20 Deer-Resistant Shade Plants Perfect for Most Yards

Written by Kimberly Magerl
Updated: October 2, 2023
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Shade plants contribute to a cooler microclimate in your garden, reducing weeds and offering privacy. Unfortunately, cultivating a lush shade garden comes with challenges, especially if deers visit your yard frequently. These lithe animals love to make a buffet out of leafy garden plants. Luckily, many deer-resistant varieties exist to deter furry visitors. Discover twenty deer-resistant shade plants perfect for most yards, offering a diverse range of colors, textures, and sizes to create your shady retreat free from Bambi’s cousins.

1. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)

Shade-loving Astilbe is a genus of perennial plants known for their fern-like foliage and towering feathery flowers. Its bright green leaves divide into small leaflets, giving them their fern-like appearance. Further, tall, feathery plumes of creamy white, pink, or red flowers bloom in late spring through early summer.

Astilbe loves shady garden areas and woodland settings. It thrives in partial shade and moist, well-draining soil. Find specimens along streams and near forest edges. The perennial tolerates moist to wet soil and is incredibly deer-resistant.

Specimens have a bitter taste and texture that deer and other wildlife avoid. Astilbe grows up to 6 feet tall. Plant specimens in containers as part of a shaded border to add a vertical element to your garden or along stream banks for erosion prevention.  

Astilbe variety Montgomery, Kvele, Mont Blanc
Astilbe

is an herbaceous perennial with large feathery blooms from April through July.

©Tanya_Terekhina/Shutterstock.com

2. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

Bleeding heart is a popular perennial plant thanks to its unique heart-shaped flowers and fern-like foliage. Specimens feature soft, fern-shaped leaves and pendulous pink flowers. Blooms dangle from long, arching stems and resemble lockets. The perennial reaches heights up to 2 feet and thrives in full shade, blooming from spring into late summer.

Showy specimens prefer rich, well-draining soils and moisture but do not tolerate overly wet soils. Bleeding heart is deer-resistant and makes a great focal point for any shade garden or border. Plant specimens as part of a rock garden, ground cover, or underplanting. The clumping plant has no serious pest or disease issues, but expect bleeding heart to go dormant in the late summer until spring. 

bleeding heart

Bleeding heart grows around the world and is fire-resistant.

©iStock.com/Oksana Akhtanina

3. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Bugleweed, also known as black scallop, is a low-growing perennial and a member of the mint family. Known for its rounded, deep burgundy foliage and spikes of fragrant purple flowers, the spreading plant reaches heights up to 6 inches tall. It thrives in woodland settings and adds interest to garden beds, providing bursts of spring colors. 

Bugleweed blooms from spring into early summer and prefers partial to full shade. The creeping perennial thrives in most soil types and moisture levels. It is deer-resistant thanks to its aromatic foliage. Plant black scallops as ground cover in your shade garden where grass struggles to grow. 

bugleweed

Bugleweed grows quickly as an effective ground cover for erosion control.

©iStock.com/Albin Raj

4. Coral Bells (Heuchera)

The ruffled, amber leaves of coral bells or amber waves add a striking personality to any shade garden. The compact perennial reaches up to 12 inches tall, sporting large, lobed gold leaves. Specimens produce slender flower stalks topped with tiny flowers in late spring to early summer. 

Evergreen foliage adds year-round interest, and specimens thrive in partial to full shade and well-draining soils. They love consistent moisture and are deer-resistant. Plant the ornamental evergreen along borders or in containers. They grow well alongside other shade-loving perennials for a dynamic effect in your garden. 

Colorful caramel heuchera in spring garden

Early American explorers exported coral bells to Europe in the 1600s.

©DGSHUT/Shutterstock.com

5. Crested Surf (Athyrium niponicum)

Gardeners value crested surf, or Japanese-painted fern, for its striking silvery fronds with purple accents. Finely textured leaves with deep purple veins grow along arching branches, reaching heights up to 18 inches. The lady fern loves full shade and thrives in most soils with consistent moisture.

Crested surf is deer-resistant because of its textured fronds. Plant specimens along borders, in containers, and alongside other shade-loving plants. It requires regular water and mulch to retain soil moisture. Remove faded or damaged fronds in the late winter to rejuvenate the plant’s appearance for spring. 

Crested surf has finely textured leaves with deep purple veins growing along arching branches.

©Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

6. Fumewort (Corydalis spp.)

Fumeworts are a family of flowering perennials with fern-like foliage and tubular flowers. They grow in temperate regions across the United States, sporting divided, feathery foliage and pink, purple, blue, yellow, or white tubular flowers that dangle from delicate stems. Fumeworts grow up to 12 inches tall and tolerate heat and humidity. 

The low-growing, spreading perennial forms attractive mats. Low-maintenance specimens prefer full shade and well-draining, moist soils. Their unique foliage texture makes them unappealing to most wildlife, including deer. 

Fumewort is ‌disease and pest-free, but watch out for slugs and snails. Plant the hardy perennial along stream banks, as ground cover, or in beds as feathery filler plants for a change in texture. 

Beatiful blossoming golden smoke flowers (corydalis aurea) on a bright sunny day with vintage tone.
Corydalis

means crested lark in Latin.

©Artem Zarubin/Shutterstock.com

7. Foamflower (Tiarella spp.)

Foamflower is a genus of plants featuring resilient perennials with a delicate appearance. They thrive in shaded environments, showcasing star-shaped, foam-like flower spikes with white, pink, or light purple blooms from spring to early summer. Dark green foliage adds texture to the perennial’s appearance.

Foamflowers are deer-resistant but attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your shade garden. They thrive in full shade and rich, well-draining soils. Plant specimens along borders or in garden beds for an interesting contrast. The low-growing, small plant reaches up to 12 inches tall and is a great candidate for understory coverage. 

Heartleaf foamflower
Tiarella

means little tiara and refers to the shape of the seed capsule.

©iStock.com/yujie chen

8. Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

Hakone grass, also known as Japanese forest grass, is a variegated grass with graceful arching blades. The ornamental perennial creates a sense of movement in shade gardens, reaching up to 2 feet tall. Cultivars produce bright green striped blades and grow in dense, mounding clumps. 

Hakone grass adds texture and grows best in well-draining soil with consistent moisture. It is deer-resistant and complements other shade-loving plants. Grow this ornamental grass as an accent or border plant. Trim specimens in the late winter or early spring to refresh their appearance.

Hakonechloa macra, an cultural decorative cereal in a cultivated garden

Hakone grass is one of the few species of grasses that thrives in shade.

©oroch/Shutterstock.com

9. Hellebore (Helleborus spp.)

Hellebore, or lenten rose, is another genus of shade-loving perennial plants prized for their early spring blooms. These evergreen perennials bloom cup-shaped flowers in shades that range from white and pink to deep purple. They boast leathery and glossy dark green leaves that provide year-round visual interest.  

Hellebore is toxic and deer-resistant, making it a brilliant choice for shade gardens. Specimens reach heights up to 2 feet and grow well in rich, well-draining soil but tolerate most soil types. Plant these attractive perennials as companions to other shade-loving plants and in beds and borders.

Hellebore is toxic and deer-resistant, making it a brilliant choice for shade gardens.

©Simon Barnes / Helleborus orientalis / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

10. Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)

Jacob’s ladder, or bambino blue, is a showy perennial known for its unique ladder-like arrangement of leaflets along its stems. It thrives in shaded areas, growing to heights up to 2 feet. Jacob’s ladder blooms small blue, pink, or white flowers in the spring, and its bright green foliage adds a unique texture to any garden.

Deer avoids Jacob’s ladder thanks to its unappealing texture and fragrance. It grows best in well-draining soils with consistent moisture and full shade. Plant Jacob’s ladder along borders, in garden beds, and alongside other shade-loving perennials. The low-maintenance perennial requires very little pruning. 

Jacob's ladder

Jacob’s ladder is an ephemeral spring wildflower that opens and closes its petals morning and night.

©Alex Kinval/Shutterstock.com

11. Leopard Plant (Ligularia dentata)

The shade-loving leopard plant is a showy perennial. It produces large, bright yellow flowers and large, rounded leaves with distinct spots or markings resembling a leopard’s coat. The late-bloomer reaches up to 3 feet with tall spikes of showy flower clusters. 

Leopard plant grows best in partial to full shade and well-draining soil. It is deer and wildlife-resistant but attracts many native pollinators to your garden. Plant specimens in containers, beds, and borders alongside mulch and other shade-loving perennials. Leopard plant is self-seeding with a spreading growth habit. Remove dead or dried flowers during their blooming season to prevent encroachment.

Leopard plant is deer and wildlife-resistant but attracts many native pollinators to your garden.

©Pieter Pelser, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

12. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the valley is a sweet-smelling, fragrant perennial. It is a classic choice for any shade garden, producing glossy, lance-shaped leaves in dense clumps and small, bell-shaped flowers from late spring to early summer. Blooms are typically white; specimens grow best in partial to full shade and rich soils. 

Lily of the valley requires consistent moisture but is deer-resistant thanks to its fragrance. Plant the showy perennial as ground cover or understory additions. Specimens form dense mats, reaching heights of around 8 inches. Provide a layer of mulch to keep moisture, but keep in mind that Lily of the Valley is toxic to dogs and cats.  

lily of the valley

The Lily of the valley is not actually a lily, and its foliage produces green dye.

©Agnes Kantaruk/Shutterstock.com

13. Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Lungwort is a group of perennial plants with showy flowers and unique foliage. They produce spotted sleeves with splashy silver markings and contrast. Leaves vary from oval to lance-shaped. Lungworts produce blooms in early spring to summer in clusters of tubular flowers varying in shade of blue, pink, purple, or white. 

Lungwort prefers full shade and well-draining soils with high organic matter. They are not drought-tolerant, but they are deer-resistant because of their taste and texture. Specimens have a clumping growth habit, reaching up to 12 inches, and are semi-evergreen. They attract pollinators and make perfect additions to banks, slopes, beds, borders, rock gardens, and ground cover where grass struggles to grow.

lungwort

The silver spots on lungwort’s leaves are the result of air pockets used for cooling the surface.

©weha/Shutterstock.com

14. Monkshood (Aconitum)

Monkshood is a genus of erect perennials known for their tall flower spikes and hooded blooms. They have a unique appearance and add vertical interest to shade gardens. However, they are highly toxic to humans and animals, like dogs and cats. 

The hooded flowers vary in shades of blues, purples, or whites, while the foliage offers texture. Monkshood prefers full shade and rich soils with consistent moisture. Its toxicity makes it deer- and wildlife-resistant. Plant the showy, towering perennial in beds. Cut specimens make excellent additions to floral arrangements. 

aconitum napellus

All parts of monkshood are extremely poisonous.

©iStock.com/LianeM

15. Pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia)

Pigsqueak, or heartleaf bergenia, is a hardy perennial native to Asia. Specimens boast large, heart-shaped evergreen foliage with a glossy appearance. Its green foliage transforms into shades of red and bronze in the cool fall weather. Pigsqueak blooms upright clusters of pink or white bell-shaped flowers in early to mid-spring atop thick stems.

Heartleaf bergenia thrives in shady areas and adapts to most soil types. It prefers well-draining soil that retains moisture. However, specimens are drought-tolerant once established, and with their ability to withstand freezing temperatures, they’re cold-hardy.

The ornamental evergreen is deer- and rabbit-resistant thanks to its leathery foliage. Plant the versatile perennial as ground cover, edging, or as an accent addition in beds and borders. Pigsqueak’s evergreen foliage provides year-round interest, while its colorful clusters of flowers add a pop of color to your garden every spring. 

Close up of a blooming pink heart-leaved bergenia cordifolia or badan plant with flowers in the spring

Pigsqueak earned its name from large leaves that make a pig-like noise when rubbed together.

©Elena Terletskaya/Shutterstock.com

16. Spider Lily (Tradescantia)

Often known as concord grape or spider lily, these clumping perennials feature narrow, lance-shaped leaves and bloom from early to midsummer. They grow up to 2 feet tall, producing clusters of three-petalled purple flowers that open in the morning and close in the afternoon. 

Spider lilies love full shade and grow well in most soil types. They tolerate brief dry spells and are deer-resistant thanks to an unappealing texture and taste. Plant the low-maintenance, self-cleaning perennial in beds, borders, or containers. The spider lily does not require deadheading and tolerates high salinity, making it a great choice for coastal areas. 

macro closeup of pink purple bell flowers of Crinum powellii grand spider lily bulb plant from Amaryllis family against green background in the garden

Some cultures believe the bright colors of spider lilies lead souls into the afterlife.

©Natalia van D/Shutterstock.com

17. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Sweet woodruff is an attractive ground cover and matting perennial. It produces whorled, lance-shaped leaves with a vibrant green color and sweet fragrance. Clusters of small, star-shaped white flowers bloom from late spring into early summer.

Sweet woodruff prefers full shade and moist soil types and does not tolerate dry periods. Plant specimens as dense ground covers, along edges, or as understory companions. Many homeowners use the dried leaves of sweet woodruff in sachets and potpourris. 

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) with flowers

Sachets of sweet woodruff protect linen closets from moth damage.

©iStock.com/emer1940

18. Toad Lily (Tricyrtis)

Commonly known as blue wonder or toad lily, this genus of perennial shade plant blooms orchid-like flowers with unique markings from late summer into fall. The late-season bloomer produces small, speckled flowers in various colors like white, pink, purple, or blue and lance-shaped deep green leaves.  

Toad lilies tolerate most soil types and consistent moisture. They are not drought-tolerant. However, they are deer-resistant because of their texture and taste. Plant toad lilies in borders and beds where mulch is present. Finally, remove faded or dried flowers to encourage new blooms during the late summer and fall seasons. 

Hairy toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta), a variety with spotted pink petals

Toad lily blooms resemble the spotted skin of toads.

©Lancan/Shutterstock.com

19. Virginian Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

This early spring bloomer is a compact and herbaceous perennial that reaches up to 2 feet tall. It produces bell-shaped, light purple flowers that droop from slender stems. The foliage is smooth, with a gray-green appearance and an elongated oval shape. 

Virginian bluebell’s foliage is unappealing to deer and other wildlife, while its blooms attract native pollinators to your garden. Specimens thrive in full shade and consistent moisture. They prefer well-draining soil and suffer in waterlogged areas. Plant the low-maintenance perennial around shrubs, trees, and garden beds. 

Wild Virginia Bluebells growing in the forest.

Virginian bluebells are often called fairy flowers.

©iStock.com/Joshua Moore

20. Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

This spring-blooming dwarf perennial is a member of the buttercup family. Wood anemones produce clusters of white or pink star-shaped flowers among deeply lobed, dark green leaves. Specimens have a creeping growth habit that forms dense carpets of ground cover in shaded areas.

Wood anemones thrive in partial to full shade and well-draining soil. They are low-maintenance and deer-resistant, thanks to toxic compounds. Plant wood anemones under trees, along pathways, and in shaded rock gardens.

Spring forest and beautiful , white anemones. Anemone nemorosa

The Romans considered wood anemones a lucky charm.

©Mariola Anna S/Shutterstock.com

Summary of Deer-Resistant Shade Plants Perfect for Most Yards

NumberNameSeason of Interest
1AstilbeMid-spring to summer
2Bleeding HeartLate spring to summer
3BugleweedLate spring to early summer
4Coral BellsEarly spring to fall
5Crested SurfMid-spring to fall
6FumewortEarly summer to fall
7FoamflowerMid-spring to fall
8Hakone GrassMid-spring to fall
9HelleboreSpring
10Jacob’s LadderSpring
11Leopard PlantSummer to fall
12Lily of the ValleySpring
13LungwortLate spring to summer
14MonkshoodSummer
15PigsqueakSpring to winter
16Spider LilySummer
17Sweet WoodruffSpring to summer
18Toad LilySummer to fall
19Virginia BluebellsEarly to mid-spring
20Wood AnemoneSpring

The photo featured at the top of this post is © 191906213/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kimberly Magerl is a content writer and data analyst specializing in lawn and garden, home improvement, roofing, and solar technologies. She enjoys growing fruits and vegetables in her garden, getting outdoors, and putting her toes in the sand. A resident of Texas, when she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.

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