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Deer Resistant Shade Shrubs

garden image by Christopher Hall from

Cassandra Danz, author of "Mrs. Greenthumbs Plows Ahead," believes that shrubs are “the queens of the perennial garden.” Luckily, there are many shrubs that do well in shade and are deer-resistant. No plant is 100 percent deer-proof. You may need to provide some protective barriers or spray with a deer repellent early in the season when young buds are at their most tender and succulent stage.


Available either as an evergreen, keeping its leaves through winter, or as a deciduous shrub, losing leaves in winter, daphne is an excellent choice for a lightly shaded spot in the garden. Its clusters of white or lilac blossoms are very fragrant to humans, but deer avoid them. Daphne needs a well-draining soil that is left to partially dry out between waterings.


holly image by Warren Millar from

There are hollies that grow as trees, but certain hybrids do well as shrubs in most areas of the country. Barbara Damrosch, in “The Garden Primer,” recommends Blue Angel and Blue Prince with their dark blue-green leaves. These are evergreen, keeping their leaves through the winter. While hollies will tolerate shaded areas, they do need moist soil and will need regular watering if trees block rainfall. They do well with plenty of mulch to help the soil retain moisture.


rhododendron image by Przemyslaw Koroza from

You can choose from more than 1,000 species of rhododendrons, with a wide choice of varieties that grow in many different climates. Azaleas are one species of rhododendron that are not deer-resistant. Garden stores and nurseries will carry varieties of common rhododendrons that will grow in your area. Provide rich, acidic and well-draining soil, mulch well and give the plants plenty of water. Plant dwarf varieties if you have a small space, as some giant varieties can grow over 40 feet tall.


Ferns image by emahun from

While not technically shrubs, many gardeners treat ferns as shrubs in garden beds or planted along a shaded side of the house. They are deer-resistant and can grow up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Ferns like a rich, organic and well-draining soil and need ample watering or rainfall to look their best. Many varieties are available from nurseries and garden stores. Sword ferns, with coarse, dark-green fronds are those most seen in Western forests. The “Sunset Western Garden Book” recommends the smaller English fern with more lacy fronds for rock gardens or in smaller garden beds.

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