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

These pretty perennials and shrubs will grow in shady spots and deer tend to leave them alone.

lungwort, pulmonaria
Photo: 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.

01 of 17

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 (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

02 of 17


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

03 of 17


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.

Growing Conditions: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall and 30 inches wide

Zones: 4-8

04 of 17


Marty Baldwin

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.


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

05 of 17


yellow Columbine flower
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

06 of 17


Pink Bergenia
Peter Krumhardt

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

07 of 17

Japanese Painted Fern

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

08 of 17


'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, 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

09 of 17


Brunnera leafing plant
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 of 17

Oregon Grape Holly

Mahonia blue flowers
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 of 17


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.

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

Size: To 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 6-8

12 of 17

Burkwood Daphne

Daphne flowers
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

13 of 17

Bottlebrush Buckeye

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 of 17


Kritsada Panichgul

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 of 17


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-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 of 17


Tiarella 'Heronswood Mist'
Greg Scheidemann

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 of 17


Snowdrop 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

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  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.

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