15 Beautiful Deer Resistant Shade Plants To Grow In Your Garden

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.

Deer resistant shade plants

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. 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, or use the links below to skip directly to the list you want to see.

Deer Resistant Shade Shrubs

These bushes all grow well in the shade and are not on the deer dinner menu.

Pieris Japonica

White and pink pieris japonica | © PATARA - stock.adobe.com
White and pink pieris japonica | © PATARA – stock.adobe.com

Zones 5-8

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

Daphne | ©c11yg - stock.adobe.com
Daphne | © c11yg – stock.adobe.com

Zones 5-10

Daphne is a small, very fragrant and evergreen (usually) shrub that blooms 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!

PJM Rhododendron

PJM Rhododendron
PJM Rhododendron

Zones 4-8

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.

Boxwood

Boxwood - Green garden balls in France | © wjarek - stock.adobe.com
Boxwood – Green garden balls in France | © wjarek – stock.adobe.com

Zones 4-10

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!

Gardenia

Gardenia
Gardenia

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!

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plants that deer hate

Deer Resistant Shade Perennials

Shade loving perennials that deer hate

Lenten Rose (Hellebore)

Hellebore flowers | © dukeito - stock.adobe.com
Hellebore flowers | © dukeito – stock.adobe.com

Zones 3-9

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.

Hellebore
Hellebore

As an added bonus, Lenten Rose doesn’t seem to be phased at all by growing in total 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 (Pulmonaria)

Pulmonaria obscura | © na9179126124 - stock.adobe.com
Pulmonaria obscura | © na9179126124 – stock.adobe.com

Zones 2-9

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 flowers (Dicentra spectabils) | © serhii - stock.adobe.com
Bleeding heart flowers (Dicentra spectabils) | © serhii – stock.adobe.com

Zones 2-9

Bleeding Heart is a beautiful lacy-leaved plant with pretty drooping flowers that blooms 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!

Ferns

Ferns | © smolskyevgeny - stock.adobe.com
Ferns | © smolskyevgeny – stock.adobe.com

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.

Japanese painted ferns
Japanese painted ferns

I absolutely love my Japanese painted ferns! Who needs flowers when the leaves are so pretty?

Astilbe

Pink Astilbe | © Zanoza-Ru - stock.adobe.com
Pink Astilbe | © Zanoza-Ru – stock.adobe.com

Zones 4-8

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.

Columbine (Aquilegia)

Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine Flowers | © Casey E Martin - stock.adobe.com
Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine Flowers | © Casey E Martin – stock.adobe.com

Zones 2-9

Columbines are a really low maintenance plant with really pretty blooms.

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 lily
Toad lily

Zones 4-9

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 with patterned leaves | © zgurski1980 - stock.adobe.com
Brunnera with patterned leaves | © zgurski1980 – stock.adobe.com

Zones 4-9

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)

Anemone sylvestris (Snowdrop Anemone or Windflower) | © oksenoyd_irina - stock.adobe.com
Anemone sylvestris (Snowdrop Anemone or Windflower) | © oksenoyd_irina – stock.adobe.com

Zones 2-9

Windflower (or Snowdrop Anemone) have pretty white flowers over ferny foliage that bloom in late spring or 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 | © Matthew Antonino - stock.adobe.com
Jack in the Pulpit | © Matthew Antonino – stock.adobe.com

Zones 4-9

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 or the North Carolina State University Coop Extension.

Do you have any suggestions for other deer resistant shade plants? Tell us in the section below.



Deer resistant shade plants

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10 Responses

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Annette! I’m sure they would be eaten if the deer liked them, so it sounds like daisies are another one to add to the list 🙂

  • My deer are city deer and can’t read deer resistant labels?. I gave up on flowers, instead plant colorful foliage, Blue Star juniper, Yellow, Orange Rocket, Sunjoy barberry, and different varieties of boxwood. I have partial morning sun, so the barberry adds an interesting color. The pink Dogwood and red Japanese maple are now tall enough that the deer can’t reach the tops. I like the rock garden idea and double fence?.

  • Thanks for the great suggestions! I have found they stay away from foxglove too. They used to eat my astilbe, but since I have started using Deer Out they stay away. I’ve tried all kinds of home mixes and store bought remedies, but Deer Out has worked…so far!!

  • Hi Jennifer, I’ve been reading all over the interne, including your piece, that deer love rhododendrons. I live along the wet west coast where black-tail deer (and some mule deer) are the only species present. Hundreds of rhododendron varieties grow in profusion with nary a nibble. Gardening friends here shake their heads in disbelief, and never use repellent. I knew I moved to paradise when I moved out here away from Virginia white-tails.

    • Thanks, Will! I didn’t know black-tail deer were not Rhododendron fans! Now if we can just get them to teach that to their white-tail cousins 🙂

  • Lily of the Valley, Datura, salvia, siberian irises (once they are grown, I have to cover the shoots with chicken wire for a bit), lambs ears, wind flowers, astilbe, potentilla, dusty miller, daffodils, crocus. Some people say they won’t eat peonies and some people say they do. Of course in the fall when they’re hungry they’ll eat almost anything. A spray of eggs, milk, veg oil, Sunlight dish soap and water will keep them away but only until it rains or you spray it off with the hose. I am in zone 3 btw

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