Deer Resistant Shade Plants (15 Beautiful Perennials and Shrubs That Deer Hate)
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 September 15, 2022.
At our cabin in northern Wisconsin we have pretty white daisies growing among fern and jack in the pulpit. The deer are everywhere so I suspect they don’t like white dasies….just a thought
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 plant suggestions! It sounds like you have an interesting mix of foliage colors.
Here in Anacortes, Washington the deer gleefully munch on our Brunnera Jack Frost, & also on our bird’s nest fern.
They leave our cosmos & dahlias alone. Penstemon is also fairly deer resistant.
Thanks for the suggestions, Gail!
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!!
Thanks, Jennifer! Thanks for the foxglove suggestion, and it’s great to know that Deer Out is working for you!
I discovered that if you cut up a bar of charcoal into small pierces and place it around plants you do not want eaten they will stay away from that area of the garden.
Thanks for the suggestion, Syble! I have not heard of that idea before 🙂
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
Thanks for the suggestions, Bobbi! I’ll have to try your spray mixture.
Silene has survived the deer for eight years now. Purple/pink flowers bloom from early May through June at least. The green leaf clusters remain evergreen even through our Pacific Northwest snowfalls. They tend to spread, although slowly.
Thanks, Kathleen! I haven’t tried Silene, but it sounds like a good deer-resistant plant!
I have a very shaded wooded property that deer frequent often. I have great success with toad lily against the foundation of my house where the get barely any light at all. They multiply into larger clumps every year. That part of my house is within the 100 ft boundary of the wetlands too though, so I think they really prefer it cool, dark and damp. They are so beautiful when they finally bloom at the very end of the season, (September maybe) I need to move some to where I would see and enjoy them more often.
Hope you have some luck with them, they’re very special. You should also consider kirengoshoma I think it’s called or more commonly “wax bells”? It’s a tall beautiful yellow bush like flower that hummingbirds absolutely adore and deer hate. They love the shade (right next to my toad Lily’s) and grow about 5 feet tall after being cut completely back every year.
Thanks for the suggestions, Rebecca! Maybe my toad lilies aren’t getting enough water…I’ll have to try them in a different spot and see if that helps 🙂
Deer really enjoyed my expensive toad lilies, particularly the flowers, I’m afraid. Have moved what was left. Hellebores are very good and will try columbines now.
Sorry to hear that your deer population has a taste for toad lilies, Sue. Hopefully, they’ll stay away from the Columbines!
I have planted euphoria which is a green plant with tiny little faces on the tips of mature leaves. It is beautiful and absolutely poisonous to dear. Mine have come back every year and I don’t cut them back. Plant them in threes. Th plants are small or medium depending on where purchased. But you will.love them. Mine get mostly shade.
Thanks for the suggestion, Linda! I’ll have to try that 🙂
I have several types of tick seed in my Georgia garden (near Atlanta). For several years, this has been one of the rare pants with flowers the deer have not touched so far.
Also lavender has worked well, and it blooms in summer.
A friend just told me Pieris Japonica is a go, and since it is toxic to pets, I assume this is the reason. I will try those this spring.
Thanks for the suggestions, Gabriele!
Monkshood is a beautiful late summer, early fall flower that is poisonous and deer avoid. If you don’t have to worry about children it is a great shade plant. The deer even avoid my hostas planted nearby.
Thanks for the addition to the list, Anita!
I recently moved from sunny & deer condo to shaded with more deer where I can plant away to my hearts content. My father’s family were landscape, nursery based. We always had something blooming but that was in Ohio. The area I’m in now, Georgia foothills is beautiful but I want deer resistant & shaded. Thank you so much for this article. Now I now what I should try.
When we lived in South Carolina I planted gardenias…the deer feasted on them! Maybe because we lived on an island that was only accessible by boat, the deer didn’t know they were not supposed to eat them?
Hi Marcie…that’s the trouble with deer, it seems like different populations of them like different things 🙂 There are very few plants that are totally deer proof, so I think you have to see what works in your area.
Abelia bushes are deer resistant and attract butterflies and in some areas stay green most of the year. Bloom Spring through summer. Small pink flowers.
Thanks for the suggestion, Susan! I haven’t tried Abelia so it’s good to know they are deer resistant.