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Best Deer Resistant Shade Plants

13 Best Deer Resistant Shade Plants for Your Northwoods Garden

One of the best things about living here in the Northwoods is the deer in my backyard. They’re gorgeous animals and enchanting to watch.

And one of the worst things about living here in the Northwoods is… the deer in my backyard! If you live in the Midwest and you have a shade garden, you know what I’m talking about.

Deer munch on the leaves of your shade-loving plants like you planted a salad garden just for them.

Well, if you’re tired of your plants being eaten by deer, don’t despair! There are plenty of deer resistant shade plants that you can grow in your perennial garden. In this article, I’ll share 13 of my favorites.

List of 13 Deer Resistant Shade Plants for Your Garden

For many gardeners, deer can be a frustrating and persistent problem. They can wipe out a beautiful garden faster than you can say “venison.”

This is especially true for those of us in the Midwest, where deer populations are high and shade gardens are common.

If you’re tired of deer munching on your shade garden, it’s time to consider planting some deer-resistant plants. These 13 plants are perfect for shady areas and are less likely to be eaten by deer.

From the delicate blooms of Bleeding Heart to the hardy foliage of Ferns, there’s a plant on this list for everyone. So get ready for a beautiful garden that’s safe from deer damage!

1. Astilbe

I’m not sure what it is about this plant. It just feels magical to me – a quiet, understated princess with strong, feathery leaves that suddenly produces frothy spires of brilliant, airy flowers. Astilbes are special plants that will dress up any rich, consistently moist (not wet!) spot in your shade garden. Choose from white, light pink, fushia and deep red blooms.

Rheinland Astilbe
  • Bulb Size: No. 1
  • Package contains 1 plant start
  • This item will bloom Early Summer
  • Perennial in zones 3 to 9

2. Bergenia

Bergenia’s low-growing rosettes will brighten your garden’s shady spots with their gorgeous color. Its glossy, leathery leaves are heart shaped and look great all year with its dark rose-pink flowers in the spring and fall. Plus, it brings a little extra something with its stunning red foliage in the cooler months of fall.

And it’s easy to grow, too – no special attention needed. It makes for a great shaded foreground or border plant and is definitely worth checking out.

Live Bergenia Perennial Winter Glow. Stunning. Super Healthy and Ready to Plant
  • Great Ground Cover
  • Great for Rock Gardens or Containers
  • Perennial
  • Pollinator

3. Bleeding Heart

Deer resistant shade plant, Bleeding Heart

Ah, the beautiful Dicentra spectabilis ‘Bleeding Heart.‘ If I could have one perennial in my shade garden, this sweet plant would be it.

It rather reminds me of the (also beloved) Astilble with its graceful, fern-like leaves. But instead of Astilbe’s tall poofy plumes, Bleeding Heart sends out branching arcs of delicate pink (or white, depending on the species) heart-shaped flowers from late spring through early summer.

Leave it undisturbed for a few years, and watch it grow into a lovely, hardy bush that can withstand the harshest of Midwest winters.

Dicentra eximia “Fringed Bleeding Heart” tends to bloom a little longer, but IMHO lacks the gentle beauty of its old-fashioned cousin. But honestly, you can’t go wrong with either.

4. Brunnera (Siberian Bugloss)

Siberian Bugloss as a deer resistant shade plant

I don’t know which is more attractive with Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera); its variegated leaves or its dainty blue, forget-me-not type flowers. Either way, Brunnera deserves a place in your life! It’s gorgeous, easy to care for and will brighten that dark corner in your shade garden.

5. Columbine

Columbine is a gift to gardeners – it’s super easy to grow and will bring all kinds of lovely pollinators into your garden. Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and ladybugs all flock to the nectar-filled flower heads.

You get the bonus of gentle colors in single or bicolored patterns (think yellows, purples, pinks and blues), especially in late spring/early summer. Plus they can handle some sun or shade – perfect for natural gardens.

2800 Blue Columbine Seeds – A Favorite Perennial Wildflower and State Flower of Colorado
  • 2800 Seeds – Western Blue Columbine
  • Favorite Wildflower
  • Spring Perennial Wildflower Grows in Zones 3-8 in the U.S.
  • Non GMO and Neonicotinoid Seed

6. Coral Bells

Deer reistant shade plant Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Looking for a colorful addition to your garden? Look no further. Coral Bells (aka Heuchera) come in hundreds of varieties and hybrids, sporting different leaf colors such as purple, rose, lime green and gold. Not only do they look gorgeous, but the bright foliage color will jazz up your garden just like flowers do.

But bonus – let’s not forget their dainty flowers on those airy stems too! They’re a great choice for shade and semi-shady spots – just perfect for all those not-so-sunny spots in your yard. I’m in love with the selection from Rosie Belle Farm.

7. Deadnettle

Spotted dead-nettle is a true gem for any garden lover. This fast-growing groundcover not only adds a burst of color in the spring with its bright flowers, but it also has beautiful variegated foliage all year long. And it’s perfect for those tough-to-grow shady spots where other plants struggle.

The silvery green leaves are splashed with large silver blotches on their upper surface, lightening up even the darkest corners of your garden. And best of all, deer don’t care to nibble on this wonderful plant.

Lamium ‘Orchid Frost’ (Deadnettle) Perennial, purple flowers, 1 – Size Container
  • For best results, plant in USDA Zone:3-8 – Mature size: 4-6in H x 15-in W
  • Plant is delivered in a #1 Size Container. It is fully rooted in the soil and can be planted immediately upon arrival, weather permitting.

8. Ferns

deer resistant ferns for midwest shade garden

While few plants are truly “deer proof,” ferns are generally ignored by deer browsing. They’re super hardy once established, faithfully coming back year after year. And while they love moist, shady spots, they’ll tolerate dry shade – the toughest of growing conditions, as gardeners well know!

There are literally thousands of fern varieties worldwide, and many will grow in Midwest shade gardens. Ferns add a beautiful, lacy green backdrop to any garden “bouquet.”

9. Foam Flower

The Foam Flower is a sweet little plant that thrives in shady nooks. Its beauty and simple nature make it a super choice for ground cover or rock gardens. It’s also perfect as a border for a woodland garden.

The Foam Flower has elegant white and sometimes pink flowers that attract birds and butterflies to your garden. And it only grows to heights of 6-12 inches, making it perfect for smaller spaces. Also, while Foam Flower loves shade, a bit of sunlight brings out its best color and blooms.

American Beauties Native Plants – Tiarella cord. ‘Running Tapestry’ (Foamflower) Perennial, white flowers, 1 – Size Container
  • For best results, plant in USDA Zone:3-8 – Mature size: 18-10in H x 15-18in W
  • Plant is delivered in a #1 Size Container. It is fully rooted in the soil and can be planted immediately upon arrival, weather permitting.
  • Clouds of foamy pinkish white flowers in spring provide an outstanding nectar source for native pollinators and butterflies
  • Outstanding when grouped together to create a colorful shade groundcover

10. Hellebore (Lenten Rose)

The beautiful Lenten Rose is one of Spring’s earliest bloomers, giving a dazzling show in many colors and patterns. Although your patch may take a couple of seasons to really get going, once established, it’ll become your top performer. Lenten Rose will bloom for a good month (longer in cool weather), then continue the season with strong, glossy foliage.

In uber-cold zones like the Midwest, add a little winter protection and just trim any damaged leaves in the spring. Lenten Rose loves moist, loamy and well-drained soil. Partial-to-full shade is perfect! It will not tolerate sunny areas.

3 Containers of Mixed Lenten Rose/Hellebore in 2.5 Inch Pots- Great for Fall Planting!
  • One of the earliest flowers to bloom…. Midwinter! And it beautiful glossy leaves stay a rich, dark green year around. The pictures included are just for size purposes. You will receive 3 pots!
  • Please note: Our shipping occurs only one time for up to 5 items, so please check out all our plants and bulbs to make the most of your shipping dollar
  • Zone 4-9, full shade to partial shade
  • Height 18-24 inches

11. Jacob’s Ladder

Jacobs Ladder deer resistant shade plant

Jacob’s Ladder is another great choice for a deer-resistant, Midwest shade garden. The blue-violet flowers and pretty fern-like leaves create a beautiful splash of color in summer and (sometimes) fall.

Maybe it’s the sweet, tender habit of this lovely plant, I don’t know. But I’ve got a special affection for this gentle beauty and get a thrill when it emerges from the ground in springtime.

12. Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley deer resistant plant

Great-Grandma Pearson had these growing on the north side of her garage – thick, lush and hardy. And they smelled like absolute heaven. I fell in love with the “white coral bells” and vowed to have them in my own garden someday. And I have!

Lily of the Valley are easy to grow, and they’re tough as nails. They can handle some sun, but they prefer partial shade and moist, loamy soil. These will naturalize over the years, so plant someplace you don’t mind, because they anchor in. 🙂 Makes a gorgeous ground cover even after the flowers fade. Prepare to fall in love!

13. Winter Aconite

winter aconite is a deer-resistant garden plant

And last but not least… If you’re looking for a great option for your shady garden, you should consider Winter Aconite! These delicate yellow flowers bloom in late winter and early spring, making them perfect for adding a bright spot of color in even the darkest corner of your garden.

Winter Aconite is fairly low-maintenance, needing very little care or attention to thrive. They’re perfect for filling in the spaces between other plants, as their bloom period comes when most other plants have yet to emerge from the ground.

Winter Aconite is hardy in Midwest climates and will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Plant it in well-drained soil, and the flower bulbs will come back year after year. If you’re looking for a cheerful addition to your garden, look no further than Winter Aconite!

Why Deer Love Your Garden

Ah, deer. They’re elegant and majestic creatures that can also drive a gardener nuts.

I hate them in my garden, but I try to be understanding. After all, maybe they just can’t resist all those blooms. (I know I can’t. 🙂 )

Here are 3 reasons why deer may love eating your flower garden:

  1. Variety is the spice of life! Deer are herbivores, which means they need to eat a lot of different plants in order to get all the nutrients they need. So when they come across a beautiful garden filled with a variety of colorful flowers, they can’t help but indulge in a little buffet.
  2. Satisfy their sweet tooth. Some types of flowers have a high sugar content, which is like candy to a deer. So if your garden is full of sweet blooms, you may be tempting these animals more than you realize.
  3. It’s all about location. Deer are known for their love of munching whatever’s in their path. Face it – they’re foragers. If your garden is located in a handy location – and it’s got young, sweet & juicy plants – it may be irresistible to hungry grazers. Why would they pass up such a delicious buffet?

So take a breath next time you see them in your garden. After all, if you’re growing something so irresistible that even wild animals can’t resist, you must be doing something right. And then take other measures to keep them from coming back.

Deer Favorites: What NOT to Plant in Your Garden

Is it time to revamp your garden with some new plants? I’ve listed some great deer-resistant shade plants above. But before you start adding plants left, right and center, let’s talk about some deer-friendly flowers that you should avoid planting.

Here’s a short list of some deer favorites. While these flowers are beautiful, they are also some of deer’s favorite snacks. I’ve got horror stories of each one and the garden trauma that followed their short-lived bloom period.

  • Azaleas – Bright, lovely – and deer can’t resist them. FYI, bald branches are not bright and lovely.
  • Begonias – I’ve never tasted one, but the deer in my yard have. My “Non-Stop Begonias” were definitely stopped.
  • Hostas – It only takes once, and the leaves are clipped all season. I’ve had tender new plantings pulled out by the roots and mature plants mowed to the ground.
  • Roses – You’d think those thorns would hurt, wouldn’t you? No worries – they’re happy to snip just the tender blossoms and leave you the spiny twigs.
  • Tulips – I waited. Waited. Waited for my new tulips to bloom. My first tulips ever. And then they finally did one morning! I got to enjoy them for one minute as I left the driveway for work, craning my head for one last glance in the rear-view mirror. And yes – the tulips were gone when I got home.

Seriously. There are lots of amazing plants for your garden – sun and shade – that deer won’t touch. Unless you’re willing to combat deer browsing, don’t choose the above plants. Take it from me.

Other Tips to Keep Deer Out of Your Shade Garden

If you absolutely can’t help planting deer favorites in your garden, there are other ways to deter them. Here are a few.

1. Use Deer Repellent Sprays: Deer repellent sprays are a great way to deter deer from your flower garden. Deer have a highly tuned sense of smell and are turned off by strong scents. Why not give one of these a try:

  • Mix a solution of ½ cup of castor oil with ¼ cup of dish detergent, and then apply to your plants with a sprayer. Do this every few days to deter your deer problem.
  • For years we’ve been using Deer Stopper, and it’s completely eliminated deer grazing. I mean – completely. I spray when the plants are first emerging. Again once when they’re up. Once later in summer, and maybe once in the fall. Not only do I love how Deer Stopper works, it actually smells really, really good. It’s made in the USA from safe, all-natural ingredients. I like that.
  • My mom swears by Irish Spring bar soap. She grates about 1/3 bar into a spray bottle, lets it dissolve and then sprays her plants a few times during the season. Voila!

2. Set Up Barriers: Building a fence around your flower garden is another great way to prevent deer from getting too close. Make sure that it’s at least 8 feet high and buried a few inches in the ground, as deer are notorious jumpers.

Funny story: At our last house, we had a 7-foot fence around our veggie garden. We ended up corralling a deer after she leapt the fence to graze inside: She tried to leave after eating, but the interior wasn’t big enough to get a running start to jump out!

3. Plant Deer Repelling Flowers & Herbs: Beyond resisting deer (see the list above), did you know that some flowers actually repel deer? Planting a variety of these flowers will make your garden less attractive to deer in general. Daffodils, marigolds, snapdragons, peonies and fragrant herbs like rosemary, thyme and lavender are all good choices.

4. Install Motion Detectors: Install motion detectors around your flower garden that will switch on when deer get too close. Even a motion activated sprinkler may help. This will startle deer and make them think before they come back.

5. Use Decoys: Placing a few decoys in your flower garden can work as an effective deer deterrent. The idea is to scare off deer with the continuous motion of the decoy, so make sure to choose one that will move in the wind.

13 Deer Resistant Plants for Your Shade Garden

6. Create a Noise: You can also create a noise in your garden to drive away deer. This could be in the form of a CD player playing noise all day, or even a set of wind chimes. Both of these have a good success rate when it comes to deterring deer.

Final Thoughts: You Can Keep Deer Out of Your Garden

Now that you know some great options for keeping deer out of your flower garden, it’s time to take action.

Whether you try planting some deer resistant shade plants or explore some of the other ideas mentioned in this article, don’t let pesky deer ruin your hard work and beautiful garden. Get creative and proactive in your approach to keeping those critters away!

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