Deer Resistant Hedges (8 Hedge Plants That Resist Deer)

While it takes years to grow a hedge, deer can destroy one in a single winter. The best and most popular hedge plant in North America, Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), actually attracts deer to your yard. So how can you keep your hedges uneaten? By selecting deer resistant hedge plants.

However, it’s important to remember that deer resistant does not mean deer proof. Deer resistant just means that deer will only touch it if they don’t have other options. You may have had a tree that deer haven’t touched in years, only to find one winter day that it’s been demolished. If deer get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.

Deer cause two types of damage: browsing and antler. 

Deer can damage hedges by browsing or by scraping with their antlers.

All deer cause browsing damage by tearing off or shredding branches, leaves, and twigs to eat. Deer don’t have upper incisors, so they have to tear off leaves to eat. They don’t leave teeth marks. (If you see teeth marks, it’s probably rabbits or rodents.)

Male deer cause antler damage by rubbing their antlers on small trees to remove the velvet during breeding season in the fall. This rubbing shreds the bark. The best way to protect young trees is by fencing them until they get better established. 

Not all deer resistant plants are equal. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Rutgers Master Gardeners uses this deer resistance rating rating system:

  • A = Rarely Damaged
  • B = Seldom Severely Damaged
  • C = Occasionally Severely Damaged
  • D = Frequently Severely Damaged

An A-rating means a plant may be damaged by deer once in a blue moon. A B-rating means you could go a few seasons or more before deer damage occurs. Plants with a D-rating are their favorites, like Arborvitae/White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). These are the plants to avoid.

arbor vitae or Thuja
Deer like to eat arborvitae, so beware if you use them for a hedge!

However, take their rating system as helpful advice, as ratings can vary by region and in practice. If your neighbor has a lot of tasty Arborvitae, then you’ll probably find that deer won’t go for your C-rated plants.

But even the most deer resistant shrubs occasionally get demolished. If you want to make sure that your hedge can bounce back after damage, choose woody shrubs over conifers. 

Conifers are very popular for hedges because they stay green all year round, but they can’t grow back from old wood. If a deer damages them severely enough, that’s it.

But woody shrubs can grow back. If deer severely damage a woody shrub, you can always do a hard prune. Cut the woody shrub back to 3 – 6 inches above the ground in the very early spring, before any foliage emerges. The shrub will bounce back within 2 growing seasons, fully rejuvenated to boot. 

Whichever plants you choose, protect young trees and shrubs while they’re getting fully established. This is when plants are most vulnerable, when browsing and antler rubbing are more likely to kill them. Once they’re established, they can take more abuse.  

Ready to find your deer-resistant hedge plants? Let’s begin.

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Deer Resistant Hedges

#1 Viburnum (Viburnum spp.)

  • Type: Evergreen, Semi-Evergreen, and Deciduous Shrubs
  • Geographic Origin: Varies
  • USDA Zone: Varies
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun to Shade, depending on species
  • Water Requirement: Varies
  • Drought Tolerant: Varies
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: 
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: Varies
  • Rutgers Rating: A and B (depending on species)
Viburnum lantana
Viburnum have a pretty good deer resistance rating, and they produce nice flowers too.

Viburnum is an underrated shrub plant. With over 150 species and even more cultivars, you can find a Viburnum to match your needs. This genus even includes both deciduous shrubs and evergreens. 

Viburnum produce big clusters of blooms that turn into attractive fruits, although this depends on the species. They’re also very low maintenance. You can prune them for more formal hedges, but you don’t need to. And you can find a species that grows well in your conditions. (Just take note that some Viburnum are considered invasive.)

Viburnum plants are also great for wildlife. Depending on the species, they may make a great source of pollen for bees, produce tons of berries for birds, and/or make excellent winter nesting spots. 

Rutgers rates Arrowwood Viburnum (V. dentatum) as A, and they rated most other Viburnum as B. Arrowwood Viburnum isn’t thought of as a great ornamental plant, but it’s exceedingly hardy, and can live in Zone 2. And you can’t beat that deer resistance.

#2 Japanese Pieris/Andromeda (Pieris japonica)

  • Type: Broadleaf Evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Japan, Taiwan, East China
  • USDA Zone: 5 to 8
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun to Part Shade
  • Water Requirement: Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: No
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: A few severe problems
  • Maintenance: High
  • Mature Size: 9 to 12 ft tall, 6 to 8 ft spread
  • Rutgers Rating: A
Pieris japonica plant
Pieris japonica does not tolerate drought, but it is deer resistant.

Japanese Pieris (or Andromeda) has amazing resistance to deer. Deer just don’t bother with this broadleaf evergreen. It also doesn’t grow too tall, topping out at around 10 ft. But its most attractive feature is its delicate light pink bell-shaped flowers that appear in early spring when pollinators need them most. 

Still, even with its excellent deer resistance, it’s a high maintenance plant. It’s susceptible to dieback, winter injury, lace bug infections, and leaf spot. It grows best in moist, organically rich, acidic soil. Rather than using it for a single species hedge, mix Japanese Pieris with other acid-loving hedge plants (like Inkberry and Mountain Laurel). The other trees will give it protection against wind and the hot afternoon sun. Plus, even if Japanese Pieris has problems, you will still have a hedge. 

#3 Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

  • Type: Broadleaf Evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • USDA Zone: 4 to 9
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun to Part Shade
  • Water Requirement: Medium to Wet
  • Drought Tolerant: No (tolerates wet soil)
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: No serious problems
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: 5 to 8 ft tall, 5 to 8 ft spread
  • Rutgers Rating: B
inkberry gallberry
Inkberry or gallberry is a good choice for a hedge with decent deer resistance.

If you’re looking to grow an informal hedge in moist to wet soil, Inkberry makes an excellent native shrub choice. It doesn’t grow as tall naturally as other species on this list and it grows slowly, making it a good choice for shorter hedges when you don’t want to prune a lot.

If you’re an amateur beekeeper, an Inkberry hedge will give you the highly prized Inkberry honey. Inkberry Honey has a rich taste that isn’t too sweet or too floral, making it an exceptional honey for everyday or special occasion use.

Inkberry prefers to grow in full sun, but also grows well in part shade. It needs moist, acidic soil, though, and can’t grow well in neutral or alkaline soil. Inkberry can spread through root suckers, which can help you fill out a hedge, but you can remove the root suckers to keep them from spreading.

#4 Eastern Red Cedar/Eastern Juniper (Juniperus virginiana)

  • Type: Needled Evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern North America
  • USDA Zone: 2 to 9
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun
  • Water Requirement: Dry to Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: Yes (best of any eastern US native conifer)
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: Susceptible to twig blight, scale, and cedar apple rust. Watch for bagworms.
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: 30 to 65 ft tall, 8 to 25 ft spread
  • Rutgers Rating: B
Eastern Red Cedar
Eastern Red Cedar tolerates some drought and resists deer pretty well.

If you really love the look of Arborvitae and just can’t give it up, then Eastern Red Cedar is the closest match you’ll find with deer resistance. Eastern Red Cedar grows in a dense conical or columnar style. It’s native and drought-tolerant, and can pretty much take anything you can throw at it – deer, erosion, shallow soil, black walnut, and even air pollution. Songbirds love its branches and berry-like cones. 

Eastern Red Cedar is low maintenance, although it’s susceptible to a number of diseases. It tolerates dry to moist soil (it can even grow in swamps), so long as the moist soil dries out in between. Avoid planting near apples or crabapples as it’s susceptible to cedar apple rust.

#5 Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)

  • Type: Needled evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Western North America
  • USDA Zone: 3 to 7
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun
  • Water Requirement: Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: Yes
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: Few serious problems
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: 10 to 15 ft high, 4 to 6 feet spread
  • Rutgers Rating: B (‘Moonglow’ has A-rating)
Mountain Juniper
Mountain Juniper resist deer and also tolerates drought.

Native to Western North American, Mountain Juniper makes a great alternative to Eastern Red Cedar. Its USDA range is slightly smaller, but it still grows in a wide variety of conditions. You can leave them as an informal hedge where it grows into a pyramidal shape, or prune them for a formal hedge. Mountain Juniper has no serious pest or disease problems, but will suffer in humid conditions. 

Mountain Juniper does best in sandy or rocky well-drained soils. They need more water and protection while getting established, but once they do, they’re very drought tolerant and deer resistant. Mountain Juniper as a species has a B-rating, while the cultivar Moonglow has an impressive A-rating.

#6 Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

  • Type: Broadleaf Evergreen
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern US
  • USDA Zone: 4 to 9
  • Light Requirement: Part Shade
  • Water Requirement: Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: 
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: Susceptible to leaf spots, blights, borers, scale, white flay, lace bugs
  • Maintenance: Medium
  • Mature Size: 5 to 15 ft tall, 5 to 15 ft spread
  • Rutgers Rating: C
Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel tolerates partial shade, but can be somewhat susceptible to deer.

Okay, yes, the Rutgers Rating leaves a lot to ask for, but it’s one of the evergreens recommended by the University of New Hampshire for deer resistant hedges. While deer will nibble on it, they will largely ignore it. It’s also toxic if ingested. It’s native to the US, although it has a few disease and pest susceptibility. It’s popular for hedges because it bursts into spectacular white or rose-colored sprays of cup-shaped flowers in May.

Mountain Laurel prefers moist acidic soil in part shade, which can be a hard spot to fill otherwise. It needs well-draining soil (no heavy clay soil), so if your soil isn’t very sandy, use a raised bed to grow them. Mulch to retain moisture during the summer heat.

#7 Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)

  • Type: Deciduous Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Northern Hemisphere
  • USDA Zone: 3 to 7
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun to Part Shade
  • Water Requirement: Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: Yes
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: Few. Susceptible in high humidity.
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: 2 to 4 ft high, 3 to 5 ft spread
  • Rutgers Rating: A
Potentilla fruticosa
Potentilla resist deer and also tolerates drought, making it a star choice for a hedge.

Shrubby Cinquefoil may not come to mind when thinking of hedge plants, but it makes an excellent short or dwarf hedge or an addition to a mixed hedge. It grows well in many northern areas, like the US, Canada, and Europe, and has amazing resistance to deer. If deer do nibble on it, then it can bounce back with pruning. Throughout the summer, Shrubby Cinquefoil offers tons of 5-petaled yellow flowers that attract butterflies.

Once established, Shrubby Cinquefoil tolerates a wide range of conditions, including drought. Before then, it needs its soil to remain moist. It has a high winter tolerance, but struggles in high summer heat and humidity. 

#8 Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

  • Type: Deciduous Shrub
  • Geographic Origin: Depends on species
  • USDA Zone: 3 to 8 (depending on species)
  • Light Requirement: Full Sun to Part Shade
  • Water Requirement: Medium
  • Drought Tolerant: No (but tolerates wet soil)
  • Pest & Disease Resistance: Varies depending on species
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Mature Size: 6 to 30 ft high, 8 to 30 ft spread (depending on species – some are shorter, some grow bigger)
  • Rutgers Rating: B and C (depending on species)
10 - Red Twig Dogwood
Dogwood (such as Red Twig Dogwood) tolerates wet soil and has some deer resistance.

If you like the sound of woody shrubs, but still want something that looks striking during the winter, try Dogwood. The most resistant dogwoods include Tartarian Dogwood (C. alba), Kousa Dogwood (C. kousa), and Red Twig Dogwood (C. sericea), all of which have a B rating.

Kousa Dogwood features bold, white flowers through the spring. It prefers acidic to neutral soil.

Red Twig has bold crimson leaves in the fall that give way to its red branches during winter. These crimson branches look even more amazing when mixed in with a few deer resistant evergreens.

Tartarian has a similar appearance to Red Twig, but doesn’t spread as much. They both tolerate most soils, so long as the soil is moist and fertile.


All plants are susceptible to deer damage, but by picking a deer resistant hedge plant, you’ll extend the life of your hedge. For extra insurance, choose woody shrubs over conifers so they can bounce back with a hard prune.

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Jon M

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