(Image credit: Ed-Ni-Photo)

Deer need to eat, just like everybody else. Since urban spread has taken over much of the areas that used to be available for deer graze, they can become garden pests, foraging your veggies and flowers. 

There is almost nothing a deer will not eat if it is hungry enough, but some plants, optimistically termed “deer resistant,” are lower on the deer’s list of preferred dining. 

Read on for information on flowering deer resistant shrubs.

Deer Resistant Flowering Shrubs

A deer’s list of favorite flowering plants to munch include lilies, tulips, burning bush, and hybrid tea roses. They also love to eat saucer magnolia, as well as crocus, dahlias, daylilies, hostas, impatiens, phlox, and trillium. These are more like candy for deer than deer resistant plants.

What exactly does deer resistant mean? Sadly, for gardeners, it does not mean deer proof. You may not like broccoli, but if it were between broccoli and starvation, the choice is obvious. Like humans, a starving deer with consume anything available, even plants they don’t normally enjoy.

“Deer resistant” simply identifies plants that don’t make a deer’s list of favorites. Generally, these are shrubs with prickles or thorns, herbs that have a strong odor, plants that have thick sap, and those with fuzzy or hairy leaves.

Are Lilac Bushes Deer Resistant?

Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is one of the plants considered deer resistant. Deer don’t like it, probably because of the strong smell. That means that the deer will go for sweeter, less pungent foliage when it is available. The only way to truly ensure that hungry deer won’t eat your lilac plants is to construct a very tall fence. 

Note that any new shoots that emerge in spring are likely to be munched by deer, including common lilac bushes. New growth is soft and sweet for deer, no matter what plant it comes from. This is also true for flower buds. For example, butterfly bush is considered deer resistant, but these shrubs can be stripped of new growth in spring.

Deer Resistant Flowering Bushes

What other flowering bushes are considered deer resistant? The “last choice” dinners for deer include: 

  • smoketree (Cotinus coggygria) with its plumy flowers, 
  • forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia), with those early spring yellow flowers,
  • winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), the only jasmine without fragrance,
  • dwarf nandina (Nandina domestica), that Southern favorite with round, red infloresences
  • oleander (Nerium oleander), an evergreen shrub with showy flowers in bright shades
  • daphne (Daphne spp.) with their potent fragrance, and 
  • oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) with white June flowers that mature to deep pink.
Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.