A herd of deer grazing in a meadow presents quite the serene image; seeing that same herd grazing in your backyard does not. Although some homeowners build fences and install deer-scaring devices, others choose to plant trees and shrubs that are deer resistant. Deer resistant simply means that deer usually---but not always---leave them alone. Deer in some areas can develop a taste for certain plants that deer in other regions wouldn't touch. Ask around before planting.
In most areas, deer tend to leave pine trees alone unless all other food alternatives have been depleted. Deer in some regions have developed a taste for white pine, however, so check around before planting it. Pine species that tend to be least favoured by deer include Scotch pine (P. sylvestris), Japanese black pine (P. thunbergina), pitch pine (P. rigida), mugo pine (P. mugo) and red pine (P. resinosa). Other evergreens that are deer resistant include American Holly (Ilex opac), Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens glauca) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Some deciduous trees are deer-resistant. Birches are among the most resistant. The paper birch (B. papyrifera), Chinese paper birch (B. albo-sinensis), Heritage birch (B. nigra 'Heritage') and the river birch (B. nigra) are all rarely damaged by deer. For larger trees, the live oak (Quercus virginiana), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and the ginko (Ginkgo biloba) are all good selections. Larger trees also will deter bucks from rubbing the velvet from their antlers --- something a deer will do on almost any tree no matter how inedible.
Don't think that deer-resistant means flowerless. Quite a few flowering trees seem to have avoided the deer's palate. The Carolina cherrylaurel (Prunus caroliniana) and Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata) are good fruit trees to plant, as are crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia hybrids). Magnolias such as the Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) and sweetbay magnolia (M.virginica) are like white pine in that although most deer avoid them, some deer have developed a taste for them.
A couple of spring-blooming deciduous shrubs that are deer resistant include lilacs (Syringa vulgarus) and forsythia (Forsythia sp.). If you don't mind attracting other wildlife, such as butterflies, try planting a variety of Buddleia --- better known as a butterfly bush. A few deciduous bushes include the ever-adaptable Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and blue mist (Caryopteris clandonensis). Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is another deer resistant option, but it is considered evasive in some areas.
When looking for deer-resistant evergreen shrubs, the difficulty lies more in choosing one than in finding one. Oleander (Nerium oleander) is an attractive, but toxic, choice with its showy and fragrant flowers. Some juniper species (Juniperius sp.) are also deer resistant, including Chinese juniper (J. chinensis), Prince of Wales juniper (J. horizontalis 'Prince of Wales') and moonglow juniper (J. scopulorum 'Moonglow'). Yews are another evergreen that deer tend to avoid. Good choices known for their dark foliage include the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia) and the Southern yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus).
- Maryland Cooperative Extension; Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage
- Texas AgriLife Extension Service; Deer in the Urban Landscape; Forrest W. Appleton
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension; Deer Resistant Plants
- Oregon State University Extension; Deer-Resistant Ornamental Plants; J.L. Horton and W.D. Edge