant shrub does attract butterflies, but it is seldom damaged by deer. It does best in well-drained and loose soil, but is very easy to maintain, and is resistant to many other pests and diseases.
9. Spireas (Spirea species)
While larger varieties are available (up to 8 feet tall), there are several compact and dwarf spireas that make for perfect small deer-resistant shrubs (as small as 1½ feet tall). Many species have attractive flowers, grow quickly, don’t require a lot by way of maintenance, and make for perfect accent border plants. While they typically won’t attract deer, do expect to see a lot of butterflies.
10. Barberry (Dwarf Berberis)
This spiny shrub is one typically avoided by deer. While large varieties are certainly available, smaller accent shrubs will still provide the thorny, wiry branches that keep deer away. Choose between a variety of different colors—dark orange, bright red, deep wine-red, dark purple, deep green, metallic pink, warm yellow, and more! In addition to keeping deer away, these low-lying shrubs are great for shrub beds or hedging.
Deer Resistant Shrubs: Prettiest Flowering Shrubs
Many of the shrubs mentioned above (Bluebeard, namely) are both pretty flowering shrubs and deer resistant shrubs, but here are a few more options:
11. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii):
Considered an invasive plant in some regions, it might be one that you hope invades your landscape. If you are worried about their spread, look for seedless varieties. The striking blue-purple blooms will welcome many pollinators, but keep deer away.
12. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia):
Technically a subshrub (and ironically not a true sage), this lavender-lookalike behaves like a shrub and can thrive in poor, dry soils. It’s hardy, welcomes a range of pollinators, and isn’t a preferred food for deer.
13. Swamp rose (Rosa palustris):
Swamp rose can reach heights of up to 7 feet, and while you may be attracted to it’s light pink flowers, deer won’t.
Best Deer Resistant Shrubs for Privacy
Nearly all of the tallest deer resistant shrubs mentioned above are also great screening shrubs. In addition to tall varieties of the common boxwood, Japanese pieris, mountain laurel, Eastern red cedar, and Chinese juniper, here are a few others you could try
14. Heavenly bamboo
Bamboo is an evergreen deer resistant (or semi-evergreen) shrub provides beauty throughout the entire year. Between dark green foliage and stunning red berries, you’ll love surrounding your patio or deck with this shrub, but deer won’t be as impressed. It’s also important to know that while the leaves and stems will keep deer away, they’re also poisonous to pets.
15. Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) that deer won’t eat:
Arborvitaes are popular with gardeners—and in many cases they’re extremely popular with deer, too. For those of us who want an easy to maintain arborvitae that grows well in any soil, our best bet is the Thuja variety. Also known as “Green Giant,” this fast-growing species is one of the quickest privacy screens available, and grows up to 3-4 feet every year! It’s also much less likely than its relatives to be destroyed by deer.
A succulent that is dense and protective.
Deer Resistant Juniper Shrubs
Again, many of the taller shrubs are also excellent for providing shade.
Junipers are some of the most common deer resistant shrubs that also happen to be great at providing shade. Some can grow up to 100 feet tall! For some taller varieties to form into a shade providing hedgerow/privacy screen, consider the following (all of which have dense foliage and upright pyramidal forms):
17. Wichita Blue
A type of Juniper, these trees can reach heights upwards of 50 feet, resistant to deer, and would be great for blocking the sun!
18. Blue Haven
Beautiful and hardy, medium height and stout, can provide privacy as well as shade, while being low maintenance.
Another Juniper, the Skyrocket is bush that Deer won’t feast upon that is thick and protects your yard from prying eyes.
20. Blue Point
Tall and evergreen Juniper that brings class and panache to a yard. Very dense foliage and forms a bit of a pyramid when mature.
21. Hetz Columnar
Beautiful, upward, conical shape supported by bright green leaves on tightly packed branches. Fitting accent for a well groomed yard that is low maintenance relative to other plants in the genus. This is one plant Deer are sure to pass up!
If you’re looking for a multi-functional shrub to add to your landscape, let us help! We have recommendations about flowering, shading, privacy, and more—and can recommend shrubs that will also be deer resistant. Contact us today for help!
What shrubs are deer resistant?
25. Evergreen azalea (Rhododendron sp.)
Despite being toxic when consumed in large amounts, deer love every part of these shrubs (even their flowers), and white-tailed deer particularly enjoy them.
26. Yew shrubs (Taxus sp.)
Aside from plum yews (Cephalotaxus), these are a well-known favorite for deer.
27. Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
According to Rutgers University, most Euonymus varieties are damaged by deer, but wintercreeper experiences the worst and is frequently severely damaged by Bambi.
Since we just discussed most of the plants that deer don’t like to eat in the Northeast, deflection is another effective strategy to offer plants that Deer really do enjoy. let’s flip this question around to discuss which shrubs are not deer resistant.
What do deer like to eat?
In some cases, landowners will want to support the biodiversity and ecological systems that surround them, and one of the best things to do in this case is provide rabid grazers with some tasty shrubs. Here are a few favorite foods for deer to take their attention off your favorite plants:
- Evergreen azalea (Rhododendron sp.): Despite being toxic when consumed in large amounts, deer love every part of these shrubs (even their flowers), and white-tailed deer particularly enjoy them .
- Yew shrubs (Taxus sp.): Aside from plum yews (Cephalotaxus), these are a well-known favorite for deer .
- Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei): According to Rutgers University, most Euonymus varieties are damaged by deer, but wintercreeper experiences the worst and is frequently severely damaged by Bambi .
What flowers are deer resistant?
Beyond those mentioned above, there are a few more flowering shrubs that will provide you with stunning blooms and an intoxicating fragrance, but aren’t as well loved by deer.
28. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora):
Native to the Southeast, we might be pushing hardiness with this zone 5-9 tolerant shrub. However, if you’re looking for an elegant white flower, it might be one to experiment with.
29. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris):
For fragrance, there’s nearly nothing better than a lilac shrub. It has gorgeous purple flowers, makes for a great hedge, grows well in the Northeast, and can reach heights of up to 12 feet once mature. Plus, deer won’t nibble on them if other food is available.
30. Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.):
This large shrub has beautiful yellow flowers and a wonderful scent. As a young shrub, your witch hazel might need some additional protection, but once established will be resistant to many diseases and pests.
Are dappled willow shrubs deer resistant?
Dappled willow shrubs are great to help to prevent erosion, have a beautiful weeping structure, and YES, they are known to be deer resistant. They’re also fast growing, and can reach up to 20 feet in just a few years.
Are burning bush shrubs deer resistant?
We already mentioned wintercreeper, which is in the same Eunoymus family as burning bush. These are similar to wintercreeper and yew, so NO, they are generally not deer resistant.
Are flowering almond shrubs deer resistant?
Flowering almond shrubs are cold-tolerant, but their deer resistance is unknown. We’d recommend going with a shrub that has a better record of being resistant to hungry deer.
Are mock orange shrubs deer resistant?
Mock orange shrubs have an intoxicating fragrance, plus, YES, they are deer resistant. They can also tolerate drought and make for a perfect privacy screen.
Are camellia shrubs deer resistant?
YES, camellia shrub, also known as camellia bush (Camellia spp.), is deer resistant, and may actually prevent deer from coming close to some of your other plants.
Are dogwood shrubs deer resistant?
We mentioned a Rutgers University study of deer resistance earlier, and they found that some varieties of dogwood are known to be seldom damaged by deer, so YES, there are some deer resistant types of dogwood shrubs. These include kousa dogwood, red osier dogwood, and red twigged dogwood.
Other varieties of dogwood may become more damaged, however.
Are spirea shrubs deer resistant?
Using the same university study, we can conclude that YES, many spirea shrubs will also not be the meal-of-choice for deer.
Are barberry shrubs deer resistant?
YES, we mentioned barberry shrubs earlier. Thanks to their spiny leaves, there are many small and tall varieties that are deer resistant.
Are boxwood shrubs deer resistant?
We can say that the versatility of boxwood shrubs and the fact that YES—they are deer resistant—make boxwood a great addition to any landscape.
Are holly shrubs deer resistant?
YES, holly shrubs are deer resistant, thanks to the fact that their berries may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
Are ninebark shrubs deer resistant?
The fact that they have purple leaves and are easy to grow and maintain make ninebark shrubs a good garden choice. Here’s another reason: YES, all ninebark species are avoided by deer and other animals.
Are rose of Sharon shrubs deer resistant?
Also known as Hibiscus syriacus, we can say that YES, rose of Sharon is generally avoided by deer—and provides seasonal color for humans.
Is sweet pea shrub deer resistant?
YES, it is generally thought that sweet pea shrub is deer resistant. However, it’s only well suited to USDA zones 9-10, meaning that the Northeast is too cold for this plant.
Read more about climate zones in our climate zone guide.
Is sweet pea shrub petite butterfly deer resistant?
YES, but this variety is also better suited to warmer climates.
Is sweet shrub deer resistant?
Also known as Carolina allspice, we can say that YES, this shrub provides fragrance, summer blooms, and a shrub that is generally avoided by deer.
What evergreen shrubs are deer resistant?
This article has already mentioned several evergreen shrubs that will look great year-round, without appealing to hungry deer. This includes many juniper species, boxwood, pieris, heavenly bamboo, and holly.