Five of our Favourite Deer Resistant Plants

Protection from deer, is something that many growers need to consider. Deer damage on agricultural crops can have severe economic consequences, and for the forest gardener, it’s essential to protect your establishing plants, as we have discovered over the years. The most effective way to prevent damage is fencing your entire site but in the event, this is not an option, there are some plants we have found to be relatively untroubled by the grazers and browsers.

During this post we’ll look at five of our favourite deer-resistant plants, these plants are also largely untroubled by domestic livestock too.

Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair Tree

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Overview: Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair Tree grows up to 30m at a slow rate. Often referred to as a ‘living fossil’, it has an incredible history and there is now little doubt that today’s Gingko is a direct descendent of ancestors that provided food for the dinosaurs! Leaves are fan-shaped, with two lobes, that turn a stunning yellow in autumn. The species is dioecious with males often selected over females, because the fruit from female plants has a somewhat nauseous smell. It’s pollinated by wind and prefers full sun. Seeds are edible. Highly valued medicinal plant.
Uses: Firewood, Pest tolerant, Ornamental, Street tree. Edible nuts
Deer Resistance Potential: Generally speaking,  Ginkgo has an excellent reputation for being deer resistant and indeed it is one plant in our unfenced gardens that do not seem to be bothered.
Propagation: As forementioned, Ginkgo is usually propagated by cuttings. Take young or half-ripe wood about 15 cm long during May-July, put these in a frame, and keep them moist. They usually put out the best growth in their second year. Grafting is commonly practiced by nurseries to grow new Ginkgos. A Ginkgo tree in Kew gardens had a branch of a female tree grafted onto a male specimen. You can also propagate via seed. Although stratification isn’t always necessary, it’s likely that germination is better if the seeds experience some exposure to cold temperatures for 2 – 3 months.
It’s astonishing to think that these plants may have been living and dying on this planet for the last 270 million years.  Paul found the seeds, pictured germinating here, at the base of a street tree in the centre of Skopje, Macedonia.

Ficus carica – Common Fig


Overview: Ficus carica is a deciduous tree growing to approximately 8m at a medium rate. It’s a light-demanding plant that will grow best with 8 hours or more of direct sunlight. Can grow in virtually any soil type. Figs may have single-stemmed growth or multi-stemmed shrub-like growth and often send up suckers from the base of the tree and spread branches that are low to the ground. Leaves are deeply lobed and thick.
Uses: Understory tree, Ornamental, Fruit tree
Deer Resistance Potential: Listed as being very resistant, and although some reports of damage do exist generally figs have a great reputation. The deer do not seem to enjoy fig leaves. They may enjoy the fruit, however.
Propagation: Figs are generally propagated by cuttings and for commercial plantations by tissue culture. We have had success with hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn/ early winter planted inside and outside into a free-draining medium (50% river sand 50% sieved compost).

Japanese Pepper Tree – Zanthoxylum piperitum

Overview: Zanthoxylum piperitum  is an incredible plant that can be grown as a spiny shrub or a small tree, reaching dimensions of 3m by 2m. It is pretty robust, and drought tolerant, and copes with full sun, partial shade, and even some deeper shady conditions, making it a fantastic tree for a forest garden. It’s easily grown in a variety of soil types and can tolerate very cold temperatures. Flowers are borne in June and seeds can be harvested in September – October.
Uses: Great lower canopy tree for a forest/woodland garden. The plant has extensive medicinal value with all parts of the plant having a specific use.  Ground and dry-roasted fruit is an ingredient of the Chinese ‘five spice’ powder. Harvesting the tree for seeds starts once we see the black seed emerging from some of the husks.  We usually cut the whole umbel off and if all the seeds don’t pop out easily just leave it to dry until the separation process becomes easier. The husks can be put into a pepper mill and used as you would black pepper, although a little more sparingly as the taste produces a clove-like numbing as well as a deliciously unique flavor.
Deer Resistance Potential: This is one of the only plants that has grown well in areas we have been planting that are visited by deer as well as goats, horses, sheep, and cows. These mammals obviously do not appreciate the impactful flavor of this famous Chinese spice. The thorns are also a great deterrent.
Propagation: If the ground the beneath the tree is relatively free of grasses and other plants, the seedlings will emerge. Every year since the plant has been producing seeds, we grow between 10 – 15 plants this way. Sowing the harvested seeds will produce more success with seeds collected in the autumn and sown immediately producing the best results (although some years the germination rates are very low). Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse.

Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian Olive

Overview: Elaeagnus angustifolia – Russian Olive is a deciduous Shrub growing to 7m at a medium rate.  Its ability to grow in nutritionally poor soil, and tolerate drought and maritime exposure means it is very versatile, and it can make an excellent hedging plant. The rounded form requires pruning to maintain. The species is hermaphrodite and is pollinated by bees. It can fix Nitrogen.
Uses: Hedge, Ornamental, Companion plant
Deer Resistance Potential: Mixed reviews, although the other attributes of E.angustofolia may mean it’s worth experimenting with growing it as part of a polyculture hedge.
Propagation: Stored seed can be very slow to germinate, often taking more than 18 months. Ifyou harvest your own seed and sow in the autumn you should be able to bypass the dormancy and receive good germination results in the first season . Cuttings are a more reliable method. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, around 7 – 10cm are recommended.


Pieris japonica – Lily of the Valley Bush

Overview: Pieris japonica – Lily of the Valley Bush is an evergreen shrub growing 4m by 4m at a slow rate.  Its leaves are tough and evergreen and should be protected from drying winds to help prevent leaf damage. It’s in bloom from April to May with attractive clusters of spring flowers, The species is hermaphrodite and the flowers are sweet smelling, but the plant is poisonous. Suitable for all soil consistencies, but prefers acidic, damp, and well-draining soil conditions.
Uses: Border, Screen/hedge, Specimen, Woodland garden.
Deer Resistance Potential: Rated as quite high as deer tend to stay away from them unless absolutely pushed.
Propagation: Easily propagated by seed. Surface sow in the spring and when large enough prick out and pot on and grow them on before planting out into their permanent positions.
Here is a list of deer-resistant plants we have available in the nursery this year. Click on the plant names for plant profiles.
Here is a list of some (reportedly) deer-tolerant trees and shrubs
Deer Tolerant Trees, Shrubs and Herbs
Latin Name Common Name Hardiness USDA Tolerance Rating
Acer palmatum Japanese Maple 6 – 8 2
Acer rubrum Red Maple 4 – 10 2
Achillea filipendulina Yarrow
Achillea millefolium Yarrow 3 – 9 1
Aconitum sp. Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianum Ageratum
Albizia julibrissin Silk Tree 6 – 9 2
Allium sp. Onion
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry 4 – 9 1
Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon
Arisaema triphylum Jack-in-the-pulpit
Armoracia rusticana Horseradish
Artemisia dracunculus Tarragon
Artemisia sp. Silver Mound
Asarum canadense Wild Ginger
Asimina triloba Papaw 5 – 8 1
Asparagus officinalis Asparagus
Aster sp. Aster
Astilbe sp. Astilbe
Berberis sp. Barberry
Betula nigra River Birch 3 – 9 2
Borage officinalis Borage
Buddleia davidii Butterfly Bush 4 – 8 2
Buddleia sp. Butterfly Bush
Buxus sempervirens Common Boxwood
Cactaceae sp. Cactus
Calendula sp. Pot Marigold
Caryopteris clandonensis Blue Mist Shrub
Centaurea cineraria Dusty Miller
Centaurea cyanus Bachelor’s Buttons
Cleome sp. Spider Flower
Colchicum sp. Autumn Crocus
Consolida ambigua Larkspur
Convallaris majalis Lily of the Valley
Coreopsis verticillata Threadleaf Coreopsis
Cornus mas Cornelian Cherry 4 – 8 3
Corydalis sp. Corydalis
Cytisus scoparius Broom 5 – 8 1
Cytisus sp. Broom
Daphne sp. Daphne
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding Heart
Digitalis purpurea Common Foxglove
Diospyros virginiana American Persimmon 4 – 8 2
Dryopteris marginalis Wood Fern
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Echinops ritro Small Globe Thistle
Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian Olive 2 – 7 1
Endymion sp. Bluebell
Eranthus hyemalis Winer Aconite
Euphorbia marginata Snow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’) Spurge
Fagus grandifolia American Beech 4 – 8 2
Fagus sylvatica European beech 4 – 7 2
Festuca glauca Blue Fescue
Ficus carica Common Fig 6 – 11 1
Fritilaria imperialis Crown Imperial, Fritilia
Galanthus nivalis Snowdrops
Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair Tree 3 – 8 1
Gypsophila sp. Baby’s Breath
Helichrysum Strawflower
Heliorope arborescens Heliotrope
Helleborus sp. Lenten or Christmas Rose
Hyssopus officinalis Hyssop
Ilex opaca American Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Iris sp. Iris
Juniperus Juniper
Koelreuteria paniculata Golden Rain Tree 5 – 8 2
Lantana sp. Lantana
Lavandula angustifolia Lavender 5 – 9 2
Lavandula sp. Lavender
Limonium latifolium Statice
Lobularia maritima Sweet Alyssum
Marrubium vulgare Horehound
Melissa officinalis Lemon Balm
Mentha sp. Mint
Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Myosotis sp. Forget-Me-Not
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Narcissus sp. Daffodil
Nepeta sp. Catmint
Ocimum basilicum Basil
Osmunda Fern
Pachysandra terminalis Pachysandra
Paeonia sp. Peony
Papaver Poppy
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage 4 – 9 2
Perovskio atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Picea glauca White Spruce 2 – 6 2
Picea glauca ‘Conica’ Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Pieris japonica Japanese Pieris 4 – 7 1
Pimpinalla anisum Anise
Pinus Pine
Pinus nigra Austrian Pine 3 -7 1
Pinus resinosa Red Pine 3 – 7 1
Pinus thunbergiana Japanese Black Pine 6 – 9 1
Potentilla Cinquefoil
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir 3 – 6 2
Ranunculus sp. Buttercup
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary
Rudbeckia sp. Black-Eyed Susan 3 – 9
Ruta sp. Rue
Salix Willows
Salvia officinalis Garden Sage
Sambucus racemosa American Red Elder 4 – 8 2
Stachys byzantina Lamb’s Ear
Syringa vulgaris Common Lilac
Tanacetum vulgare Tansy 3 – 9 2
Tanacetum vulgare Common Tansy
Teucrium chamaedrys Germander
Thumus sp. Thyme
Viburnum dentatum Arrowwood Viburnum
Yucca Yucca
Yucca spp. Yucca 5 – 6 1
Zinnia Zinnia

To be clear, no plants are 100% deer-proof. When close to starvation deer have been known to eat almost anything. Deer resistance means that these plants are less likely to attract deer and if deer are in the vicinity and there are other plants around available, these plants will likely be left alone.

You will likely find there are also great variations in terms of people’s experiences with which plants are affected. For example, an apple tree may fall victim to deer predation in one garden, but be largely ignored in another, if there is a tastier and more accessible option nearby for the deer.  As with most things garden-related, there are many influencing variables. The heaviest browsing by deer in our area will occur during difficult winter months but generally speaking deer are most active from October through February.
That’s all for this post. If you know of some deer-resistant plants not in the lists above please let us know in the comment section below.

Paul Alfrey

Hi I'm Paul, Originally from the UK I moved over to Bulgaria with my family 12 years ago and set up the Balkan Ecology Project. Prior to that, I worked as a freelance Arborist in the UK for 15 years. Balkan Ecology Project is a family project run by myself, Sophie and our two boys Dylan and Archie, and supported by the amazing volunteers we have hosted here over the years. We aim to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity and work to achieve this by: - Researching, designing and implementing systems on the ground - Providing working examples of our designs at our sites open for the public to visit - Providing quality education and training to aspiring growers and landscapers - Providing consultancy and design for landowners and farmers across Europe - Practicing an open source policy, whereby we disseminate our results freely and share all aspects of our work - Growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value Our activities currently include: Biological Plant Nursery, Educational Courses, Local Land Stewardship, Polyculture Research, Market Gardening​, and Consultancy and Design.

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