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Deer-Resistant Shrubs

By: James A. Baggett
If you're tired of deer making a snack out of your landscape, try adding a few of these deer-resistant shrubs to your garden.

Add deer-resistant shrubs to your garden

Deer are creatures of habit. Once they find a route with lots of tasty treats, they follow it. Your objective is to either block that path or give them reasons to move to another area. Fencing helps, but is expensive and not always possible. Sprays that smell or taste bad to deer often work, but need to be reapplied frequently to be effective. One of the best ways to avoid feeding them is to set a table with their least-favorite foods.

Bottom line — much will depend on the other food options in the area, the competition for food and the eating habits of the deer. No plant is 100 percent resistant to a hungry animal. Once it’s finished off its favorites, the critter will move on to the next least-offensive-tasting plant. The key is to create a garden that contains few of their favorites. So with that said, here are six shrubs that deer will pass by in their search for a tasty meal.

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Find more deer-resistant plants for your garden

Rutgers University maintains an online list of landscape plants graded according to their resistance to deer. The list was compiled with input from nursery and landscape professionals, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) Cooperative Extension personnel and Rutgers Master Gardeners in northern New Jersey.

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in spring then blue berries in late summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 8

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii)

Type Shrub Blooms Arching stems topped in summer with clusters of purple, pink or white flowers with orange-yellow throats that deer tend to ignore; look for sterile varieties like ‘Blue Chip’ shown above to ensure plants don’t reseed invasively Size 3 to 10 ft. tall and wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Type Shrub Blooms Dense, spiny stems are often tangled and produce red, pink, orange or white flowers before the leaves unfold in early spring, edible green-yellow fruit in summer and fall Size 4 to 8 ft. tall, 3 to 10 ft. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium)

Type Shrub Blooms Glossy, spiny-margined foliage with clusters of bright yellow, fragrant early-spring flowers followed by handsome blue-black berries in mid- to late summer (plant at least two for best berry production) Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Light Part to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Note Choose plants carefully. Some species, such as Mahonia bealei, can be invasive.

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

Type Shrub Blooms Insignificant white blossoms in spring; small, dark green evergreen leaves have a strong odor that deer dislike Size 5 to 15 ft. tall and wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)

Type Shrub Blooms Bright green or silvery (depending on cultivar) aromatic leaves and fluffy powder-blue flowers in late summer; the plant’s heavy scent repels deer Size 2 to 3 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in spring then blue berries in late summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 3 to 8

Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium)

Type Shrub Blooms Glossy, spiny-margined foliage with clusters of bright yellow, fragrant early-spring flowers followed by handsome blue-black berries in mid- to late summer (plant at least two for best berry production) Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Light Part to full shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Note Choose plants carefully. Some species, such as Mahonia bealei, can be invasive.

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii)

Type Shrub Blooms Arching stems topped in summer with clusters of purple, pink or white flowers with orange-yellow throats that deer tend to ignore; look for sterile varieties like ‘Blue Chip’ shown above to ensure plants don’t reseed invasively Size 3 to 10 ft. tall and wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

Type Shrub Blooms Insignificant white blossoms in spring; small, dark green evergreen leaves have a strong odor that deer dislike Size 5 to 15 ft. tall and wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)

Type Shrub Blooms Dense, spiny stems are often tangled and produce red, pink, orange or white flowers before the leaves unfold in early spring, edible green-yellow fruit in summer and fall Size 4 to 8 ft. tall, 3 to 10 ft. wide Light Full sun to part shade Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)

Type Shrub Blooms Bright green or silvery (depending on cultivar) aromatic leaves and fluffy powder-blue flowers in late summer; the plant’s heavy scent repels deer Size 2 to 3 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Light Full sun Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Published: Dec. 2, 2020
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