Oh, deer! Yes, those pesky marauders will likely forage in your garden again this year. Whenever someone asks me what to do about a nasty deer problem in their landscape, I usually reply with the cryptic, “Get an outside dog, a 12-foot fence or a gun.” I know those aren’t the easiest (or kindest) solutions for everyone. But every type of deer repellent that I’ve ever tried works maybe for the first few times, then the clever four-legged eating machines figure a way around my scheme and go back to munching.


Mahonia are not only deer-resistant, they provide pretty yellow flowers in spring, blue berries in fall and attractive reddish-bronze foliage in winter.

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Japanese cryptomerias

Japanese cryptomerias are beautiful, stately additions to the landscape. (Compact forms are also available.)

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Eastern red cedar

The easy-to-grow US native Eastern red cedar can be used in formal landscape plantings.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

False cypress

Few landscape plants can match the beauty, grace and variability of false cypress.

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Pinus bungeana

Dwarf cultivars of large evergreen trees, like this compact lacebark pine, serve many nice purposes in the home landscape.

Photo Credit: Russell Stafford

It’s our own fault, you know. We humans have caused this deer browsing problem by eliminating all of the animal’s natural predators from our regions. As a result, the deer multiply to excess, overgraze and can create (and experience) many other problems if herds are not culled. We have to intervene because of our initial interference; management of deer is absolutely essential. In my opinion, every kitchen for the homeless should have a bubbling pot of venison stew on the stove and a wide selection of dishes featuring the main ingredient of Canada goose (with multiflora rose hips as a side dish).

How can I propose shooting Bambi’s mother, you ask?! Hey, the Nth time they eat your favorite hostas to the ground and then decimate your evergreen screen of arborvitaes, you may start to see things my way. Okay, so you’re not as mercenary as I am.

So what do you do about deer?

To avoid putting the cart before the horse (or deer), I would suggest that we take stock of what we’re planting in our landscapes and attempt to use plants that deer don’t like to eat. Notice that I didn’t say to use plants that deer would never eat – a hungry deer will eat just about anything rooted in the ground. But there are some plants that most deer will only eat if they can’t find anything else. For those of us home gardeners who live above USDA hardiness zones 8 or 9, we most often see damage on our evergreen trees and shrubs during the fall and winter seasons, when deer are actively foraging for whatever green plants they can find. The following list includes some evergreen trees and shrubs that deer will not eagerly put their bibs on for:

Evergreen Trees

Evergreen Shrubs

(Okay, so maybe you don’t need the gun after all…)