Deer can cause significant damage to landscape plants, as they have a wide range of dietary preferences and will often feed on a variety of shrubs, flowers, and trees. Their browsing habits can result in the stripping of leaves, twigs, and bark, which can weaken or kill the plant. Additionally, repeated browsing can cause a plant to become stunted or misshapen. Homeowners often use physical barriers like fencing to protect plants from deer damage, which can be ugly and detract from a beautiful landscape.
Doesn't it make more sense that, rather that putting up an ugly barrier, to use plants that deer tend not to eat in the first place? Although no plant is one hundred percent safe from deer, this list of 23 Really Interesting Deer Resistant Plants has been tested in the field and found to be very reliable. As good as we think this list is, deer cannot read and may not be aware that they are not supposed to like these plants. Always expect some nibbling.
Special Thanks - This blog was made available by Scott Aker, Head of Horticulture and Education at the U.S. National Arboretum (http://www.usna.usda.gov/).
Aconitum napellus; A. carmichaelii - Monk’s-Hood
Zones 3-8. Grow in full sun or partial shade, does best in humus-rich soil that retains moisture. Wiry stems usually don’t need to be staked, but it can be used as a plant to grow through nearby shrubs. Valuable for late summer to early autumn bloom, and good clear purple to blue color. Good cut flower. Don’t mistake the tapered storage roots for wild parsnip, since the whole plant is very poisonous. 3’-5’ tall with little spread.
Antirrhinum majus - Snapdragon
Zones 7-10. Grow in full sun. Needs well drained soil. Could be an alternative for pansies and violas for bedding if the dwarf varieties are used. May live for several years if grown in good conditions. 6” to 3’ by 12”
Baptisia spp. and cvs. - False Indigo
Zones 3-9. Grow in full sun. Tolerates poor soils. Best used as a shrub-like accent or as in massed plantings. Beautiful with ornamental grasses. Never needs staking, and the pods on some types are attractive after the flowers fade. May be troubled by lace bug. 3’-5’ tall with 4’-5’ spread.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides - Hardy Plumbago
Zones 6-9. Grow in full sun or light shade. Tolerates poor soils. Can be used as a ground cover since it will spread slowly. Good red fall color, and long period of bloom from late summer through autumn. 6”-12” tall, spreading.
Epilobium canum var. garrettii syn. - Hummingbird Trumpet
Zones 5-9. Grow in full sun. Tolerates poor soils, and is extremely drought and heat tolerant. Needs very good drainage, but can thrive near walks and asphalt. Can be used as a ground cover since it is spreading in habit. May attract hummingbirds. Long period of bloom in late summer when few plants are in bloom. 6”-12” tall, spreading.
Epimedium spp. and cvs. - Barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat
Zones 5-8. Grow in shade or partial shade. Tolerates dry shade and competition from tree roots, and is drought and heat tolerant. Needs good drainage. Blooms in spring followed by attractive foliage, which can develop good fall color. Semi-evergreen, but will need to be cut back before spring arrives if it’s been a hard winter. Leaves are sometimes damaged by leafcutter bees. 6”-12” tall, spreading.
Gloriosa superba - Flame Lily
Zones 8-10. A vining monocot that is actually more closely related to autumn crocus than lilies. Provide mesh or twiggy branches for it to grow on. The tips of the leaves curl around support as it climbs. Grow in full sun. Needs rich moisture retentive soil to grow and flower to full potential. Heat and humidity tolerant. The elongated storage rhizomes can be lifted and planted in fall, but will survive outdoors if protected with deep mulch in the warmer parts of the Washington, DC region. Blooms late summer. Climbing to 5’-8’.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta - English Bluebells
Zones 3-8. Grow in partial shade. Bulb that easily naturalizes in well-drained soil under trees, provided there is ample organic matter in the soil. Blooms in mid spring, after most of the spring bulbs. Will propagate itself by seed if happy. Can be grown under black walnut. 10”-18” tall.
Oenothera lindheimeri - White Gaura
Zones 5-9. Grow in full sun. Biennial or short-lived perennial that seeds itself; combines well with ornamental grasses, and is best used in large informal plantings because of its height. Pollinators love it. Tolerates poor soils, and is extremely drought and heat tolerant. Extremely long period of bloom from July through early November. Needs good drainage, but can thrive near pavement. 3’-5’ tall, spreading 2’-3’.
Nepeta racemosa cvs. - Catmint
Zones 3-8. Grow in full sun. Tolerates poor soils, and is very drought and heat tolerant. Needs good drainage. Blooms for a long period from late spring to early autumn. Best used as a ground cover. 12”-18” tall, spreading.
Pachysandra procumbens - Allegheny Spurge
Zones 5-9. Shade to part shade. Needs organic matter and acidic, moist soil to thrive. Interesting brown and white flowers appear in the spring with the new foliage. May be semi-evergreen in mild winters or where protected from extreme cold. Spreads slowly, and is native, unlike the more commonly planted Japanese spurge, Pachysandra terminalis. 6”-12” tall, spreading.
Phlomis fruticosa - Jerusalem Sage
Zones 5-10. Grow in full sun to part shade. Technically this is a shrub, but it dies back to the ground in hard winters. Fortunately, it recovers quickly and blooms on new growth. Whorls of yellow to orange flowers appear in midsummer and may continue through the autumn if deadheaded. 2’-4’ tall, spreading 3’-5’.
Aesculus parviflora - Bottlebrush Buckeye
Zones 4-8. Grow in full sun to part shade, but definitely does better with some shade. Does best in acidic, humus-rich soil. Unlike other buckeyes, it is not bothered by fungal leaf blotch, and has outstanding yellow fall color in addition to the stunning foot-long racemes of white flowers that appear in June or early July. A very large shrub that is not amenable to trimming into a formal shape. 10’-12’ tall, spreading 10’-15’.
Buxus spp. and cvs. - Boxwood
Zones 5-9. Best in part shade. Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ has been overplanted. There are some great boxwood like ‘Dee Runk’, and there is hope for breeding in resistance to boxwood blight, and we might even see resistance to boxwood leaf miner, psyllids, and Volutella blight as a result of new work begun at the U.S. National Arboretum. Healthiest if never sheared. Loves soils based on limestone, but can adapt to any well-drained situation. Don’t mulch too much, and keep the mulch away from the trunks. Some have taken a beating with late cold snaps in recent years, particularly Korean boxwood. Size depends on the cultivar.
Callicarpa spp. and cvs. - Beautyberry
Zones 5-11, depending on the species. Grow in full sun to light shade. Nothing matches the lavender purple fruits borne in profusion along the branches in September and October. Never troubled by pests or diseases, and does best in lean soil. Can be pruned back to the ground each winter before growth begins since the flowers and fruits grow on new wood. Generally 5’ to 8’ tall, vase shaped with lovely arching branches, spreading to 5’ to 8’ wide.
Hamamelis virginiana ‘Sunglow’ - Common Witchhazel
Zones 4-8. Grow in full sun to light shade. Grows best where moisture is consistent. Glowing yellow flowers appear in November after the foliage has dropped, unusually late for this species. Good resistance to powdery mildew, and good fall color prior to flowering. Very tall shrub that might be trained as a small tree since this cultivar does not sucker as freely as the species. At least 20’ tall, with a spread of 8’-15’.
Kolkwitzia amabilis - Beautybush
Zones 4-8. Grow in full sun to light shade. Not as particular about soil as many shrubs, as long as drainage is reasonable. Spectacular in flower, when the branches are covered with pink flaring blossoms with yellow throats. Blooms May into early June. There is a yellow-leaved form on the market. Prune right after flowering since it blooms on old wood; it is best to simply remove the oldest branches to the ground every few years to renew vigor. Never troubled by pests or diseases. 8’ to 15’ tall, vase shaped with lovely arching branches, spreading to 5’ to 10’ wide.
Leucothoe axillaris - Fetterbush or Dog Hobble
Zones 5-8. Indespensible for informal shady gardens, but will succeed in sun if there is ample moisture. Prefers, acidic, moist, well-drained soil and some shelter from wind. Small flower appear in spring in the leaf axils, but this is grown mostly for its shiny attractive foliage. Called dog hobble because it is poisonous to dogs and other animals. Evergreen, with arching branches that require little pruning, but can be renewal pruned if needed. Fungal leaf spots are a problem if plants are stressed by drought. 3’ to 6’ tall, 3’ to 6’ wide.
Rhus aromatica - Fragrant Sumac
Zones 3-9. Grow in full sun to shade. Very adaptable, and tolerant of heat and drought. Good fall color in the orange to red spectrum. Tolerates horrible soil. Good for massing in tough sites. Does not require extensive pruning. Never troubled by pests or diseases. 2’ to 6’ tall, 2’ to 6’ wide.
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis - Himalayan Sweetbox
Zones 5-8. Grow in partial shade to shade. Needs good moist, well-drained soil to thrive, tolerates drought after establishment. Wonderfully fragrant flowers that aren’t really showy appear in late winter and early spring. Evergreen. Never troubled by pests or diseases. 2’ to 4’ tall, spreading slowly by suckering.
Asimina triloba - Pawpaw
Zones 5-8. Needs shade when young, unless grafted. Mature trees do well in full sun. Needs good soil and ample moisture. Spring flowers are flesh-colored and malodorous, attracting flies that pollinate them. Tasty fruits reminiscent of banana, custard, and pineapple ripen in September. Pollinate by hand or hang meat in trees in spring to draw more flies to aid in pollination. Large tropical-looking leaves that turn yellow in fall; smooth gray bark. Pyramidal habit, requiring little pruning. Never troubled by pests or diseases. 15’ to 20’ tall, 10’ to 15’ wide.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum - Katsuratree
Zones 4-8. Needs full sun. Needs consistent moisture. In good conditions leave turn dazzling yellow in fall; as they dry, they develop the distinct aroma of cotton candy or burnt marshmallows. Does not require extensive pruning. Never troubled by pests or diseases. 40’ to 60’ tall, 20’ to 30’ wide.
Nyssa sylvatica - Black Gum
Zones 4-9. Grow in full sun to part shade. Needs acidic soil. Very adaptable, and tolerant of heat and drought. Unbeatable red fall color. Has an unfortunate tendency to sprout from roots, but these are easily removed. Leaf miners are sometimes a problem, but don’t really affect the health of the tree. 30’ to 50’ tall, 20’ to 30’ wide.
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