Hitlon Head Island is home to a unique sub-species of white-tailed deer known for thriving in suburban environments.
Looking for deer proof plants in zone 8?
Wondering what plants the deer don’t eat in the South?
Need deer resistant perennials in South Carolina?
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Ask any Lowcountry homeowner if they’ve had problems with deer, and you’re likely to be met with a hearty chuckle and an eye-roll, or maybe even a choice expletive or two. You’ve tried fences. You’ve tried repellents. It just doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems like as soon as your plants are established, deer arrive right on schedule to nibble them down to the roots. It’s frustrating, we know.
But there’s hope. If you can’t get rid of the deer, maybe it’s time to plant something they don’t want to eat. Sure, you’ve probably already read other blogs that list the same old plants, and planted them only to get the same old results. We’re here to tell you there are better options out there, including deer resistant plants of every size and shape, that will thrive under a wide range of conditions.
Finding landscape plants that deer won’t chew on isn’t easy, but South Carolina gardeners actually have some great options to choose from. And while no plant is 100% deer-proof (they’ll eat just about anything if they’re hungry enough) these deer resistant plants for Lowcountry landscapes will at least give your lawn and garden a fighting chance.
Deer Resistant Trees
Full Sun – Ginkgo
Ginkgo trees thrive anywhere between USDA Zones 4 and 9, and can survive under an extreme range of conditions. They like it hot, cold and anywhere in between, and have been known to thrive just as well in parking lot islands and along highway berms as they do in pristine parks and lawns.
The only real constant is that they need full sun. Ginkgo trees don’t grow very well in the shade, but give them a sunny spot and they can stretch up to 60 feet tall, with a 30-foot spread. They make great shade trees, and deer find their beautiful, fan-shaped leaves unpalatable.
Part Sun – Pond Cypress
Pond Cypress is a deciduous conifer that grows everywhere from Louisiana to Southern Virginia, and is right at home along the coastal Carolinas. Deer steer clear of its bitter, spiky foliage. Also known as Southern bald cypress, this tree likes a mix of sun and shade (though it will also tolerate full sun) and reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet.
Pond cypress can live in a wide range of soil types, including clay, loam and sandy soils. Plant it in moist soil if possible, but avoid sites that are seasonally flooded.
Shade – Windmill Palm
Windmill palm is a hardy evergreen palm tree that thrives in Zones 7B-11. It prefers a shady site, though it will tolerate more sun in slightly cooler climates. Some sheltering is also a good idea to avoid excessive leaf shedding in the wind. The 3-foot long fan-shaped leaves of the windmill palm are just about as close as it gets to inedible for deer, and it makes a great specimen or accent tree in coastal landscapes.
Windmill palm is capable of reaching heights up to 40 feet, but usually stays in the 10- to 20-foot range. Plant it in a site with fertile, well-drained soil, and be sure to maintain a routine watering schedule, at least until well established.
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Deer Resistant Shrubs
Full Sun – Sweet Pepperbush
Also known as summersweet, the sweet pepperbush is a great option for Lowcountry gardeners. It thrives in Zones 3-9, loves full sun, and typically grows to about 6 feet tall.
Sweet pepperbush is native to the Eastern United States from Florida all the way up to New England, and is a great attractor of birds, butterflies and honeybees, while deer tend to leave it alone. Beautiful, spike-like clusters of small white flowers burst forth every summer, making sweet pepperbush a great addition to any landscape.
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Part Sun – Beautyberry
Beautyberry is a native woodland plant that more than lives up to its name, producing abundant clusters of vibrant purple or pale white berries every year. It’s a compact shrub, usually reaching 3 to 5 feet, and adds a great ornamental touch to any deer resistant landscape.
Loose, fertile, well-drained soil and partial shade are ideal, but beautyberry can also tolerate full sun as long as it gets plenty of water. Beautyberry can grow just about anywhere in Zones 4-11, making it perfect for Lowcountry landscaping.
Shade – Dwarf Palmetto
There may be no plant more synonymous with South Carolina than the palmetto. It’s on our state flag for goodness sake! But our favorite tree also comes in a dwarf variety, which tops out at round 5 feet tall and is perfect for backyard landscaping.
Dwarf palmetto thrives in sun or shade, and deer shy away from its tough fronds, making it ideal for parts of the South with deer problems. It will grow anywhere from Zone 7 to 11, and will survive the occasional winter cold snap.
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Deer Resistant Perennials
Full Sun – Butterfly Weed
Calling butterfly weed a “weed” really does it a disservice. This native Southeastern perennial breaks out in showy orange flowers throughout the summer, and looks great along fences and front porches. Butterfly weed is closely related to milkweed, and is equally disliked by deer (but true to its name, butterflies absolutely love it).
It’s only firm requirement is that it needs full sun to bloom. Other than that, butterfly bush can tolerate a wide range of less than ideal conditions—clay soil, rocky soil, heat, drought—anywhere in Zones 3-9.
Part Sun – Bear’s Breeches
A flowering perennial that hails from the Mediterranean region and southern Europe, bear’s breeches are well adapted to Southern coastal climates in the United States. Deer avoid its prickly leaves, and bear’s breeches do well anywhere from full sun to partial shade.
Plant it in rich, well-drained soil in Zones 6-10. Bear’s breeches always wows gardeners with its upright stalks of showy blossoms, which appear every year in late spring to mid-summer and can be up to 6 feet tall.
Shade – Epimedium
Epimedium goes by many names—barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed—and is hailed for its medicinal qualities as well as its delicate flowers and showy spade-shaped leaves. This plant grows low to the ground, and thrives in shady spots. Many species of Epimedium are available, so be sure to choose one that is well adapted to our climate.
They’re generally tolerant of a wide range of conditions in Zones 5-9, but some like it a little cooler than others. One of the most commonly grown in our neck of the woods is Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ which has yellow flowers and evergreen leaves that deer tend to shy away from.
Deer Resistant Annuals
Full Sun – Flowering Tobacco
Closely related to ‘true’ tobacco, flowering tobacco is prized for its aromatic, trumpet-shaped blossoms. Most varieties reach a height of about 18 inches, though some can get much bigger.
Flowering tobacco needs a lot of sunlight to reach its full potential, and thrives best in warm, rich, well-drained soil. It’s a great addition to Southern flower beds, and even does well in planters or hanging baskets. Flowering tobacco is a perennial in Zones 10-11, but is more commonly grown as an annual in Zones 8-9.
Part Sun – Nasturtium
With its vibrant flowers and distinctive round, shield-shaped leaves, nasturtium is as beloved by gardeners as it is disliked by deer. The flowers are funnel-shaped and typically orange or yellow, though there are many varieties of nasturtium with a wide range of colors.
They like a mix of sun and shade, and there are round, bushy varieties as well as climbing and trailing varieties that are great for planting along fences and garden walls. It’s possible to grow some varieties of nasturtium as perennials in Zones 9-11, but they’re almost always grown as annuals.
Shade – Wishbone Flower
Torenia, more commonly known as wishbone flower, is a showy annual that produces an abundance of purple, yellow and white blossoms from spring right through fall. Wishbone flower is deer-resistant, but is a favorite of bumblebees and hummingbirds, so they’ll definitely keep your flower beds buzzing with activity.
It’s possible to grow wishbone flower as a perennial in hot climates, but they won’t survive a frost. Wishbone flower is right at home in a shady spot, and prefers loamy, well-drained soil.