Deer Resistant Trees and Shrubs

Published On: August 15th, 2022

buck rub on deer resistant trees and shrubs in wisconsin

Continuing our theme of deer-resistant plants, here we address woody landscape plants (trees and shrubs) that are resistant to deer browsing. Below you’ll find our top list of deer resistant trees and shrubs. We also discuss buck rub and seasonal browsing, and some preventative measures you can take to protect your landscape plants.

Note: When dealing with deer browsing it is important to state that these plants are deer resistant and not deer proof.

Deer resistant Shrubs

deer resistant shrub common snowberry symphorocarpus albus
  • Barberry (Berberis)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Boxwood (Buxus)
  • Summersweet (Clethra)
  • American Filbert (Corylus)
  • Smokebush (Cotinus)
  • Deutzia (Deutzia)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia)
  • Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)
  • Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus)
  • John’s Wort (Hypericum)
  • Juniper (Juniperus)
  • Magnolia (Magnolia)
  • Spruce (Picea)
  • Potentilla (Potentilla)
  • Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa)
  • Spirea (Spiraea) note: rabbits will eat
  • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos)
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Weigela (Weigela) – seldom damaged

Deer Resistant Trees

deer resistant tree katsura cercidiphyllum with fall color
  • Birch (Betula)
  • Musclewood (Carpinus)
  • Catalpa (Catalpa)
  • Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum)
  • Eastern Redbud (Cercis)
  • Beech (Fagus)
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo)
  • Honeylocust (Gleditsia)
  • Ironwood (Ostrya)
  • Spruce (Picea)
  • Mugo Pine (Pinus mugho)
  • Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)

Buck Rub

seasonal deer browse and choosing resistant trees and shrubs

Another threat to your trees from deer is buck rub. This damage usually occurs in fall and is caused by male deer rubbing their fresh antlers on tree trunks in order to remove the velvet covering. Buck rub is characterized by scratched, peeling, or missing bark at about the height of a standing deer. When the bark is removed the tree cannot transport moisture and nutrients from its roots to its crown and will suffer significant damage, or even death. Trees with smooth bark — such as Maple, Musclewood, Birch, and Magnolia — are most likely to be damaged by deer rubs.

Damage is most often seen on young trees. Since they are not eating the plants, buck rub cannot be discouraged simply by planting trees that deer don’t like to eat. The best way to protect your trees from buck rub damage is to place a physical barrier around the trunk of young trees. Vinyl tree trunk sleeves or porous wire barriers will effectively discourage buck rub. It is best to remove these coverings in the spring and re-apply again in the fall.

Seasonal Browsing

buck rub on deer resistant trees and shrubs in wisconsin

Deer prefer browsing succulent new growth rather than older growth. For this reason, plants are at their most vulnerable to browsing early in the season, when they are putting on fresh, new growth. If feeding pressure is high enough deer may browse at that time on even resistant shrubs. Applying a deer repellent in spring may discourage this early season browsing and encourage more desirable feeding habits. We carry several types of deer repellents, all of which are completely natural and harmless to the environment.

Deer are prey animals and rely on all their senses to detect danger in their surroundings. When strongly scented animal repellents are applied in the garden, deer tend to shy away from the area as they feel vulnerable because they cannot use their sense of smell to perceive danger. Deer repellents deter browsing through ingredients that have strong smells. Most utilize egg solids, and many also incorporate garlic and strongly scented essential oils. The smell will be unpleasant to the human nose for a couple of hours but will remain unappealing to deer for up to three weeks. During periods of rapid plant growth or heavy rains more frequent application may be necessary.

Deer photos courtesy of Kathy Heck.