17 Deer-Resistant Shade Plants That Will Brighten Up Your Garden

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17 Deer-Resistant Shade Plants That Will Brighten Up Your Garden

lungwort, pulmonaria

David McDonald

Gardening where deer are plentiful can be challenging, especially in shady conditions. If you’re looking for deer-resistant shade plants, here are a few with textures and tastes that these creatures tend to shy away from—although no plant can be considered completely deer resistant.

Lily-of-the-Valley Bush

Marilyn Ott

Sometimes, it seems that deer will eat about anything, but lily-of-the-valley bush (Pieris spp.) is an exception. This shade-loving broadleaf evergreen has thick green foliage and drooping clusters of pink, white, or rose flowers in the spring that deer don’t even nibble on. Occasionally called andromeda, lily-of-the-valley bush does best in part shade. Use it in a foundation planting or shrub border.

The flowers, leaves, and sap of the lily-of-the-valley shrub are considered highly toxic to humans and pets. So, use caution when planting this pretty shrub around children and pets.

Growing Conditions: Slightly moist, acidic soil

Size: To 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Zones: 5-8

Lungwort

lungwort, pulmonaria

David McDonald

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) is an attractive deer-resistant shade plant. This reliable perennial comes in several varieties, all with pretty spotted or variegated foliage with sprays of pink or blue flowers in the spring. This easy-care plant makes a great companion for deer-resistant, spring-flowering bulbs such as narcissus and scilla.

Growing Conditions: Slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 2-8

Astilbe

Mike Jensen

Brighten the dark corners of your landscape with the feathery finery of astilbe. This tough perennial bears blooms in red, coral, white, lavender, and cream and has fern-like leaves that provide color and interest even when the plants are not in bloom.

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 30 inches wide

Zones: 4-8

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Bursting into bloom in the early spring, Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a reliable native wildflower easy to grow in gardens. This perennial produces an unmistakable hooded green or purple flower, often followed by red berries later in the season, and usually goes dormant in midsummer. Deer avoid Jack-in-the-pulpit because the plants contain a toxic substance, calcium oxalate.

Warning

Jack-in-the-pulpits are toxic, especially the corms (bulblike roots), so exercise caution when planting these if you have pets or small children around.

Growing Conditions: Rich, damp, acidic soil

Size: To 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide

Zones: 4-9

Columbine

Andrew Drake

The pretty, starlike flowers of columbine (Aquilegia spp.), a deer-resistant shade plant, are held aloft on wiry stems that dance gracefully every time the wind blows. An easy-care native wildflower, columbine comes in various colors, shapes, and sizes that thrive in part shade. Individual columbine plants can be short-lived, but they self-sow freely and eventually form large drifts of color.

Growing Conditions: Moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

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Bergenia

Trusses of pink flowers held above shiny, heart-shaped leaves make bergenia a top pick for your shade garden. Commonly called pigsqueak because the leaves make a squealing sound when rubbed between your thumb and finger, bergenia will remain evergreen in the southern part of their range.

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and wide

Zones: 3-8

Japanese Painted Fern

Janet Mesic Mackie

Try deer-resistant shade plant Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum) if deer are a problem in your neighborhood. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall with grayish-green fronds overlaid with silver and maroon highlights. Over time, Japanese painted fern will naturalize an area, forming dense clumps. Japanese painted fern grows best in rich, slightly moist, well-drained soil.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Ligularia

Grown as much for its huge dark green leaves as it is for its spikes of bright yellow flowers, deer-resistant shade plant ligularia will suffer when rainfall is scarce. Be sure to mulch the plants to maintain soil moisture. Use ligularia along a shady stream bank, in a rain garden, or at the edge of a pond.

Growing Conditions: Grow in moisture-retentive soil and water deeply once a week

Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 4-9

Brunnera

John Reed Forsman

Also called Siberian bugloss, brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) is prized for its colorful, heart-shaped leaves and sky-blue spring flowers. The plants are generally ignored by deer—perhaps because the leaves have a scratchy texture—and will eventually form solid clumps that spread by creeping rhizomes and self-seeding.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide

Zones: 3-8

10

Oregon Grape Holly

Denny Schrock

The thick, leathery, somewhat spiny leaves of Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) keep deer from feeding on this beautiful, shade-loving shrub. It develops trusses of yellow flowers in the spring, followed by blue-black berries in the late summer. Give Oregon grape holly enough room to slowly spread by runners to form thick colonies of color.

Growing Conditions: Slightly acidic, well-drained, moist soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide

Zones: 5-8

11

Skimmia

Denny Schrock

There aren’t a lot of shrubs that bloom in the shade, but skimmia will reward you with fragrant white flowers in the spring, followed by clusters of red fruits on female plants in the fall. Skimmia is a broadleaf evergreen deer-resistant shrub for shade and is a good candidate for a foundation planting or flowering hedge. Both male and female plants are required for berry production. The berries will also attract songbirds.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 6-8

12

Burkwood Daphne

Janet Mesic-Mackie

As fragrant as it is colorful, daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii) is a great deer-resistant shade plant. This pretty shrub develops clusters of whitish-pink flowers in early summer, followed by small red berries in the fall (which are toxic to mammals). Use daphne in a perennial border or as a foundation plant along the north side of your house.

Growing Conditions: Well-drained soil in part shade

Size: To 4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide

Zones: 5-7

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13

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Rob Cardillo

One of the best deer-resistant flowering shrubs for shady landscapes is bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). This native plant is covered in spikes of nectar-rich white flowers in the early summer that will attract hordes of butterflies to your garden. The foliage turns bright yellow in fall.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: 8-10 feet tall and 15 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

14

Pachysandra

Deer tend to avoid plants with thick, shiny leaves. That’s why pachysandra makes such a great shady groundcover where these creatures roam. This vigorous, deer-resistant shade plant spreads quickly by underground runners, eventually forming an impenetrable carpet of dark green or variegated foliage. As a bonus, pachysandra also produces tiny white flowers in the early spring.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: 4-6 inches tall and several feet wide

Zones: 4-9

15

Epimedium

One of the best deer-resistant shade groundcovers is epimedium, occasionally called barrenwort or bishop’s hat. It will slowly carpet your landscape with its colorful heart-shaped foliage and flowers. Different varieties of epimedium offer patterned leaves and flowers in lavender, yellow, or white.

Growing Conditions: Can tolerate dry or rocky soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

16

Foamflower

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a deer-resistant shade plant that makes an elegant addition to any border that doesn’t get much sun. This little charmer produces masses of pink or white flowers in late spring; its leaves turn reddish bronze in the fall. This hardy native makes an excellent groundcover when grown in a woodland setting.

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

17

Windflower

Andy Lyons

Borne on sturdy yet graceful stems, the snow-white or pink flowers of the deer-resistant shade plant windflower (Anemone sylvestris) look like they’re dancing whenever there’s a light breeze. This extra-easy perennial produces quantities of daisy-like flowers in April and May. Windflower spreads slowly, eventually forming broad mats of pretty foliage and flowers.

Growing Conditions: Well-drained, slightly moist soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Sources

Better Homes & Gardens is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources—including peer-reviewed studies—to support the facts in our articles. Read about our editorial policies and standards to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.

  1. Pieris japonica. Pieris japonica (Andromeda Japonica, Fetterbush, Japanese Andromeda, Japanese Pieris, Lily-of-the-Valley Shrub, Pieris) North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

  2. Andromeda Japonica. ASPCA.

  3. Jack-in-the-Pulpit. ASPCA

  4. Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning. National Library of Medicine

  5. Daphne x burkwoodii. North Carolina State University Extension Gardner Toolbox.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in the USA

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
Northeast (e.g., New York, Massachusetts)Rose, Purple Lilac, Mountain LaurelSugar Maple, American Elm, White Pine
Southeast (e.g., Florida, Georgia)Orange Blossom, Cherokee Rose, Southern MagnoliaLive Oak, Spanish Moss, Saw Palmetto
Midwest (e.g., Ohio, Illinois)Carnation, Violet, Purple ConeflowerBur Oak, Prairie Grasses, Wild Bergamot
Southwest (e.g., Texas, Arizona)Bluebonnet, Saguaro Cactus Flower, Indian PaintbrushJoshua Tree, Agave, Mesquite
West (e.g., California, Washington)California Poppy, Coast Rhododendron, BitterrootGiant Sequoia, Redwood, Manzanita
Rocky Mountain (e.g., Colorado, Montana)Rocky Mountain Columbine, Bitterroot, Indian PaintbrushBlue Spruce, Aspen, Sagebrush
Great Plains (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska)Sunflower, Goldenrod, Purple ConeflowerCottonwood, Bluestem Grasses, Buffalo Grass
Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Alaska)Oregon Grape, Forget-me-not, Pacific RhododendronDouglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Ferns

This table includes the most popular flowers and plants in the USA by region, which considers a range of botanical species, including native and widely cultivated varieties.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in Australia

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
New South WalesWaratah, Bottlebrush, Flannel FlowerEucalyptus, Acacia, Banksia
VictoriaCommon Heath, Waxflower, Pink HeathMountain Ash, Silver Wattle, Victorian Blue Gum
QueenslandCooktown Orchid, Golden Penda, Umbrella Tree FlowerMoreton Bay Fig, Macadamia Nut, Queensland Bottle Tree
South AustraliaSturt's Desert Pea, Kangaroo Paw, Eucalyptus BlossomAdelaide Blue Gum, South Australian Blue Gum, Saltbush
Western AustraliaRed and Green Kangaroo Paw, Mangles Kangaroo Paw, Swan River DaisyJarrah, Marri, Karri
TasmaniaTasmanian Blue Gum, Leatherwood Flower, Tasmanian WaratahHuon Pine, Tasmanian Oak, Myrtle Beech
Northern TerritorySturt's Desert Rose, Frangipani, Desert RoseBoab, Gidgee, Spinifex
Australian Capital TerritoryRoyal Bluebell, Australian Daisy, CorreaSnow Gum, River Red Gum, Black Mountain

This table offers a basic overview of popular flowers and plants in each Australian region, focusing on a combination of state flowers, native species, and other characteristic plants. It's important to note that specific species' popularity and prevalence can vary. This table is a simplified representation. Consulting local botanical gardens or regional horticultural societies in Australia would be ideal for more detailed and accurate information.

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