Deer Proof Shrubs: Hedges for Whitetail Free Gardens

by DerdriuMarriner

Deer-proof shrubs, which are naturally unpalatable to deer, serve as an effective strategy for keeping whitetails out of gardens.

Odocoileus virginianus, commonly known as white-tailed deer, are often unwelcome visitors in gardens and back yards.

Certain shrubs which are disagreeable to whitetails form a natural barrier to exclude whitetails from grazing.

Eight deer-proof shrubs, for a range of sunlight and shade conditions and temperature zones, are presented:
•burning bush (Euonymus alatus),
•Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii),
•Middendorff weigela (Weigela middendorffiana),
•mountain fetterbush (Pieris floribunda),
•common box flower (Buxus sempervirens),
•Japanese spicebush (Lindera obtusiloba),
•Himalayan viburnum (Viburnum grandiflorum), and
•Pink Delight butterfly bush (Buddleja 'Pink Delight).

astoundingly agile whitetail

"graceful deer"
"graceful deer"

 

Odocoileus virginianus, commonly known as white-tailed deer or as whitetails, is a New World mammal which is a familiar sight across North America, Central America, and northern South America. Whitetails are also recognizable throughout the world because of successful introductions and because of the popularity of Walt Disney's film about a white-tailed fawn, "Bambi."

Whitetails are paragons of grace and beauty as they glide, scamper, or run through their environment. Their lithe athleticism enables whitetails to attain swift running speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers/hour), even while negotiating tangled forest terrain. Deer are able to maintain swimming speeds of 13 miles per hour (20 kilometers/hour). With ease, whitetails agilely bound over vertical barriers up to a height of 8-1/2 feet (2.6 meters). Whitetails likewise easily execute a horizontal leap of about 30 feet (9 meters).

Of further fascination is the loving interaction which is displayed between does and their fawns. Their gentle concern for their offspring is almost palpable. In fact, their search for food sources, including invasions of gardens and croplands, is motivated by retrieving food for their fawns, which have been placed in hiding places during their mother's forays. After the first litter, a doe usually gives births to twins, and the fawns wait, alone, in separate hiding places for the return of their mother.

 

fawn, in ferns, awaits its mother

Fawns await, in hiding places chosen by does, their mothers' return from food forays.
Fawns await, in hiding places chosen by does, their mothers' return from food forays.

 

Unfortunately, whitetail attributes are quickly forgotten by gardeners and farmers who discover that their valuable plants and crops have been visited by whitetails. The negative human-whitetail interaction is occasioned by habitat destruction and consequential decrease in whitetail food sources. In their search for nearby or substitute resources, whitetails are attracted to the munificent bounty of well-tended gardens and cropland.

Many strategies exist for curtailing or eliminating whitetail visits, especially to treasured personal gardens. The method which is most successful for me and which resolves the problem gently and naturally is building a natural barrier which prevents whitetails from trespassing onto my garden. This natural barrier comprises ornamentals, shrubs, and wildflowers which are unpalatable to whitetails. Of course, a famished deer -- just as with a starving person -- considers items which normally are rejected. Nevertheless, natural barriers have proven successful not only for me but also for many other gardeners worldwide.

Deer-proof shrubs provide a higher barrier than ornamentals or wildflowers but all three are successful together or individually. Surrounding the garden with deer-proof shrubs creates a natural fence which is also an insurmountable barrier. Whitetails shy away from anything that is repugnant or fearsome to them. Despite their agility, whitetails have no interest in hurdling over undesirable plants. In their experience, fences are objects which are surmountable, up to about 9 feet (2.7 meters), whereas undesirable foliage is to be avoided. Thus, a hedge of deer-proof shrubs effectively deflects whitetails.

The following shrubs have been selected for their reliability as well as attractiveness. Shrubs for a variety of hardiness zones are featured.

A side benefit of deer-proof shrubs is that they contribute additional visual appeal, and oftentimes aromatic enjoyment, to the garden which they are protecting.

 

burning bush (Euonymus alatus): closeup of brilliant autumnal foliage

Bozeman, Gallatin County, northeastern Montana
Bozeman, Gallatin County, northeastern Montana

Zones 3 to 9 (-40 to 30 °F; -40 to - 1 °C): Full sun

 

Euonymus alatus, commonly known as burning bush or corkbush or winged euonymus or winged spindle tree, reaches a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters), with a generous spread of 10 feet (3 meters).

Dark green, oval leaves turn brilliant red in autumn.

Flowers open as pale green in summer.

Pale red fruit has bright orange seeds.

A cultivar of burning bush, Euonymus alatus 'Compactus,' garnered the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

Caution should be exercised against ingestion as all parts of Euonymus may provoke mild stomach upsets.

 

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Białowieża, Podlasie Province (Podlaskie Voivodeship), northeastern Poland
Białowieża, Podlasie Province (Podlaskie Voivodeship), northeastern Poland

 

Berberis thunbergii, commonly known as Japanese barberry, reaches a height of 3 feet (0.9 meters), with a generous spread of 8 feet (2.4 meters).

Egg-shaped, smooth leaves are green above with blue-green undersides.

Flowers open as pale yellow, often with red tinges, in mid-spring.

Fruits shine with red glossiness.

In 1993 three Japanese barberry cultivars received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM):

  • 'Boum,'
  • 'Fireball,' and
  • 'Maria.'

Caution should be exercised, as:

  • contact with Berberis spines may cause skin irritations;
  • ingestion of any part of Berberis plant may provoke mild stomach upsets.

 

Middendorff weigela (Weigela middendorffiana)

Minsk, central Belarus, northeastern Europe
Minsk, central Belarus, northeastern Europe

Zones 4 to 10 (-30 to 40 °F; -34 to 4 °C): Partial shade

 

Weigela middendorffiana, commonly known as Middendorff weigela, has an equiproportional shape, with a height and a spread of 5 feet (1.5 meters).

Leaves are vivid green.

Flowers open in pale yellow bell shapes with orange or red markings in summer.

Although Weigela middendorffiana repels deer, it attracts hummingbirds in abundance.

 

mountain fetterbush (Pieris floribunda)

Pieris genus was named by Scottish botanist David Don (December 21, 1799 – December 15, 1841).
Pieris genus was named by Scottish botanist David Don (December 21, 1799 – December 15, 1841).

Zones 5 to 9 (-20 to 30 °F; -29 to - 1 °C): Full sun

 

Pieris floribunda, commonly known as mountain fetterbush, reaches a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters), with a nearly proportional spread of 7 feet (2 meters).

Its lustrous, deep green leaves are pointed with serrated edges.

Flowers open as showy panicles in spring.

Caution should be exercised, as severe discomfort may ensue from ingestion of Pieris leaves.

 

common box flower (Buxus sempervirens)

Jardin des Plantes, Toulouse, southwestern France
Jardin des Plantes, Toulouse, southwestern France

Zone 5 to Zone 10 (-20 to 40 °F; - 29 to 4 °C): Full sun

 

Buxus sempervirens, commonly known as common box or English box, reaches a height of 5 to 30 feet (1.5 to 9 meters), with a spread of 5 to 15 feet (1.5 to 4.5 meters).

Native to the British Isles, English box shrub has been popularly introduced throughout Europe, western Asia, northwestern Africa, and the New World.

Flowers open in green-cream clusters in late spring.

Three cultivars of Buxus sempervirens have received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM):

  • 'Elegantissima' in 1993,
  • 'Graham Blandy' in 2012, and
  • 'Latifolia Maculata' in 1993.

Caution should be exercised, as contact with Buxus sap may provoke skin irritations. 

 

Japanese spicebush (Lindera obtusiloba)

Lindera obtusiloba's leaves turn bright butter-yellow in autumn.
Lindera obtusiloba's leaves turn bright butter-yellow in autumn.

Zones 6 to 9 (-10 to 30 °F; -23 to - 1 °C): Full sun

 

Lindera obtusiloba, commonly known as blunt-lobed spicebush or Japanese spicebush, reaches a height of 30 feet (9 meters), with a spread of 25 feet (8 meters).

Dark green aromatic leaves, which turn to pale gold in autumn, have a mitten-like shape which subtly varies from leaf to leaf.

Tiny, star-shaped flowers open as the yellow-green of chartreuse in early spring and emit a spicy scent.

Glossy fruit ranges from dark red to black.

Although Japanese spicebush deflects deer, it is enormously popular with butterflies, such as spicebush swallowtails (Papilio troileus), for nectar and with birds for its berries.

Lindera obtusiloba garnered the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

 

Himalayan viburnum (Viburnum grandiflorum)

Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Zones 7 to 9 (0 to 30 °F; -18 to -1 ° C): Full sun

 

Viburnum grandiflorum, commonly known as Himalayan viburnum, reaches a height of 6 feet (1.8 meters), with a spread of 7 feet (2 meters).

Dark green, oblong leaves become dark purple in autumn.

From late winter to early spring, white flowers open in terminal clusters and fade into pink.

Oval berries are colored purple-black.

Caution should be exercised, as ingestion of Viburnum fruits may provoke mild stomach upsets.

 

Pink Delight butterfly bush (Buddleja 'Pink Delight)

'Pink Delight' has a parentage of B. davidii 'Fascination' × B. davidii var. nanhoensis 'Alba' × B. 'West Hill'.
'Pink Delight' has a parentage of B. davidii 'Fascination' × B. davidii var. nanhoensis 'Alba' × B. 'West Hill'.

Zones 7 to 10 (0 to 40 °F; -18 to 4 °C): Full sun

 

Buddleja 'Pink Delight,' commonly known as Pink Delight butterfly bush, reaches a height of 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2 meters), with a spread of 7 feet (2 meters).

Leaves are grey green.

Flowers open as deep pink clusters in late summer and last until the first frost.

A sweet fragrance, redolent of honey, is emitted by these blossoms.

Although Buddleja 'Pink Delight' is repugnant to deer, it is irresistible to hummingbirds. Additionally, butterflies such as mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa), red admirals (Vanessa atalanta), swallowtails (family Papilionidae), and so many more, both familiar and unfamiliar, exuberantly partake of its nectar.

Buddleja 'Pink Delight' was honored with the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.

 

young whitetail male, with velvet antlers (vascular tissue supplying nutrients and oxygen to growing antler bone): browsing peacefully

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, northern Georgia
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, northern Georgia

Deer-resistant hedges: deer-proof shrubs for deer-free gardens

 

Enclosing a garden with deer-proof shrubs creates a natural barrier which effectively safeguards the gardener's prized plantings. Whitetails process the no-trespassing warning and comply by exiting the premises.

In tandem with deer-proof plantings, I also set aside uncultivated land. In this way, whitetails have alternative food sources. The natural method is the best strategy: my garden, the deer, and the environment all derive benefits, and there are no adverse effects.

I have my garden, the deer have their fields, and the fawns are fed.

 

Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: highest population density of whitetails in Rhode Island is found here.

Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, southern Prudence Island
Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, southern Prudence Island

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

lithe and graceful, whitetails embody agility and vitality

Odocoileus virginianus doe
Odocoileus virginianus doe

Sources Consulted

 

"Berberis thunbergii." Royal Horticultural Society > Plants > Plant Selector. 2011. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. http://www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=235 

Brickell, Christopher, and Judith D. Zuk, eds. The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. New York: DK Publishing, 1996.

"Buddleja 'Pink Delight' AGM." Royal Horticultural Society > Plants > Plant Selector. 2011. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. http://www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=2190

"Buxus sempervirens." Royal Horticultural Society > Plants > Plant Selector. 2011. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. http://www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=273

Clausen, Ruth Rogers. 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs That Deer Don't Eat. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2011. 

"Euonymus alatus 'Compactus' AGM." Royal Horticultural Society > Plants > Plant Selector. 2011. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. http://www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=2914

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volumes I-II. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2003.

Geist, Valerius. Deer of the World: Their Evolution, Behaviour, and Ecology. Shrewsbury UK: Swan Hill Press, 1999.

Lancaster, Roy. Perfect Plant Perfect Place. London-New York-Sydney-Moscow: Dorling Kindersley, 2002.

"Lindera obtusiloba AGM." Royal Horticultural Society > Plants > Plant Selector. 2011. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. http://www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=3388

"RHS AGM Listing May 2013 (Ornamentals)." Royal Horticultural Society > Plant Awards > List of plants with the AGM. May 2013. The Royal Horticultural Society. Web. www.rhs.org.uk

  • Available at: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/Plant-trials-and-awards/Plant-awards/AGM-plants

Stuart, David D. Buddlejas. Royal Horticultural Society Plant Collector Guide. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2006.

Whitehead, G. Kenneth. The Whitehead Encyclopedia of Deer. Shrewsbury UK: Swan Hill Press, 1993.

 

two whitetails, grazing

National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge, western Montana
National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge, western Montana
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Full color photographs of every plant.

Photography by Alan L. Detrick.
50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants

Bambi: world's most famous white-tailed deer, beautifully designed as Swarovksi crystal figurine.

Dimensions: 3 9/16" x 3 13/16" inches.
Swarovski Crystal Figurine #5004688, Bambi

Two Deer on Forest Path: black t-shirt

Two Deer on Forest Path
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 01/19/2014

frankbeswick, Sounds like you're safe!

frankbeswick on 01/19/2014

Thanks, I have never met one, but I am in the north and they tend to be mainly in southern woodlands. I am also in town, and they do not like urban environments.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/18/2014

frankbeswick, Wild boars would be a big problem. Your rules for wild boar encounters are wise. I hope that you're never confronted with any wild boars.

frankbeswick on 01/18/2014

Muntjac farming might work, in fact it is a great idea, though it is unlikely that any unusual meat would get into the supermarkets for some time yet. It would be a niche market.

One of the biggest problems at the moment in the UK is wild boar,and this dwarfs the deer problem. Some escaped from boar farms during the hurricane of 1987, but others were deliberately released by animal rights activists, who thought that they should roam free! A fully grown male can weigh 350 pounds and has razor sharp tusks and teeth. They were released in the south and are slowly working their way north through woodlands. Basic rule for encountering them: walk away, you cannot win in a fight with a wild boar, Second rule, never annoy one, and they cannot be killed with shotguns. If they get into your garden, lose the crops.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/18/2014

frankbeswick, Ranchers in the American West and farmers and gardeners -- except in Florida where the whitetail is still a novelty -- throughout the U.S.A. tend to be anti-deer and anti-wolf. It makes it difficult to pursue the biological controls possible through integrated "pest" management when both predator and prey are deemed unacceptable presences.
The deer still flourish despite human enmity and wasting disease. The wolf is just coming back from almost virtual extinction by shotgun wielding farmers and ranchers.
Actor Timothy Dalton participated in a very informative documentary that is sympathetic to the plight of the wolf. Wolves are not opportunistic like coyotes. They have standards, set eating times, and limits on quantities consumed. The actor does an impressive imitation of various wolf calls.
I am glad to read that muntjac have not invaded your garden. I hope that avoidance continues to hold.
Do you think that there is any possibility for setting up muntjac ranches at some point since the modern descendants of an ancient lineage can't help being an introduced species and are just doing what deer do?
Ah yes, gun control: very controversial in the USA, and another school shooting occurred yesterday.

frankbeswick on 01/17/2014

Red deer as well as muntjac are a problem, but the red deer easily hybridize with the related imported species, sika, and produce fertile offspring.

There is talk of reintroducing predators, such as wolves, but farmers object that sheep will be endangered. Many estates act as deer ranches, where deer are kept to provide venison, but no one ranches or farms muntjac. I have suffered no problems with them, but if I did, I have no firearms licence, so I cannot even own a firearm. All I could do is put down protection. [Gun control in the UK is very strict.]

DerdriuMarriner on 01/17/2014

frankbeswick, It amazes me to hear about deer population increases. On this side of the pond, the main problem centers around the white-tailed deer. On your side of the pond, isn't it the red deer that is increasing in numbers along with the "barking" invaders?
Unfortunately, I know of no humane solution other than through hiding vegetation that deer like deep within vegetation that they don't like. Despite super high fencing, road kill, and hunting season, the numbers keep a-rising. Populations persist even despite the tragic wasting disease. Deer face habitat fragmentation and loss, so they have no place to run to and they operate as day feeders instead of what they're supposed to be, night feeders.
Cultivating what deer don't like to eat will work . . . unless they have nothing else to eat and nowhere to turn.
Those muntjac definitely are challenging.

frankbeswick on 01/17/2014

This is a useful article. In Britain we have a problem that deer numbers are getting out of control and the island is becoming more crowded, a combination which makes for clashes. In addition, we have the muntjac, Japanese barking deer, which is dog sized and is spreading through woodlands all over the country. Muntjac can easily enter gardens through gaps in the hedges.

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