Find out how to keep your garden looking beautiful with these deer resistant shade plants that will help to prevent the animals from dining on your flowers.
As many of you know, both my mother and I have fairly large shade gardens. So we’ve written quite a bit about plants that thrive in the shade.
One of the questions that I always get asked is if those plants are deer resistant.
So I thought I would do a little research and find out.
I actually live in an area where deer are plentiful. It wasn’t that many years ago that most of the land around here was wooded. Recent construction in the area has replaced a lot of those forests with subdivisions which means lots of deer looking for alternate food sources.
My house happens to back onto a ravine, so I see deer on a fairly regular basis…and occasionally hear a misguided deer hunter back there trying to take home a prize (I do live in city limits, so hunting back there is illegal, not to mention dangerous!)
Despite all of that, I have never had a problem with deer eating my plants, even though lots of my neighbors have. I always thought that the deer just weren’t hungry enough to jump the 6 foot fence I have surrounding the back yard.
But after looking into deer resistant shade plants, I think part of it may be that I (unintentionally) chose the right plants! (the ones that deer don’t like very much).
One thing to keep in mind, though…no plants are totally deer proof. If they are hungry enough, deer will eat pretty much anything.
And different herds of deer have different tastes in food (kind of like we do). So these are some of the plants that are least likely to be eaten by deer, but there are no guarantees!
Keep reading to find out my favorite deer resistant shade plants.
Deer Resistant Shade Shrubs
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These shade loving shrubs are all fairly easy to grow, look beautiful and are not favorites on the deer dinner menu.
Pieris Japonica is an easy-to-grow, larger sized shrub that has really pretty pendant-like flowers in early spring.
It can be toxic to pets, so if you have a dog that likes to chew on your plants, you may want to be careful about planting this.
Daphne is a small evergreen shrub with very fragrant pink or white flowers that appear in late winter. Which already makes it one of my favorite plants.
The fact that deer don’t like to eat it is just a bonus as far as I’m concerned!
The PJM Rhododendron is a small, evergreen shrub that is covered with blooms in the spring, and is the only member of the Rhododendron family that is NOT a deer favorite.
Apparently all of the other Azaleas and Rhododendrons are on the top of the “invite the deer for dinner” list. So if you’re a big Rhododendron fan like I am, you may have to be careful where you plant them.
Boxwoods are another easy to grow evergreen bush, and are well known for being easy to shape.
It’s a good thing the deer don’t like them. If I spent a bunch of time making them into balls like this garden in France, I’d be really upset if a deer came along and wrecked it all!
Zones 6 – 11
Gardenia is a small to medium-sized (depending on the variety) evergreen shrub with beautiful fragrant white flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer.
It thrives on hot and humid weather, so it’s perfect for my South Carolina summers. Another one of my favorites!
Deer Resistant Shade Perennials
Next up are all of the shade perennials that are not deer favorites.
Lenten Rose (Hellebore)
If you’ve ever been in my garden, you know that I love Hellebores! They start blooming in the winter and are often still blooming in June.
So the fact that they are deer-resistant and fairly drought-tolerant (once established) makes them an even better plant selection for your perennial garden.
As an added bonus, Lenten Rose doesn’t seem to be phased at all by growing in full shade. Just look at this patch growing on the north side of my house which is so close to my neighbor’s house they don’t get any sun at all.
Lungwort is a semi-evergreen low-growing perennial that is covered in blooms in the early spring, and is much prettier than the name suggests!
Depending on the variety, the foliage can be variegated, silver or spotted which makes it an interesting woodland plant all year round.
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Bleeding Heart is a beautiful lacy-leaved plant with pretty heart shape flowers that appear in the spring.
The plant totally disappears when it starts getting hot so don’t be alarmed when that happens…it will come back again next spring!
Zones 2 – 9
Apparently, deer don’t like any kind of fern species, which is great since ferns are so easy to grow in the shade.
Their lacy green foliage adds a tropical feeling to any garden.
I absolutely love my Japanese painted ferns! Who needs flowers when the leaves are so pretty?
Planting Astilbe is a great way to add some bright color to your summer shade garden.
Just make sure to buy the varieties for shade, as some of them require full sun.
Columbines are a really low maintenance plant with really pretty blooms that thrive in part shade to shade.
They do tend to self-seed so you may find them popping up in places where you didn’t plant them. I like them so much I usually just let them grow. But they aren’t very aggressive so you can easily pull them out if you don’t want them to naturalize.
Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)
Toad lilies are somewhat unusual looking plants that bloom in the late summer and fall, but are much prettier than the name suggests!
I have to admit that I have not had much success growing toad lilies. I have tried a few times and they never seem to survive more than one season.
However they are so pretty that I keep trying! If anyone has any advice on how to keep them alive, I would love to hear it!
Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
Brunnera is another plant that has pretty blooms in the spring, but also has beautiful foliage. These silver colored leaves really stand out in the shade garden!
Windflower (Anemone sylvestris)
Windflower (or Snowdrop Anemone) have pretty white flowers over ferny foliage that bloom in late spring and may re-bloom in the early fall.
They are great to plant with tulips and daffodils as the blooms and foliage will distract from the dying bulb leaves.
These anemones will spread so make sure to plant them where they have room to do so.
Jack In The Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Jack in the Pulpit is a native woodland plant that is easy to grow, has really interesting blooms in the spring, and produces berries that birds like to eat.
It isn’t attractive to deer since it has a very strong peppery taste and contains a chemical (calcium oxalate) which will cause painful irritation if ingested raw.
That’s it for my list of shade plants that deer will avoid. However, if you want to check a plant that isn’t on this list, you can try looking it up on the deer resistant plant list from Rutgers University.
Other Gardening Ideas You Might Like
Do you have any suggestions for other deer resistant shade plants? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on February 9, 2018 but was updated with new content on November 20, 2021.