Desperate for deer-proof hedge

March 31, 2012

I am desperate. I need suggestions for a deer-proof hedge. I have a large herd of deer and they eat just about everything evergreen so the shrubs have to be deciduous. But thick and full and something you know from personal experience in your yard that they will not eat.

I had a beautiful yew hedge here which they destroyed.

The area is mostly full sun. I want a hedge of the same shrub, not a mixed hedge. Six to eight feel tall. No trees or hungry/thirsty roots as the area is near my septic system.

I really hope you who are fighting deer can come up with some ideas.

Comments (43)

  • pixie_lou

    I've seen many gorgeous hedges of lilacs, and lilacs are deer resistant. But from my observation, it seems to take a long time to get a true hedge. (I've actually considered planting a row of lilacs in my front yard - I figured by the time they created a true visual barrier, I'd be old and codgy and want my privacy!)

    What is the hedge used for? Privacy? Creating a property line?

  • ginny12

    The hedge is to define a property line and for privacy.

    Lilacs unfortunately are disfigured by mildew thru much of the summer here so regretfully they won't work. And they do get leggy fast and privacy is key--after deer-proof.

    I have so many deer--even a moose on three occasions--that the shrubs have to be deer-PROOF, not just resistent.

    Thanks for the reply, Pixie-Lou, and send along any other ideas you might have.

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  • Steve Massachusetts


    That is only true of the older vulgaris types of lilacs. You can get newer cultivars that are mildew resistant and have different growth habits. A hedge of Persian Lilacs would work.

    But if you really want something that is deer proof try Holly. They will work well in full sun and I'm sure the deer won't snack on those leaves.


  • mad_gallica

    Umm, deer absolutely decimated my neighbor's holly. For once I let somebody else do the experimenting, and I'm glad I did.

    Juniper have been fairly deer proof here.

    What I would seriously consider is a 4 ft fence of deer netting or something a bit sturdier, then a hedging plant inside the fence. If bits grow out and get eaten, big deal. The main part of the plant is protected.

  • ginny12

    The deer ate every leaf off my hollies--and the neighbors' hollies. You wouldn't think so but they don't mind the prickly edges at all. Now I use Liquid Fence but that's not practical for the size of my proposed hedge.

    And alas, four feet is nothing to them. A deer fence must be at least eight feet and they can jump even that if they have to. Plus they can just walk around it.

    I would love a high fence but I have nice neighbors and I know they would not be happy with even a very attractive fence. That would be my ideal solution tho....

  • cloud_9

    How about buddleia? I was in deer alley and they never touched mine.

  • Steve Massachusetts

    Hmmm. Well the Rutgers University site says that Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is rarely damaged by deer. Below is a link to a listing of deer resistant shrubs. Of course, you deer may vary.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Deer resistant shrubs

  • terrene

    What about Maclura pomifera, Osage orange? I am not familiar with its growth habits, but I'm starting it from seed this year. Sorta for the heck of it, but I do plan to plant it along a section of the property line near the neighbor's shed.

    I'm not sure how ornamental it is, and it can grow into a medium sized tree. But it is deer resistant, suckers abundantly, is very thorny, and has traditionally been used in hedgerows. The MOBOT plant database says:

    "As settlers pushed westward toward the Mississippi River and beyond in the 1800s, fencing materials were quite expensive and in short supply. In lieu of fences, thousands of miles of hedgerows were planted, with osage orange being a prominent inclusion. Osage orange suckers freely and quickly forms an impenetrable barrier due to its vicious thorns which are particularly nasty on new shoots. Hedgerow usage began to wane in the 1870s, however, with the advent of barbed wire."

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Ginny -

    I don't have a lot of deer pressure, but the one thing that they continually at down to bare branches was yew, so I think that they might be habituated to having a treat in your yard. My sympathies on your situation!

    While I personally like Osage oranges, I don't think I'd plant them in a suburban yard. They do get to be big trees and IME drop a good amount of mess, and having to keep a tree-sized plant as hedge size seems an awful lot of work, particularly considering the thorniness. (and I can imagine the damage from one of the fruits dropping on a car . . . ) Probably wouldn't lead to good neighborly relations!

    I am sorry to say, but from everything I have read, I don't think that there is such a thing as a deer-proof plant as they will eat just about anything if hungry. I am wondering if you can set up a barred or mesh fence (black will almost disappear into dark foliage) that basically defines the dimensions of the hedge (two sided and as tall as your ultimate hedge height) and plant between it. The deer could keep it pruned by eating what pokes through the bars. Another option would be an attractive lower fence (like wrought iron) all around your yard with black mesh or strands of fishing line above. . . Can you talk with your neighbor and discuss the problem to see if there are options you could implement to keep the deer out of your yard? (Then you could plant whatever you wanted.) Or even stretching black mesh over a framework (black painted electrical conduit?) until the hedge gets higher and then over the hedge itself to allow deer pruning?

    I did have damage one year and was successful in discouraging deer by mixing Wiltproof with an aversive spray because it will stuck to foliage and did not need to be resprayed often. Perhaps by rotating the aversive spray to keep them from getting complacent and using a deer resistant plant you can effectively create a plant unpalatable enough that they won't eat it?

  • tree_oracle


    I don't think you're going to be too crazy about the Horse apple hedge. Those are common where I grew up in Alabama. Down there, it forms a fairly large scraggly looking tree that abundantly drops horse apples everywhere. We used to throw them at each other as kids. It's like getting hit with a softball that weighs 2 to 3 times its normal weight.


    It seems like your choices are endless. Forsythia hedges are common where I live and the deer don't touch them. I have a privet hedge on one side of my backyard that the deer have never browsed and they tend to mow everything else down. Rugosa rose hedges are also common here and I never see the deer browse those. They have never touched my Knockout roses and those also get large enough for a hedge. Several viburnums would fit the bill. You could also plant a raspberry or blackberry hedge that would provide you with quite a bit of fruit. Some of the larger grasses would make an unusual hedge but I never see deer browsing those. I never see deer browse spruce trees so those would work from an evergreen perspective. Someone mentioned junipers which is another good idea. Bayberries would make a nice hedge of native plants. I see hedges of rhododendrons all the time. They make a very effective evergreen hedge although it takes a while for them to grow to that size. Bamboo would work. Burning bush would work and I never see deer browse those although they are hard to get know because they are considered invasive. They make a very well-groomed hedge. I'll stop here but the list could go on and on.

  • terrene

    Well, the drawbacks of Maclura pomifera might make this an inappropriate plant for Ginny, but I will plant them with some perverse delight, hoping that they will drive my neighbors crazy long after I move away from here! Which can't be soon enough for me. This control freak old man next door has thus far lodged 3 malicious complaints against me - the first time when he called the police on me during the spring swap in 2008 I hosted - I don't even acknowledge his presence now. With neighbors like him, who needs enemies? Oh, and he's not the only malicious neighbor...but that's another topic.

    Anyway, my spot for them is in mostly shade, out of the way, and surrounded by Vinca minor, I'll be surprised if they grow well, but we'll see.

    FYI, Privet and burning bush are both on the Mass. prohibited plant list.

  • tree_oracle

    FYI, Privet comes in many different species and only one (Ligustrum obtusifolium) is on the prohibited list. I have a hedge of California privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium). I'm well aware of burning bush being on the list as I mentioned in my prior post. However, I do not agree with that assessment. I have never seen them pop up anywhere but areas where nothing else will grow. I would just as soon see a burning bush there as dirt and some scraggly grass.

  • ginny12

    A good list of ideas everyone. Thank you and more are definitely welcome.

    Deer love both junipers and rhododendrons, big and small leaf. They have devoured mine and I see the damage everywhere there is deer pressure. I had a nice R. maximum hedge in deep shade and there are no leaves below six feet.

    Forgive me, but I am laughing about the Osage orange. I don't even know if they are hardy here--have never seen one locally--but there are a lot of them in the Philly area where I often visit family. They are large and vicious and were used as barriers on farms. If they did grow here, my neighbors would never speak to me again if I planted a bunch of them near where their children play. I really can't use anything with thorns.

    Steve, your link to the Rutgers U. site was very helpful. I liked that I could click and list only shrubs or perennials or whatever, and also sort by common or Latin name. I only wish their sources were more scientifically obtained. But their info fits what I do know.

    Bayberry is one they mentioned that might fit the bill--sunny and windy site. How tall can it get and how fast? I also may be reduced to forsythia which looks like Cousin It without a lot of maintenance. And the buds often freeze here.

    I had thought of burning bush. It fills the bill but I'd have to go out of state to get it and then feel guilty. Also thought about privet, a classic hedging plant.

    Lastly, for your edification, I can't use anything with luscious fruit. A friend on the other side of town has had a bear visit and rip apart her beehives. Now that's a problem I *really* don't want to have....

  • terrene

    Hey Ginny, glad to give you a laugh! Frankly I would be thrilled if my neighbors never spoke to me again, haha. I was told by the person I got the seeds from that Osage orange is hardy to zone 5.

    Tree-oracle, you can't seriously think that the Mass. Department of Agriculture placed Euonymous alatus on that list without serious thought, considering it was a huge money maker for commercial entities in this state? And it is most definitely invasive in my region, easily observed in my own yard and the abutting properties where I have busted my hump removing invasive woody plants.

  • pixie_lou

    terrene - you are giving me some nasty ideas. my nasty neighbor who continually complains about the white pines the previous owner of our house planted in the 1950s - he wants me to chop them down and replace them. maybe i'll replace those pines with some osage orange!

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Tree Oracle - I also find Euonymous alata seeds prolifically into woodland and edge areas and is readily visible during that time in the autumn when most everything else has lost its leaves.

    Ginny - Check out some of the more modern varieties of forsythia which grow in a more restrained fashion, though my preference is for the wild abandon of the bad hair day look. There are also some with variegated leaves in various colors and patterns that extend the length of time they are ornamental. Kumson has delicate variegation and from pictures seems to be more upright than old-fashioned varieties (though I don't grow it.) 'Fiesta' and 'Golden Times' are another couple of gold-variegated forsythia varieties.

    I think bayberry would be a lovely solution. The berries are decorative until birds eat them and the foliage has a pleasing scent as well as a shiny aspect.

  • terrene

    Pixie - my nasty neighbor hates pines too - apparently they drop too much debris. I happen to love Pines, and if I were you I'd be sure to leave them and relish how they bother the neighbor, unless of course, YOU want them gone.

  • ron48

    ginny, I'm digging out a number of Forsythia now they were in a setting 40'wide. They moved outwards so they would do maybe 60-70 ft. there yours if would like them, I have 4 large ones left to dig but I bet the would sub divide into a dozen more ?

    nhbabs, bayberry is also on the evasive list in mass.


  • tree_oracle

    Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) cannot possibly be on the invasive list. It's native to this state.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Ron, not sure what you are thinking of, but as TO said, Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) can't be on the list as it is a native shrub, while the invasives species list is exclusively non-native plants which have the problem of invading areas so that native species are displaced.

    Also IME, it's also not one of those plants that seeds around indiscriminately (like native red maples) so wouldn't be likely to be a pest in a garden situation.

    Here is a link that might be useful: MA invasive species list

  • greenhavenrdgarden

    Deer love burning bush at my house in CT. What about a boxwood hedge? Not very creative but great for full sun and the deer don't touch it. I have dozens of deer daily eating everything but they leave my boxwood alone.

  • oldpatct

    for privacy nothing beats thuja green giant. Planted 12 5 footers 10+ years ago and now each are over 30 feet easy. also leyland cypress is an option. All depends on how much room you have.

  • cloud_9

    Is it possible that ron was thinking barberry? This is an effective hedge if you are trying to keep kids out of your yard. ;-)

    Bayberry, Bearberry, Barberry, Burberry I always take a beat before getting the right one out.

    : D

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    I think you've got it, Cloud 9.

  • diggingthedirt

    I like boxwood, but boxwood blight is moving around New England and makes it an iffy choice to plant now in a spot where you're relying on a hedge for privacy.

    I have bayberry - it volunteered in my yard. It doesn't seem to quite reach 6 feet - do you want privacy from this hedge, or just a 'marker' for the edge of the garden?

  • rockman50

    I have a different suggestion. A very underutilized plant in southern New England is the variety of Cherry Laurel called "Schipkaensis". It is a broad-leafed evergreen and hardier than the more common variety Otto Luykens which would not do well at all away from the coast in Massachusetts. I have a single specimen that has grown like crazy...big and broad with large glossy leaves---about 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. If these were planted in a row they would make a great hedge. And DEER DO NOT EAT THEM! The leaves apparently contain arsenic (or some other toxic metal). I have personally watched deer take a nibble and move on to greener and tastier pastures. Now the only concern is Ginny's location...she says zone 5 in Mass....which suggests far north and west of Boston. That might be pushing it even for this hardier variety of cherry laurel but I am not sure.

  • Marie Tulin

    Hi Ginny,
    Do you have Dirr's book on Viburnums? In it he has the list of Viburnums and their susceptibility to deer browsing. Now it is really late and I don't have the energy to go upstairs to get it and back down to post....
    There were two he's observed that deer did not touch: one was viburnum "Eskimo" which he said he inspected top to bottom and saw no deer browse.I'll post the other one; maybe someone reading this has the book and can tell you sooner.I won't have a chance to read it again until Saturday.I thought I remembered a list of other shrubs in his newest tome, with the white cover. However, I didn't see such a list when I looked again the other night.
    Anyway, there's one encouraging idea to chew over and research for a couple of days. Iwonder if he has written something else you might find on the internet. He has deer problems at his home in Georgia and has observed the damage at arboretums he's visited, especially Mt. Airy. Hence his interest in the subject.

    I think I would be frustrated to the point of tears in your situation.Who knows, with theenvirnomental pressures, I may be in the not so distant future.


  • Marie Tulin

    google Dirr Deer Browsing...orsomething similar....a bunch of you don'tneed his book.

  • Marie Tulin

    Ginny, I found the rest of the list:
    Viburnum x carcephalum minimal browsing on 12-14 ft high ones
    " x " cayuga minimum damage
    " x " Chesapeake No damage on 6' plant
    Eskimo "not eaten"
    V. carlesii slight damage
    Aurora no damage
    v. dilatatum minimal browsing
    v. farreri min. browsing
    v, juddii no damage
    v. lantana "resistant"
    v. lantana 'mohican resistant
    viburnum oneida no damage
    viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum Shasta no feeding

    I cannot add all his text or the entire list which is three times longer than this. However, If it ain't on this list, it was eaten up, even plants that are closely related, such as viburnum plicatum f. plicatum which was eaten up.

    Let us know what you decide.

  • ron48

    Sorry, Ron knows the difference between Forsythia and barberry, yellow flowers no thorns.

    I offered them because a poster said the deer do not eat them.


  • bicoastal

    Nhbabs.. Kumson forsythia is lovely however here in RI I don't find it growing more upright.
    Ginny, That said, my forsythia are all trimmed to a large cascading vase like shape... Narrow and small at the base where I remove under growth and some older tangled growth, and very full and waterfall like ... 6' plus. graceful and a bit wild. But I am in a heavily foliaged forested area nd luckily the Rhody and mountain laurel are not deer destroyed but all the cedars and similar are in horrific shape thanks to their salad bar appeal

  • ginny12

    Hello everyone. I'm sorry to take so long to reply but I was away for a couple of weeks. I returned to find the deer had been eating my daylily collection for the first time ever. I have spent 35 years creating and working in my garden--it is heart-breaking.

    Thank you for all your suggestions. I have heard deer don't like boxwood--I have two 'Newport Blue' they have never touched. However, boxwood is subject to pests, diseases, sunburn and snow-load breakage so they are off the list, regretfully.

    Viburnums are kind of wide for a hedge but I am giving them serious thought, Idabean. I have a 'Shasta'--gorgeous shrub. Maybe one or two more would do the trick, tho they would encroach on my neighbor's property. Thank you too for Dirr's list. My Dirr is well-thumbed but an older edition.

    Cherry laurel is not hardy north of Boston, Rockman, as you surmised, but thanks.

    I knew Ron meant barberry--typo. I'm rethinking bayberry as it spreads considerably it seems.

    This was a great year for forsythia--just beautiful--so I'll have to research the best cultivars out there. Any suggestions welcome.

    You all are the best. Thank you so much and always glad for further thoughts.

  • Marie Tulin

    Glad you caught up with us and my information might be helpful. Honest, I feel great sympathy for you....I think I would weep.

  • flora2b

    Curious as to your solutions Ginny?
    Did I miss anyone suggesting Spirea? I have a bridalwreath that the deer don't touch (S. vanhouttei ), if too big maybe S.Japonica. They just don't like them here and I have succumbed to fences for my edible garden areas.
    I feel your frustration!

  • ginny12

    No solution. Still dithering and still running out the door yelling at deer.

    Did you see they have identified even more diseases associated with deer ticks?

  • ginny12

    I am bumping this thread up as it has so much useful info. I still have not solved my problem. This winter's very deep snow was a help as it buried so many shrubs and the deer could not get through it at my house. But I am spraying now as they are tearing away at anything they can reach.

    I am down to forsythia--the tallest cultivar I can find--or viburnum--tho oddly some are said to be deer-resistant and others not. But I'm still open to suggestions from those with a similar deer problem.

  • Marie Tulin

    not a problem yet but they;ve been seen a half mile away. It is inevitable.

    I hope I don't live here anymore when they arrive. I would be beyond weeping.

  • Jill

    If you have enough moisture, Summersweet (clethra) is a native and deer resistant. It's a little mor natural looking than a traditional hedge, but, it can take a good trim back to shape it. Smells fabulous when in bloom, as well. It's not an evergreen, however.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Here is another university plant list that gives deer resistence of trees and shrubs. Sorry I can't give any first-hand experience.

  • alanc23

    Hi, apparently a lot of people have never dealt with deer. I live at the edge of woods and gets lots of them. Yews in front of my house are attacked every winter plus rhodys. When I first moved in, I planted a pair of blue hollies near the woods. Ha, ha, after 25 years they are now .... 2 feet tall! Yum. A gold-berried blue holly was completely stripped two years in a row until it just quit. However I do have a pair of Pieris Japonica, aka Andromeda maybe "Olympic Fire". They don't get more than a few hours of sun so they haven't grown that much but they have never been touched by deer even though they are at the edge of the woods. The house came with one in front where is is now 9 feet tall.


  • jeannelinks

    Hi Ginny,

    I, too, am figuring out what to plant as a hedge in NYS deer territory. We currently have Russian olive hedge row that becomes totally overgrown, unruly and unsightly. After cutting it way back several times over the past 12 years, we are cutting them all down for good and planting anew.

    Funny, I've narrowed my choices down to forsythia and viburnum, as well. I have one viburnum that has been tasted but never really eaten, and the white flowers in spring are beautifully fragrant. Also, is about 15' tall, now, which is what I'm looking for. However, forsythia is a great go to, and can be maintenance free, which is also what I'm looking for. Availability in the area will help me decide.

    BTW, the only other plants I have on my property are spirea, red barberry, andromeda, bleeding hearts, peonies and daffodils. Everything else eventually becomes deer candy to my local herds - and I mean everything.

    Good luck!


  • Mike Dowling

    I would love a nice privet or yew hedge, but the deer would just destroy it. I keep just two small beds of nice plants I like and use liquid fence, the rest is spruces and green giants which the deer leave alone for the most part.

  • edlincoln

    I believe ron48 was thinking of barberry. Bayberry is a native plant that is known for being a nitrogen fixer, super salt tolerant, and and valuable for wildlife. My parents have some on a cliff. Never known them to be super-aggressive or spread that much. They are semi-evergreen. (ie keep some wilting leaves years you have mild winters) which may be a plus for privacy purposes. They have long lasting blue-green berries. Pleasant scent. Looks somewhat scraggly. None of the ones I've seen at my parent's place got all that tall...three feet maybe? Those were growing on a sandy cliff, though.

    I like bayberry as a choice. Nothing is completely deer resistant. I like the deer netting idea...or build a chain link fence and plant shrubs along it.

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