Deer Resistant Evergreens

A Guide to Deer Resistant Evergreens


A plant that remains green throughout the year offers great beauty and contrast to your landscape through wintry months, but may also offer a buffet for wildlife unless deer resistant evergreens are chosen.  Even then, there is no guarantee that deer will not munch upon your plants, but at least can lessen the possibility.


Properties of the evergreen


An evergreen plant is one which retains its foliage throughout the year, as opposed to a deciduous plant that drops its foliage and “hibernates” through the cold months, and also when weather conditions are particularly dry.  That is not to say that an evergreen never loses its leaves; it simply loses and replaces them continually throughout the year.   Evergreens are found in large numbers and varieties in the tropical rainforest as well as in warmer climates, and lesser varieties in cool climates.  Many people associate the evergreen with pine or “Christmas” trees, but all evergreens do not bear the needle like foliage of the conifers.  Some, like the live oak, holly and the eucalyptus, have leaves instead.


Evergreens traditionally have a higher carbon / nitrogen ratio than is found in deciduous trees.  This feature has helped them to adapt to soils with low nutrition.  It also develops the conditions for the growth of additional evergreens.  Depending on the area grown and the type of evergreen, this type of plant has much the same animals and pests that feed upon them as the deciduous varieties, although some animals, like deer, may be a bit choosier when it comes to eating evergreens.


Evergreens as food


Since evergreens retain their foliage and coloration throughout the four seasons, they are desirable plants for landscaping.  Shrubs in particular have great appeal during the dreary winter months, with their dark foliage providing lovely interest against the stark white snow.  They also have great appeal for wildlife, however, as a source of food in the wintertime.  Since the deciduous trees and shrubs now stand barren and leafless and grassy plants have died away, food for deer in the winter becomes scarce.  They begin to expand their borders in search for food for survival, and often will find their way into landscaped yards, which appear to the animal as a well maintained buffet.  Some of their particular favorites among the evergreens are azalea bushes, rhododendrons, yew, hemlock and pine.  Soon, their nibbling will have reduced these plants to mere nubs, effectively killing them.


Though the deer are merely doing what comes naturally to them, the homeowner who has spent hard earned money on purchasing these plants and hours of labor maintaining them is naturally frustrated at the loss of the beauty of the evergreens.  They could be replaced, but the problem with the deer will likely be repeated.  That is, unless the owner takes the time to locate evergreens that are not browsed by deer.


Deer resistant evergreens


It should be understood that there are no plants that are deer proof.  When survival depends upon it, deer will eat those plants and shrubs that are normally ignored.  Therefore, these plants are called instead deer resistant.  Shrubs such as boxwood, Chinese juniper and dwarf cultivars of spruce are generally not targets by deer for food, yet add lovely accents to the landscape.  Dianthus, alba, and mugo pine are also good choices.   Adding these plants to the landscape will provide the greatest protection against deer browsing in most conditions.


Deer are beautiful and graceful creatures that most people enjoy viewing in their own habitats.  They are generally not welcome in landscaped yards, however, due to the damage that they can do to plants that have been meticulously planted and maintained.  Deer resistant evergreens offer the perfect solution to this dilemma; lovely foliage that the deer avoid.