Gardening in an area heavily visited by deer can be frustrating. Even the occasional hungry deer leaves traces of its presence behind on the landscape. However, deer do not like to eat a surprising number of plants unless severely hungry. Flowering shrubs offer a good assortment of items low on the deer menu in almost every region of the country. Plant what is least likely to draw hungry visitors, and enjoy the beautiful results.
Mid-Atlantic to Northeast U.S.
Rutgers University Extension has compiled an extensive list of flowers, shrubs and trees for the northern East Coast, color-coded for deer resistance. Repeating the well-accepted observation that hungry deer will eat practically anything, Rutgers includes arrowwood viburnum, holly, bayberry, daphne and potentilla among a large number of shrubs that deer rarely damage. The list takes time to peruse, since flowers, shrubs and trees are listed together alphabetically by common name, but the list is extensive.
Mid-Atlantic to Southern Mountain U.S.
Evergreen of Johnson City, Tennessee offers commercial deer repellants as well as planting advice. Its list of deer-resistant flowering shrubs includes andromeda, red-twig dogwood and spiraea.
Pacific Northwest U.S.
Oregon State University Extension lists plants by type and size and notes that some flowering shrubs are avoided by deer because they are poisonous. Some are poisonous all the time; others only during certain stages of development. It lists American bittersweet, daphne, mountain laurel and rhododendron among poisonous flowering shrubs. Forsythia, jasmine and lilac are listed as deer resistant but not toxic.
All Over the U.S.
The University of Vermont Extension offers criteria that deer appear to use in choosing plants to eat or avoid. The amount of moisture offered by a plant, scent, thorns, fuzzy or sticky leaves and taste all come into play as deer choose their favorite foods. Examples of plants deer avoid include astilbe, meadowsweet, barberry and shrub magnolia. Although taste may remain an imponderable, using deer criteria may produce a less-appealing landscape.
Consult the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, Austin, for native plants that do not appeal to deer. The Center's "Ask Mr. Smarty Plants" online service lets you focus as widely or narrowly as you need to make your landscape deer resistant. One answer, for example, lists the four most deer-resistant landscape shrubs for the city of Austin. Clearly, natives have survived deer for a long time. Learning about native flowering bushes in your area can lower deer damage to your landscape.