Deer Resistant Plants

During a recent conversation with Bruce Gauld, owner of Gauld Nurseries in Niagara Falls, Ontario, we discussed the damage to ornamental plants by white-tailed deer during this past winter. Because of several major landscape developments that are occurring nearby including the construction of an 18 hole golf course, a new housing development called Niagara on the Green, and the relocation of Niagara College to the toe of the Niagara Escarpment (recognized in 1990 as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Bruce has experienced more damage to his plant material this winter than ever before. Quite simply, continuing pressure for development has resulted in habitat loss and the maintenance of wildlife biodiversity.

The problem with deer browsing on ornamental plants was also recently identified by one of my clients who lives on the Escarpment in Beamsville, Ontario. During the preparation of a Landscape Planting Plan where deer may be a problem, the Designer must carefully select plants based on an understanding of deer feeding preferences.

The problem associated with over browsing is exacerbated when excessive snow cover or extreme cold has reduced food availability. Under these circumstances, deer will browse on even the most undesirable plants. Similarly, newly emerging succulent growth on ornamentals oftentimes is damaged by deer. This was the case in the Hill County of Texas where I observed that white-tailed deer seemed to have a preference for landscape ornamentals instead of the native vegetation. Physical barriers such as fencing, repellants, and other control measures were only marginally beneficial.

The resistance of plant species to deer browsing depends on the actual deer population, the availability of alternative food, and environmental factors, including drought and other circumstances that create a shortage of food. Also, it is important to note that there is great variability in one plant species that may rarely be damaged in one region and yet is highly preferred in another area. No plant is completely safe but there are some that are damaged less frequently than others.

Rarely Damaged Plants

Rarely Damaged Trees

  • Aesculus pariflora (Bottlebrush Buckeye)
  • Amelanchier arborea (Downy Serviceberry)
  • Amelanchier canadensis (Shadbrush)
  • Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny Serviceberry)
  • Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch)
  • Chamaecyparis pisifera (Japanese Falsecypress)
  • Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar)
  • Picea pungens glauca (Colorado Blue Spruce)
  • Pinus sylvestris (Scot's Pine)
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii (Dougles Fir)

Rarely Damaged Shrubs and Climbers

  • 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)
  • Cotoneaster dammeri (Spreading Cotoneaster)
  • Cephalotaxus harringtonia var. horeana (Japanese Plum-Yew)
  • Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian Olive)
  • Genista scoparius (Scotch Broom)
  • Gaultheria procumbens (Creeping Wintergreen)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon)
  • Ilex cornuta (Chinese Holly)
  • Leucothoe spp. (Leucothoe)
  • Ligustrum vulgare (European Privet)
  • Pieris japonica (Japanese Andromeda)
  • Pyrocantha coccinea lalandi (Laland Firethorn)
  • Rubus spp. (Blackberry)
  • Sambucus canadensis (Blueberry Elder)

Rarely Damaged Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs

  • Achillea spp. (Yarrow)
  • Aconitum spp. (Monkshood)
  • Ageratum houstonianum (Ageratum)
  • Ajuga reptans (Carpet Bugle)
  • Allium christophii (Star of Persia)
  • Allium neapolitanum (Daffodil Garlic)
  • Allium ostrowskianum (Lily Leek)
  • Anemone x hybrida (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)
  • Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' (Threadleaf Coreopsis)
  • Cosmos bipinnatus (Common Cosmos)
  • Cyclamen hederifolium (Neopolitan Cyclamen)
  • Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart)
  • Digitalis spp. (Foxglove)
  • Dryopteris marginalis (Wood Fern)
  • Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)
  • Epimedium spp. (Barrenwort)
  • Euphorbia spp. (Euphorbia)
  • Fritillaria spp. (Fritillary)
  • Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff)
  • Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro' (Stella de Oro Daylily)
  • Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket)
  • Hyacinthus orientalis (Hyacinth)
  • Lamium maculatum (Deadnettle)
  • Lavandula spp. (Lavandula spp.)
  • Linaria vulgaris (Toadflax)
  • Lobularia maritima (Sweet Alyssum)
  • Lychnis coronaria (Rose Champion)
  • Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)
  • Narcissus spp. (Daffodil)
  • Nicotiana spp. (Flowering Tobacco)
  • Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern)
  • Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese Spurge)
  • Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy)
  • Pelargonium spp. (Scented Geranium)
  • Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)
  • Ranunculus spp. (Buttercup)
  • Rudbeckia spp. (Coneflower)
  • Salvia spp. (Sage)
  • Salvia farinacea (Mealy Blue Sage)
  • Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton)
  • Scilla spp. (Suill)
  • Senecio cineraria (Dusty Miller)
  • Stachys byzantia (Lamb's Ears)
  • Tagetes spp. (Marigold)
  • Tanacetum vulgare (Common Tansy)
  • Thymus spp. (Thyme)
  • Tiarella cordifolia (Foam Flower)
  • Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium)
  • Verbena spp. (Verbena)
  • Verbena major (Bigleaf Periwinkle)
  • Yucca spp. (Yucca)
  • Zinnia elegano (Common Zinia)

Frequently Damaged Plants

Frequently Damaged Trees

  • Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir)
  • Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple)
  • Acer platanoides (Norway Maple)
  • Cedrus atlantica (Blue Atlas Cedar)
  • Ceris canadensis (Redbud)
  • Chionanthus virginicus (Fringe Tree)
  • Fraxinus excelsior (European Ash)
  • Kuelreuteria paniculata (Goldenrain Tree)
  • Magnolia soulangeana (Saucer Magnolia)
  • Malus spp. (Apple and Crabapple)
  • Prunus spp. (Cherry and Plum)
  • Pinus strobus (White Pine)
  • Pyrus spp. (Pear)
  • Thuja occidentalis (Arborvitae)
  • Tsuga spp. (Hemlock)

Frequently Damaged Shrubs and Climbers

  • Chaenomeles japonica (Quince)
  • Clematis spp. (Clematis)
  • Cornus mas (Cornellian Cherry Dogwood)
  • Euonymus alatus (Winged Euonymous)
  • Euonymus fortunei (Wintercreeper)
  • Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea)
  • Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea)
  • Ilex cornuta (Chinese Holly)
  • Ilex x merserveae (Messerve Holly)
  • Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry)
  • Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)
  • Rhododendron nudiflorum (Pinkxterbloom Azalea)
  • Rhododendron hybrids (Evergreen Azaleas & Rhododendron)
  • Rosa hybrids (Hybrid roses)
  • Rubus spp. (Blackberry & Raspberry)
  • Sorbus aucupatia (European Mountain Ash)
  • Syringa patula (Manchurian Lilac)
  • Taxus spp. (Yew)
  • Vaccinium corymbosum (Highbush Blueberry)

Frequently Damaged Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs

  • Aegopodium podograria (Bishop's Goutweed)
  • Aquilegia spp. (Columbine)
  • Athyrium niponicum 'pictum' (Japanese Painted Fern)
  • Cherianthus (Wallflower)
  • Hedera helix (English Ivy)
  • Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
  • Hosta spp. (Hosta)
  • Hemerocallis spp. & hybrids (Daylily)
  • Iberis sempervirens (Candytuft)
  • Lilium spp. (Lily)
  • Matthiola incana (Common Stock)
  • Pelargonium spp. (Geranium)
  • Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's Seal)
  • Ranunculus asiaticus (Buttercup)
  • Trillium spp. (Trillium)
  • Tulipa spp. (Tulips)
  • Vinca minor (Periwinkle)
  • Viola spp. (Pansies & Violas)


Bartlett, Michael. "Deer Resistant Plants", Landscape Designs. Bethesda, MD. 1995.

Fargione, M.J, Curtis, P.D and Richmond, M.E. "Resistance of Woody Ornamental Plants to Deer Damage", Cornell University Publication 147HGFS800.00. Ithica, NY. 1991.

Gibbs, D. "Deer Resistant Plants for the Home Landscape", Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Chevy Chase, MD. 1995.

Jett, John J. "Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage", West Virginia University. Morgantown, West Virginia. n.d.

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