Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage

Revised by John W. Jett
from Fact Sheet 655 "Wild Damage Management"
Cooperative Extension Service University of Maryland

Damage to ornamental plants by white-tailed deer ( Odocoileus virginianus) has increased during the past decade. This increase is attributed to: 1. rising deer populations; 2. human populations shifting to rural and suburban homesites; 3. loss of deer habitat to development; and 4. landowner decisions to prevent deer hunting.

The best approach to control deer damage is an integrated pest managment (IPM) plan, which includes careful monitoring of any one, or a combination of the following strategies: population management, fencing, repellents, or vegetation management.

In the short run, damage to ornamental plants is largely irreversible. Damage, particularly in suburban areas with good-quality deer habitat, probably will increase. However, by planting ornamentals not favored by deer, landscapers and homeowners can attempt to preserve vulnerable landscapes.

Deer Feeding Habits

Deer feed selectively on fertilized and unfertilized landscape plantings and managed croplands. Costly browsing damage may be reduced or eliminated by planting less-preferred species or by establishing susceptible plants only in protected areas. A few strategies to consider include planting susceptible plants close to the house or in a fenced yard, or planting preferred species inside a protective ring of less-preferred species. Under most circumstances, landscaping based on a knowledge of deer feeding preferences provides an alternative to expensive chemical repellents and unsightly physical barriers.

Whether deer will target a particular plant species or variety depends on their previous habits and nutritional needs, plant palatability, seasonal factors, weather conditions, geographic area, and availability of alternative foods. Deer are creatures of habit, and previous movement patterns or foraging experiences can determine where damage will occur. Also, one plant species may be rarely damaged in one region or the country, but highly preferred in another due to differences in deer pressure and other factors. Examples of species with noted regional differences include holly, white pine, and deciduous magnolias. Therefore, caution must be taken when using plant preference lists from areas outside your own.

In general, damage from browsing is most severe when snow cover or extreme cold has reduced food availability. Another problem time is early spring when young succulent growth of ornamentals provides attractive browse before other spring growth is avialable. When food is in short suply, deer will browse even the most undesirable plants. Under such conditions, landscapers should combine damage control measures with careful plant selection. Damage control measures could include repellents, physical barriers (fencing), and deer population control. Ultimately, reducing the deer herd size is the most effective solution.

Plant Damage List

The following list contains many ornamental plants adaptable to West Virginia landscapes and notes their susceptibility to deer damage. This information is useful both to select plants that are unlikely to be damaged by deer and to identify those ornamentals that frequently require protection. Two categories are included: Rarely Damaged, and Frequently Damaged. The placement of plants in these categories is based on the experiences of nursery operators, landscape contractors and designers, West Virginia Extension Service personnel, research staff, and professional horticulturists. The information derives from personal communications, published articles, and unpublished reports. Please note that deer-browsing resistance of a plant species changes according to fluctuations in deer populations, alternative food availability, and environmental factors. No plant is safe under all conditions.

Plants listed in the Rarely Damaged category are eaten infrequently by deer and are the best candidates for damage-prone landscapes. Frequently Damaged category plants often require physical or chemical protection. Before planting any of the species listed, check to ensure that they suit local climatic and soil conditions.


Rarely Damaged
Botanical Name Common Name
Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush Buckeye
Amelanchier arborea Downy Serviceberry
Amelanchier canadensis Shadbush
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
Betula albo-sinensis Chinese Paper Birch
Betula nigra 'Heritage' Heritage Birch
Betula papyrifera Paper Birch
Chamaecyparis pisifera Japanese Falsecypress
Cryptomeria japonica Japanese Cedar
Picea pungens glauca Colorado Blue Spruce
Pinus sylvestris Scotch Pine
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir
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
Cephalotaxus harringtonia var. horeana Japanese Plum-Yew
Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian Olive
Gaultheria procumbens Creeping Wintergreen
Hibiscus syriacus Rose of Sharon
Ilex x 'John T. Morris' John T. Morris Holly
Ilex x 'Lydia Morris' Lydia Morris Hollies
Leucothoe spp. Leucothoe
Ligustrum vulgare European Privet
Pieris japonica Japanese Andromeda
Rhamnus cathartica Common Buckthorn
Sambucus canadensis Blueberry Elder
Sarcoccoca hookeriana var. humilis Dwarf Sweet Christmas Box
Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs
Achillea spp. Yarrow
Aconitum spp. Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum Ageratum
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
Consolida ambigua Larkspur
Convallaria majalis Lily-of-the-valley
Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' Threadleaf Coreopsis
Cyclamen hederifolium Neopolitan Cyclamen
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart
Digitalis spp. Foxglove
Dryopteris marginalis Wood Fern
Ecinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Epimedium spp. Barrenwort
Euphorbia spp. Euphorbia
Fritillaria spp. Fritillary
Galium odoratuim Sweet Woodruff
Gloriosa superba Glory Lily
Hemmerocallis 'Stella de Oro' Stella de Oro Daylily
Hesperis matronalis Dame's Rocket
Hyacinthus orientalis Hyacinth
Lamium maculatum Deadnettle
Lavandula spp. Lavender
Linaria vulgaris Toadflax
Lobularia maritima Sweet Alyssum
Lychnis coronaria Rose Champion
Matteuccia struthiopteris Ostrich Fern
Narcissus spp. Daffodil
Nicotiana spp. Flowering Tobacco
Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis Royal Fern
Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge
Pachysandra terminalis Japanese Spurge
Papaver orientale Oriental Poppy
Pelargonium spp. Scented Geranium
Pervoshia atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Ranunculus spp. Buttercup
Rheum rhabarbarum Rhubarb
Rudbeckia spp. Coneflower
Salvia spp. Sage
Santolina chamaecyparissus Lavender Cotton
Scilla spp. Squill
Stachys byzantina Lamb's Ears
Tagetes spp. Marigold
Tanacetum vulgare Common Tansy
Thymus spp. Thyme
Tiarella cordifolia Foam Flower
Tropaeolum majus Nasturtium
Yucca spp. Yucca

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Frequently Damaged
Botanical Name Common Name
Abies balsamea Balsam Fir
Acer palmatum/red-leaved varieties Japanese Maple
Acer platanoides Norway Maple
Cedrus atlantica Atlas Cedar
Cercis canadensis Redbud
Chionanthus virginicus Fringe Tree
x Cupressocyparis leylandii Leyland Cypress
Fraxinus excelsior European Ash
Ilex 'Nellie Stevens' Nellie Stevens Holly
Kuelreutaria 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 occidentialis Arborvitae
Tsuga spp. Hemlock
Shrubs and Climbers
Chaenomeles japonica Quince
Clematis spp. Clematis
Cornus mas Cornellian Cherry Dogwood
Euonymus alatus Winged Euonymus
Euonymus fortunei Wintercreeper
Hydrangea quercifolia Bigleaf Hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia Oakleaf Hydrangea
Ilex cornuta Chinese Holly
Ilex x merserveae Messerve Holly
Ilex verticillata Common Winterberry
Kalmia latifolia Mountain Laural
Rhododendron austrinum Florida Azalea
Rhodedeneron nudiflorum (periclymenoides) Pinksterbloom Azalea
Rhododendron vaseyl Pink Shell 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
Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs
Aegopodium podagaria Bishop's Weed
Aquilegia spp. Columbine
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum Japanese Painted Fern
Cherianthus spp. Wallflower
Hedera helix English Ivy
Helianthus spp. Sunflower
Hosta spp. Hosta
Hemerocallis spp. & hybrids Daylily
Iberis sempervirens Candytuft
Lilium spp. Lily
Matthoila incarna 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

Fargione, M.J., P.D. Curtis, and M.E. Richmond. 1991. "Resistance of Woody Ornamental Plants to Deer Damage." Publication 147HGFS800.00 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.
Bartlett, Michael. 1995. "Deer Resistant Plants." Bethesda, MD: Landscape Designs.
Gibbs, D. 1995. "Deer Resistant Plants for the Home Landscape." Chevy Chase, MD: Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission.