Deer Resistant Shade Plants

Classification as a deer-resistant plant does not mean it is "deer-proof." When hungry, deer will eat, or at least nibble and sample, just about anything. Especially in spring, when new growth begins to show, deer can devastate landscaping plants very quickly. Avoid planting deer favorites such as hostas, redbud trees or Indian hawthorne. Deer love new growth and budding plants like roses and daylilies. Consider planting deer favorites closer to the home where deer may be less inclined to dine and try commercially available deer-repellents. Use deer-resistant shade plants farther out in the yard among trees and in other areas receiving less sun.

Chinese Holly

The Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta), an evergreen large shrub or small tree, reaches 20 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. For a smaller holly, choose cultivar "Rotunda," a dwarf, compact shrub with a spreading habit. It reaches a height of 4 to 5 feet, with a 6- to 8-foot spread. Holly leaves are dark green, glossy, and stiff and leathery, with sharp spined leaf margins. Cold hardy to USDA zone 7, Chinese hollies grow in full sun or partial shade, in nutrient-rich, well-drained soils.

Cast Iron Plant

Cast iron plants (Aspidistra elatior) are clump-forming, evergreen perennials reaching a height of 2 feet. Their dark green, leathery leaves are up to 2 ½ feet long and 4 inches wide, produced on 8- to 12-inch long petioles from underground rhizomes. Hardy to USDA zone 7, cast iron plants prefer partial to very dense shade. This plant tolerates adverse growing conditions, but its leaves become yellowed and burned if grown in full sun.

Holly Fern

Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), like many other ferns, is rarely bothered by deer. It is an evergreen fern with a clumping form and 2 ½ foot spirally arranged leaves with weakly wavy margins. It reaches an overall height of 3 feet with a 2- to 3-foot spread. Holly ferns tolerate some direct sun and full shade, but prefer partial shade on various, moist, well-drained, nutrient-rich soils. Holly ferns are hardy to USDA zone 8.


Gardenias (Gardenia augusta)--compact, densely foliated, evergreen shrubs--are commonly seen 3 to 4 feet tall, but may reach 8 feet. Extremely fragrant, waxy white flowers bloom in spring and sporadically throughout summer among dark green, 4-inch leaves. Hardy to zone 8, gardenias can tolerate partial shade in nutrient-rich, acidic soils.

Keywords: deer-resistant plants, deer-resistant gardening, deer-resistant planting, deer-resistant shrubs

About this Author

Marie Roberts is a freelance writer based in north central Florida. She has a B.S. in horticultural sciences from the University of Florida. Roberts began writing in 2002 and is published in the "Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society."