I think we’d all agree that deer are hungry critters. However much you
enjoy wildlife, you can be disheartened, or even outraged, to find
your prized shrubs chewed down to the stumps with tell-tale hoof
prints in the surrounding soil.
In the previous Plant Man column, I described ways to determine if
deer are the real culprits, and I took a look at some deer repellent
products, both commercial and home-made. If you missed that column,
you can find it at my Web site www.landsteward.org
Today, we’ll take a look at some deer resistant plants. As far as I
know, there are no “deer-repellent” plants; the kind that would send
deer scurrying away in panic. No such luck. So your best bet, if deer
are a potential problem, is to select plants that hold the least
possible attraction to deer. Unfortunately, in times of scarcity, deer
will eat almost anything green, but you can put the odds in your favor
so they will ignore your landscape in search of greener – and tastier
Do a little homework and you’ll quickly discover which plants attract
deer and which plants they find less desirable. A good place to start
is http://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistence/ a Web site hosted by
That Web site consists of a long chart of alphabetically-listed plant
names, color-coded to indicate which are rarely damaged, seldom
severely damaged, occasionally severely damaged or frequently severely
Using the Rutgers chart, you can determine if a plant on your wish
list might be better replaced with a less deer-yummy one. Although
it’s a long list, I can think of other plants that you could select
when deer are a potential problem. Here are some to consider:
Boxwood Wintergreen (Buxus microphylla) I’ve found that deer don’t
particularly care for the taste or aroma of boxwoods under normal
circumstances. This popular low growing evergreen shrub is commonly
seen as a low hedge or border defining the edges of formal and
informal gardens. The Wintergreen Boxwood offers dark green lustrous
leaves and creates a striking hedge with year round color, holding its
green color all winter long. Suitable for USDA zones 5 – 9.
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Goldsturm) Black Eyed Susans are true
perennials, returning larger each year. They are great for mass
plantings and provide wonderful contrasting colors when paired with
ornamental grasses, Shasta daisies, Russian sage or dianthus. Black
Eyed Susan should be deadheaded regularly for continued blooms. They
are a native North American wildflower as well as being deer and
rabbit resistant yet attracting butterflies. Zones 4 – 9.
Barberry Rose Glow (Berberis thunbergii) This is an eye catching form
of Japanese Barberry, emerging with early foliage that is a rosy
glowing pink color that turns a crimson burgundy as it matures. Full
sun produces the best foliage, looking good as foundation, border or
mass planting. Barberry Rose Glow needs a well drained area and can
tolerate some drought in zones 4 through 7.
American Holly (Ilex opaca) You probably wouldn’t relish eating holly
and, as a rule, neither do deer. Left untrimmed, American Holly can
reach a height of 30 feet or more with a spread of 18 to 30 feet. Bear
in mind you will need at least one of each sex to produce berries that
will attract birds and butterflies but not deer. Hardy in zones 5 to
Bamboo Sunset Glow (Fargesia rufa) A favorite of the Giant Panda but
not that attractive to deer. This is a clumping (non-running) variety.
Growing to 8 feet in height, the orange-red sheaths and deep green
leaves will provide a nice hedge or screen at maturity when planted in
groups. USDA zones 6 – 9.
Sage, Thyme and Chives Deer don’t particularly care for these herbs
but humans do, so they’re not a bad choice as attractive groundcover
and as a great, fresh addition to many home-cooked dishes.
Again, no plant is 100% deer-resistant. But when you select plants
that are less attractive to deer and employ some of the deterrents we
discussed in the previous column, you should find that deer will
generally look elsewhere for their salad buffet.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org