Lawn and Garden

Deer Resistant Ornamentals

Revised by John W. Jett
from Fact Sheet 655 “Wild Damage Management”
Cooperative Extension Service University of Maryland

Damage to ornamental plants by white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus) has increased during the past decade. This increase is attributed to:

  1. rising deer populations;
  2. human populations shifting to rural and suburban homesites;
  3. loss of deer habitat to development; and
  4. landowner decisions to prevent deer hunting.

The best approach to control deer damage is an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, which includes careful monitoring of any one, or a combination of the following strategies: population management, fencing, repellents, or vegetation management.

In the short run, damage to ornamental plants is largely irreversible. Damage, particularly in suburban areas with good-quality deer habitat, probably will increase. However, by planting ornamentals not favored by deer, landscapers and homeowners can attempt to preserve vulnerable landscapes.

Deer Feeding Habits

Deer feed selectively on fertilized and unfertilized landscape plantings and managed croplands. Costly browsing damage may be reduced or eliminated by planting less-preferred species or by establishing susceptible plants only in protected areas. A few strategies to consider include planting susceptible plants close to the house or in a fenced yard, or planting preferred species inside a protective ring of less-preferred species. Under most circumstances, landscaping based on a knowledge of deer feeding preferences provides an alternative to expensive chemical repellents and unsightly physical barriers.

Whether deer will target a particular plant species or variety depends on their previous habits and nutritional needs, plant palatability, seasonal factors, weather conditions, geographic area, and availability of alternative foods. Deer are creatures of habit, and previous movement patterns or foraging experiences can determine where damage will occur. Also, one plant species may be rarely damaged in one region or the country, but highly preferred in another due to differences in deer pressure and other factors. Examples of species with noted regional differences include holly, white pine, and deciduous magnolias. Therefore, caution must be taken when using plant preference lists from areas outside your own.

In general, damage from browsing is most severe when snow cover or extreme cold has reduced food availability. Another problem time is early spring when young succulent growth of ornamentals provides attractive browse before other spring growth is available. When food is in short supply, deer will browse even the most undesirable plants. Under such conditions, landscapers should combine damage control measures with careful plant selection. Damage control measures could include repellents, physical barriers (fencing), and deer population control. Ultimately, reducing the deer herd size is the most effective solution.

Plant Damage List

The following list contains many ornamental plants adaptable to West Virginia landscapes and are rarely damaged by deer. The placement of plants in this category is based on the experiences of nursery operators, landscape contractors and designers, West Virginia Extension Service personnel, research staff, and professional horticulturists. Please note that deer-browsing resistance of a plant species changes according to fluctuations in deer populations, alternative food availability, and environmental factors. No plant is safe under all conditions.

Before planting any of the species listed, check to ensure that they suit local climatic and soil conditions.

Rarely Damaged

Trees

Botanical Name   Common Name
Aesculus parviflora   Bottlebrush Buckeye
Amelanchier arborea   Downy Serviceberry
Amelanchier Canadensis   Shadbush
Amelanchier laevis   Allegheny Serviceberry
Betula albo-sinensis   Chinese Paper Birch
Betula nigra ‘Heritage’   Heritage Birch
Betula papyrifera   Paper Birch
Chamaecyparis pisifera   Japanese Falsecypress
Cryptomeria japonica   Japanese Cedar
Picea pungens glauca   Colorado Blue Spruce
Pinus sylvestris   Scotch Pine
Pseudotsuga menziesii   Douglas Fir

Shrubs and Climbers

Botanical Name   Common Name
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi   Bearberry
Asimina triloba   Pawpaw
Berberis spp.   Barberry
Buxus spp.   Boxwood
Caryopteris x clandonensis   Caryopteria
Calastrus scandens   American Bittersweet
Cornus sericea   Red Osier Dogwood
Cephalotaxus harringtonia var. horeana   Japanese Plum-Yew
Elaeagnus angustifolia   Russian Olive
Gaultheria procumbens   Creeping Wintergreen
Hibiscus syriacus   Rose of Sharon
Ilex x ‘John T. Morris’   John T. Morris Holly
Ilex x ‘Lydia Morris’   Lydia Morris Hollies
Leucothoe spp.   Leucothoe
Ligustrum vulgare   European Privet
Pieris japonica   Japanese Andromeda
Rhamnus cathartica   Common Buckthorn
Sambucus Canadensis   Blueberry Elder
Sarcoccoca hookeriana var. humilis   Dwarf Sweet Christmas Box

Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs

Botanical Name   Common Name
Achillea spp.   Yarrow
Aconitum spp.   Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum   Ageratum
Allium christophii   Star of Persia
Allium neapolitanum   Daffodil Garlic
Allium ostrowskianum   Lily Leek
Anemone x hybrid   Japanese Anemone
Anemonella thalictroides   Rue Anemone
Anethum graveolens   Common Dill
Aquilegia spp.   Columbine
Aurinia saxatilis   Basket-of-Gold
Antirrhinum majus   Snapdragon
Arabis spp.   Rock-cress
Arisaema thiphylum   Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Aubrietia deltoidea   Rock Cress
Bergenia spp.   Berginia
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides   Plumbago
Cimicifuga racemosa   Snakeroot
Colchicum autumnale   Colchicum
Colchicum speciosum   Colchicum
Consolida ambigua   Larkspur
Convallaria majalis   Lily-of-the-valley
Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’   Threadleaf Coreopsis
Cyclamen hederifolium   Neopolitan Cyclamen
Dicentra spectabilis   Bleeding Heart
Digitalis spp.   Foxglove
Dryopteris marginalis   Wood Fern
Ecinacea purpurea   Purple Coneflower
Epimedium spp.   Barrenwort
Euphorbia spp.   Euphorbia
Fritillaria spp.   Fritillary
Galium odoratuim   Sweet Woodruff
Gloriosa superba   Glory Lily
Hemmerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’   Stella de Oro Daylily
Hesperis matronalis   Dame’s Rocket
Hyacinthus orientalis   Hyacinth
Lamium maculatum   Deadnettle
Lavandula spp.   Lavender
Linaria vulgaris   Toadflax
Lobularia maritima   Sweet Alyssum
Lychnis coronaria   Rose Champion
Matteuccia struthiopteris   Ostrich Fern
Narcissus spp.   Daffodil
Nicotiana spp.   Flowering Tobacco
Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis   Royal Fern
Pachysandra procumbens   Allegheny Spurge
Pachysandra terminalis   Japanese Spurge
Papaver orientale   Oriental Poppy
Pelargonium spp.   Scented Geranium
Pervoshia atriplicifolia   Russian Sage
Ranunculus spp.   Buttercup
Rheum rhabarbarum   Rhubarb
Rudbeckia spp.   Coneflower
Salvia spp.   Sage
Santolina chamaecyparissus   Lavender Cotton
Scilla spp.   Squill
Stachys byzantina   Lamb’s Ears
Tagetes spp.   Marigold
Tanacetum vulgare   Common Tansy
Thymus spp.   Thyme
Tiarella cordifolia   Foam Flower
Tropaeolum majus   Nasturtium
Yucca spp.   Yucca

References
Fargione, M.J., P.D. Curtis, and M.E. Richmond. 1991. “Resistance of Woody Ornamental Plants to Deer Damage.” Publication 147HGFS800.00 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Bartlett, Michael. 1995. “Deer Resistant Plants.” Bethesda, MD: Landscape Designs.
Gibbs, D. 1995. “Deer Resistant Plants for the Home Landscape.” Chevy Chase, MD: Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission.