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

lungwort, pulmonaria
Photo: David McDonald

Gardening where deer are plentiful can be challenging, especially in shady conditions. When you're looking for deer-proof 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.

01 of 18

Lily-of-the-Valley Bush

Pieris pink flowers
Marilyn Ott

Sometimes it seems that deer will eat about anything, but lily-of-the-valley bush 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.

Name: Pieris

Growing Conditions: Slightly moist, acidic soil

Size: To 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Zones: 5-8

Buy It: Lily of The Valley Bare Root Plant ($65, Walmart)

02 of 18

Toad Lily

toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta
Marty Baldwin

Blooming in late summer and fall, toad lily makes a welcome addition to a shady flower border, developing small lavender blooms sprinkled with dark purple spots. Or look for varieties of this deer-proof shade plant that have golden or cream-colored variegation on their leaves, which can brighten up a shady corner.

Name: Tricyrtis hirta

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

03 of 18

Lungwort

lungwort, pulmonaria
David McDonald

Lungwort is as attractive as it is deer resistant. This reliable shade perennial comes in a number of varieties, all of which have 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.

Name: Pulmonaria

Growing Conditions: Slightly moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 2-8

Buy It: Pulmonaria Diana Clare Lungwort ($19, Etsy)

04 of 18

Astilbe

Astilbe flowering pink plant
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.

Deer Fact: White-tailed deer tend to avoid plants with fuzzy or hairy leaves, like lamb's ear. They will also snub plants with thick, leathery foliage.

Name: Astilbe

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 30 inches wide

Zones: 4-8

05 of 18

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit
Marty Baldwin

Bursting into bloom in the early spring, Jack-in-the-pulpit is a reliable native wildflower that may take a few years to get established but eventually form broad colonies. Jack-in-the-pulpit produces an unmistakable hooded green or purple flower often followed by red berries later in the season and usually go dormant in mid-summer.

Deer Fact: Deer avoid Jack-in-the-pulpit because the plants contain a poisonous substance, calcium oxalate.

Name: Arisaema triphyllum

Growing Conditions: Rich, damp, acidic soil

Size: To 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide

Zones: 4-9

06 of 18

Columbine

yellow Columbine flower
Andrew Drake

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

Name: Aquilegia canadensis

Growing Conditions: Moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

07 of 18

Bergenia

Pink Bergenia
Peter Krumhardt

Trusses of pink flowers held above shiny, heart-shape 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.

Name: Bergenia

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and wide

Zones: 3-8

08 of 18

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern
Janet Mesic Mackie

If deer are a problem in your neighborhood, try Japanese painted fern. This handsome shade dweller 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.

Deer Fact: An adult white-tailed deer requires 5 to 7 pounds of food a day. That adds up quickly in the average garden.

Name: Athyrium niponicum pictum

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

Size: To 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-9

09 of 18

Ligularia

'The Rocket' ligularia, Ligularia stenocephala
Peter Krumhardt

Grown as much for its huge dark green leaves as it is for its spikes of bright yellow flowers, ligularia thrives in shady locations but 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.

Deer Fact: White-tailed deer are crepuscular. That means they are most active in your garden at twilight but will also forage at dawn.

Name: Ligularia

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

Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 4-9

10 of 18

Brunnera

Brunnera leafing plant
John Reed Forsman

Also called Siberian bugloss, brunnera is prized for its colorful, heart-shape leaves and its 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.

Name: Brunnera macrophylla

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide

Zones: 3-8

11 of 18

Oregon Grape Holly

Mahonia blue flowers
Denny Schrock

The thick, leathery, somewhat spiny leaves of Oregon grape holly are what 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.

Name: Mahonia aquifolium

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

Size: To 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide

Zones: 6-9

Buy It: Oregon Grape Holly ($19, Etsy)

12 of 18

Skimmia

Skimmia pink flowers
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.

Name: Skimmia

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

Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 6-8

Buy It: Japanese Skimmia Seeds ($3, Etsy)

13 of 18

Daphne

Daphne flowers
Janet Mesic-Mackie

As fragrant as it is colorful, daphne is a great choice for part-shade locations where deer are a problem. This handsome, deciduous, deer-resistant shrub develops clusters of whitish-pink flowers in the early spring followed by small red berries in the fall. Use daphne in a perennial border or as a foundation plant along the north side of your house.

Name: Daphne

Growing Conditions: Moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 6 feet wide and 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

14 of 18

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Bottlebrush Buckeye
Rob Cardillo

One of the best deer-resistant flowering shrubs for shady landscapes is bottlebrush buckeye. 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 flowers eventually produce shiny inedible nuts that will add interest to the fall landscape.

Name: Aesculus parviflora

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: Potted Bottlebrush Buckeye Tree ($60, Etsy)

15 of 18

Pachysandra

Pachysandra
Kritsada Panichgul

Deer tend to avoid plants with thick, shiny leaves. That's why pachysandra makes such a great shady groundcover in deer country. This vigorous, shade-loving 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.

Deer Fact: Hanging bars of soap, spreading human hair, or even spraying deer repellent will not prevent hungry deer from using your garden as a buffet. The only fully effective way to keep deer at bay is with a tall, electric fence.

Name: Pachysandra

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 1 foot tall and several feet wide

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Pachysandra Terminalis ($52, Walmart)

16 of 18

Epimedium

epimedium, barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat
Marty Baldwin

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-shape foliage and flowers. Different varieties of epimedium offer patterned leaves and flowers in lavender, yellow, or white.

Name: Epimedium

Growing Conditions: Can tolerate dry or rocky soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Buy It: 'Amber Queen' Epimedium ($29, Plant Delights Nursery)

17 of 18

Foamflower

Tiarella 'Heronswood Mist'
Greg Scheidemann

Foamflower makes an elegant addition to any shade border. 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 a great deer-resistant shade groundcover when grown in a shaded border or woodland setting.

Deer Fact: Scientists believe that deer are colorblind so they will dine on your favorite flowers no matter the color.

Name: Tiarella cordifolia

Growing Conditions: Rich, slightly moist soil

Size: To 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide

Zones: 3-9

18 of 18

Windflower

Snowdrop windflower
Andy Lyons

Borne on sturdy yet graceful stems, the snow-white or pink flowers of windflower 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.

Name: Anemone sylvestris

Growing Conditions: Well-drained, slightly moist soil

Size: To 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Zones: 4-8

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles