As with other types of plants (shrubs, perennials, etc.) used in Bambi-busting, "deer-resistant trees" is something of a misnomer. Few trees (especially young ones) will keep a desperate Bambi at arm's length (or should I say, "at branch's length"?). I am not so different in this regard, myself: I am not a broccoli fan and would certainly order another vegetable at a restaurant when given the choice, but if I were starving, I would bite the bullet and chow down on some broccoli.
So if you are a stickler for linguistic detail, feel free to re-title this article (in your mind) as "Trees That Are Not Deer's First Picks to Eat, When Given a Choice." Although accurate, that sounds awkward, which is why "deer-resistant trees" works just fine, as long as we have an understanding of its limitations. I break up the list that follows into three separate lists, according to how the selected trees are used in landscaping (what they are primarily valued for, if you will):
- Flowering trees
- Shade and/or fall-foliage trees
- Evergreen Trees
Flowering Trees That Bambi Disdains
- The Aesculus genus is known to be relatively deer-resistant. A good example is Aesculus parviflora, the red buckeye tree. The red chestnut tree (Aesculus x carnea), is a cross between that buckeye and Aesculus hippocastanum. The latter is known to have toxic properties, which may account for why deer tend not to eat this plant. Also note that these are not true chestnut trees (that is, they do not belong to the Castanea genus; they are considered "horsechestnuts").
- Amelanchier laevis 'Snowcloud' is a nice choice as a serviceberry to employ in your landscaping.
- Although mimosa or "silk" trees (Albizia julibrissin) are deer-resistant, they are not a good choice for landscaping in North America, where they are invasive plants.
- The thorns implied in hawthorn's name may help deter deer from eating it.
Deer-Resistant Shade Trees and/or Fall-Foliage Specimens
- Sunburst honeylocust boasts a number of other great qualities, in addition to being relatively Bambi-proof. The fact that it may be better suited to low-maintenance landscaping than any other deciduous specimen perhaps heads the list of those wonderful qualities, although its colorful spring-foliage display is right up there, too.
- While Sunburst honeylocust is better known for its spring foliage, tulip trees, many of the birches, and, of course, the maples are famous for their fall foliage.
Evergreen Trees Deer Tend Not to Eat
- American holly trees are examples of broadleaf evergreens. The other evergreens on my list of deer-resistant trees bear needles.
Be aware that there are many factors that influence whether -- when push comes to shove -- the trees listed above prove to be truly deer-resistant. I have already mentioned that how hungry the deer are and what other food choices they have are two such factors, along with the age (size) of the plant. But regional differences also come into play. Nor can you dismiss the factor of unpredictability in this garden pest's browsing habits.
This last factor (blind chance) may be the most frustrating of all. If you do not want to take the risk, you have the option of installing some type of deer fencing.
If you decide against fencing, consult my deer-resistant plants index to access my lists of other types of plants (ornamental grasses, groundcovers, etc.) that Bambi tends to eat less than others.