18 Deer-Resistant Shade Plants to Have in Your Garden

Lenten rose with light pink and yellow flowers on stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Seeing wild deer near your property is a privilege, but if they start browsing on your prized blooms, they can turn from a nicety to a nuisance. If your garden sees little sun, you'll want to select deer-resistant shade plants to enjoy watching Bambi without stressing about them wreaking havoc in your yard.

Be aware that these ruminants are opportunist grazers. So, this means no plants are truly deer-proof. However, some species are much more deer-resistant than others.

Thankfully, if your yard isn't the brightest, there are many deer-resistant bulbs and plants to choose from. We've selected 18 popular shade-loving species to plant in your yard that are rated as rarely damaged or seldom severely damaged by deer.

  • 01 of 18


    Epimedium (barrenwort) close up of the pink blooms

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Epimedium species are clump-forming, drought-tolerant plants that look fantastic in any shade garden. Their bright, nodding little blooms provide a splash of color in early spring, and their foliage has striking red markings. Barrenwort makes an ideal low-maintenance, deer-resistant perennial ground cover for underneath tree canopies in your yard.

    • Name: Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8
    • Flower Color: Red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, white
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained
    • Mature Size: 8-12 in. tall, 12-36 in. wide
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  • 02 of 18

    Bleeding Heart

    Close up of the pink blooms of a bleeding heart plant

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    These shade-loving woodland plants are fast-growing and unique to look at. The bleeding heart plant has heart-shaped flowers that droop from arching stems. The single protruding white petal on each bloom is where they get their common name. These plants thrive in evenly moist soils, promoting a several-week bloom period during the spring.

    • Name: Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower Color: Pink, white, red
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained
    • Mature Size: 1–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide
    Continue to 3 of 18 below.
  • 03 of 18

    Japanese Painted Fern

    A cluster of Japanese painted fern leaves in a garden

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

    Most types of ferns are shade-loving and deer-resistant and one that stands out from the crowd is the Japanese painted fern. This slow-growing species features unique silvery-green arching fronds with purplish variegation midrib. It's an easy species to grow and tolerates deep shade. Just make sure you select a spot with good drainage.

    • Name: Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Soil Needs: Moist but well-drained
    • Mature Size: About 18 in. tall and wide
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  • 04 of 18


    Close up of the pink blooms and speckled foliage of a lungwort plant

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Deer aren't fans of herbaceous perennial lungwort plants. While the tubular-shaped blooms fade quickly, they appear early in the spring, adding much-needed color to your landscape. Plus, the speckled, fuzzy foliage continues to offer interest through the summer and fall.

    These plants don't like to compete with trees for moisture, so they are best reserved for shady spots underneath taller perennials or along the edge of a tall wall or fence.

    • Name: Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Blue, pink, white
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained
    • Mature: 6–12 in. tall, 12–18 in. wide
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  • 05 of 18

    Wild Ginger

    Ground covering wild ginger creeping near a tree trunk

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Unlike the unrelated culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), eating wild ginger is not recommended. Despite this, the plant makes a fantastic deer-resistant addition to any shade garden. The glossy green leaves are the perfect dense, textural ground cover. Just watch out for slugs and snails, as they are attracted to this species.

    • Name: Wild ginger (Asarum Canadense)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-7
    • Flower Color: Red
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich
    • Mature Size: 6 in. tall
    Continue to 6 of 18 below.
  • 06 of 18

    Pig Squeak

    Pink-purple small flowers of the Bergnia amongst the foliage

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    You'd be forgiven for not giving bergenias a chance when you hear their common name. But pig squeaks are attractive deer-resistant, spring-blooming plants. Plus, their attractive foliage turns a rich brown in fall and stays through winter, providing year-round interest in your shade garden. These low-maintenance, clump-forming plants just need rich, moist soil to thrive.

    • Name: Pig squeak (Bergenia cordifolia)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Pink, red, white
    • Soil Needs: Moist, loamy, clay
    • Mature Size: 1-2 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
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  • 07 of 18

    Siberian Bugloss

    Spread of the small blue flowers and lush foliage of Siberian bugloss

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Siberian bugloss stands out for its tiny, vibrant, and long-lasting blue flowers, which appear in spring and last as long as four weeks. The blooms of this slow-growing ground cover resemble those of the also deer-resistant forget-me-not, but Siberian bugloss needs a shady, rather than sunny, spot in your yard.

    • Name: Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Blue
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained
    • Mature Size: 12–18 in. tall, 18–30 in. wide
    Continue to 8 of 18 below.
  • 08 of 18

    Rue Anemone

    Close up of the light pink flowers of the rue anemone

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

    This delicate perennial is perfect for a shady woodland garden. If you can offer the moist, lower light conditions these slow-growing plants love, you will see an abundance of blooms during the spring that deer won't nibble on.

    • Name: Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
    • Flower Color: White, pink
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
    • Mature Size: 6–9 in. tall, 6–9 in. wide
    Continue to 9 of 18 below.
  • 09 of 18


    Close up of the light pink-purple blooms of the astilbe

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    Astilbes are low-maintenance, slow-growing tall perennial plants, ideal for adding to the back of borders that receive dappled shade. The soft pastel shades of the plumes of long-lasting flowers bloom through spring and summer, and the lacy foliage adds contrasting textural interest to your landscape.

    • Name: Astilbes spp.
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Pink, red, purple, white
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist
    • Mature Size: 6-24 in. tall, 6-60 in. wide
    Continue to 10 of 18 below.
  • 10 of 18

    Bog Onion

    Close up of the bloom of the Bog onion

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    The bog onion, also known as Jack-in-the-pulpit, is a slow-growing perennial with a unique, almost tropical appearance. The cylindrical, hooded spathe wraps around a spadix covered in tiny flowers. Flowering from mid-spring, it's only in bloom for a couple of weeks, but the interesting spathe remains attractive into the summer. This plant is easy to grow in moist soils.

    • Name: Bog onion (Arisaema triphyllum)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
    • Flower Color: Greenish-purple
    • Soil Needs: Moist, humusy
    • Mature Size: 1-2 ft. tall, with a similar spread
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  • 11 of 18


    Purple and white blooming corydalis

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Hardy corydalis plants feature spring-appearing, showy flowers that are long bloomers, lasting well into summer. There are many colors, and the delicate foliage contrasts nicely with more structural leaves in the landscape.

    These plants should thrive if you provide moist, well-draining soil. While they cope with a shady environment, they are a bit more sensitive than other plants on this list, and very deep shade can result in leggy growth.

    • Name: Corydalis spp.
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower Color: Various depending on the species
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, moist
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  • 12 of 18

    Japanese Pachysandra

    Close up of the ground cover Japanese pachysandra

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    Plants don't come much tougher than the Japanese pachysandra, and this deer-resistant, shrubby ground cover will grow just about anywhere. It can handle clay soils and full shade and thrives on neglect. So much so that it can outcompete carefully cultivated native plants, and it is classed as invasive in some parts of the U.S.

    • Name: Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, clay
    • Mature Size: 6 in. tall, 12 in. wide
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  • 13 of 18

    Lily of the Valley

    Close up of a group of tiny white-bloomed Lily of the Valley

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Lily of the valley is another hardy ground cover that flourishes in shady environments. Deer aren't drawn to graze on this gradual but persistent spreader, and the delicate, small flowers will fill your yard with a subtle, pleasing fragrance. Don't try the berries of this plant; it is toxic to people and pets.

    • Name: Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: White
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
    • Mature Size: 6–12 in. tall, 9–12 in. wide
    Continue to 14 of 18 below.
  • 14 of 18

    Toad Lily

    Cluster of toad lily purple flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    If you're searching for an exotic-looking shade-lover, the toad lily could be the plant for your landscape. The light purple, speckled flowers on the tall, hairy stems appear in late summer and early fall.

    Plant in a sheltered site to protect the tall, thin plants from strong winds and keep the soil evenly moist to see them thrive. This deer-resistant plant is toxic to cats, just like all members of the Liliaceae family.

    • Name: Toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-8
    • Flower Color: Purple, white
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist but well-drained
    • Mature Size: 2-3 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
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  • 15 of 18


    Cluster of pink-bloomed foamflowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Pretty North American native foamflowers are spring-blooming plants that need very little attention to thrive in shady spots in your yard. The main thing is to keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Deer aren't likely to show interest in the mounds of foliage, and the informal blooms have a frothy texture.

    • Name: Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: White, pink
    • Soil Needs: Loamy
    • Mature Size: 1-3 ft. tall, 6-12 in. wide
    Continue to 16 of 18 below.
  • 16 of 18


    Close up of the light yellow flowers of a primrose plant

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    There are hundreds of shade-loving primrose species to choose from, and you don't have to worry about deer nibbling on the low-lying rosettes of foliage or the pretty clusters of flowers.

    Some species do better in partial shade, so if you have a very shady spot, select something like full shade-loving Primula vulgaris to see it thrive. These aren't the plants for your yard if you have pets that are partial to grazing on foliage; primroses are toxic to people and pets.

    • Name: Primrose (Primula spp.)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Red, pink, orange, yellow, blue, purple, white
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained
    • Mature Size: 6–20 in. tall, 8–20 in. wide
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  • 17 of 18


    Close up of the purple flower of the spiderwort plant

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    There's a reason spiderworts are such popular landscape plants. The many deer-resistant species are incredibly adaptable. They can grow in most light conditions, including full shade—although you might not get so many blooms—and are happy in most soils as long as they are evenly moist.

    The blooms might only last a day, but the plants are attractive to pollinators, and new flowers appear throughout spring and summer.

    • Name: Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-12
    • Flower Color: Blue, purple, pink
    • Soil Needs: Moist but well-drained
    • Mature Size: 1–3 ft. tall, 1–1.5 ft. wide
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  • 18 of 18

    Lenten Rose

    Close up of the delicate light flowers of the Lenten rose

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    The lenten rose is part of the buttercup rather than the rose family, but the small flowers are no less beautiful. A slow-growing Helleborus orientalis hybrid cross, this early spring blooming plant is rarely bothered by deer. With a long flowering period of up to 10 weeks, these plants thrive in a shady, evenly moist spot.

    This might not be the best choice if you have pets that are partial to a nibble on your plants as the lenten rose is toxic to people and pets.

    • Name: Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9
    • Flower color: White to pink to light rose-purple
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained, loamy
    • Mature Size: 12 to 18 in. tall and wide
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Landscape plants rated by deer resistance. New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

  2. Wild ginger. U.S. Forest Service.

  3. Japanese Pachysandra. Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States.

  4. Lily of the Valley. Colorado State University Guide to Poisonous Plants.

  5. Lily. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

  6. Primula obconica. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

  7. Lenten rose. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Horticulture, Landscape, and Environmental Systems.