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Deer Resistant Conifers And Evergreens

A family of deer wandering through your property is picturesque, but when they stop and browse your prized plantings, it’s not a pretty sight. Through the spring and summer, deer can be selective and nip off the tender new growth of their favorite plants. But come winter, your conifers and other plantings are at risk of real damage by hungry deer, depending on the amount of snow there is. In winters with only a light snow cover, more foliage is available to them and they will eat the trees and shrubs that they find most palatable. In winters with a lot of snow, however, there is less foliage available to them, and they will browse whatever they can reach — even the less palatable conifers that they would normally avoid. They’re hungry, and unfortunately, any of your plantings can be decimated.

The best thing to do is to choose conifers that deer aren’t fond of. That way, your plantings will be safe most of the year. Luckily, there are species of conifers that have good to excellent deer resistance. Plants that have a strong fragrance, or those with fuzzy or stiff, prickly foliage are usually the ones they avoid. As a bonus, it’s possible to choose beautiful conifers that are partially shade tolerant in addition to being less attractive to deer. The ubiquitous Yew bushes and Arborvitae cultivars seen everywhere in landscapes are deer candy, especially in the winter, but there are excellent evergreen alternatives that you can choose from. Here are some suggestions of conifer varieties that do well in sun to partial shade that are also deer resistant.

Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ (Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir) – This is a compact, slow-growing fir that is wider than it is tall. It has soft green foliage in the spring and summer that changes to yellow-gold in the winter. It is excellent for the shade and has good deer resistance.

Abies nordmanniana Golden Spreader evergreen conifer gold
Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’ (Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir)

Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree) – This is a conifer for warmer climates, with short, pointed green leaves in whorls around the branches. Its tipped-up branching pattern gives it an unusual silhouette, making it a great accent tree. Monkey Puzzle has good deer resistance, and grows well in sun to partial shade.

 Araucaria araucana evergreen spikey pyramidal
Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree)

Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’ (Korean Gold Japanese Plum Yew) – Cephalotaxus has an upright habit and is an excellent alternative to Yew as a hedge and for privacy screening. Korean Gold is deer resistant, shade tolerant, and displays colorful golden needles on its branch tips.

Cephalotaxus harringtonia Korean Gold evergreen needles
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’ (Korean Gold Japanese Plum Yew)

Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Glauca Pendula’ (Blue Weeping Alaskan Cypress) – This slender, graceful tree has blue-green, weeping branches with excellent deer resistance. It can grow in sun, partial shade, and full shade, and is stunning as a landscape specimen or in informal groupings.

Cupressus nootkatensis Glauca Pendula evergreen weeping
Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Glauca Pendula’ (Blue Weeping Alaskan Cypress)

Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Sparkling Arrow’ – This is a slender, weeping tree with splashes of creamy white variegation, perfect for a narrow space. It is highly deer resistant and can grow well in sun, partial shade, and shade.

Cupressus nootkatensis Sparkling Arrow variegated evergreen weeping
Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Sparkling Arrow’

Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’ (Taylor Eastern Red-Cedar) – This is an upright, narrowly columnar Juniper, with emerald green foliage that is an excellent entrance tree down a driveway, or as a tall screen or windbreak. It is quite cold hardy, has good deer resistance, and does well in sun and partial shade.

Juniperus virginiana Taylor green evergreen
Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’

Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’ – This stunning, narrowly upright tree with blue-green foliage is an excellent cold weather alternative to the Italian Cypress. Similar to the Taylor Eastern Red-Cedar, it is effective as an entrance tree, screen or windbreak. It has good deer resistance and can grow in sun to partial sun.

Juniperus scopulorum Blue Arrow evergreen blue
Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’

Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ – Skylands is a colorful spruce with good deer resistance that does well in sun, partial shade, and shade. The exterior foliage is golden, contrasting with the dark green interior foliage. Red pollen cones and seed cones add additional spots of color to this beautiful tree.

Picea orientalis Skylands evergreen gold conifer
Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’

Picea orientalis ‘Silver Seedling’ – This dwarf spruce is excellent in shade and partial shade, and has good deer resistance. The upper surfaces of the branch tips are silver-white, making this a standout tree to brighten up a dark corner or as an understory evergreen.

Picea orientalis Silver Seedling silver evergreen conifer
Picea orientalis ‘Silver Seedling’

Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ (Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine) – This is a dense, compact tree with dark green needles and silver candles on the end of each branch tip in the spring. It has excellent deer resistance, and can be grown in sun or partial shade.

Pinus thunbergii Thunderhead evergreen green conifer
Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ (Thunderhead Japanese Black Pine)

Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese Umbrella Pine) – This long-needled, soft, graceful tree makes an unusual addition as an accent, or for rock gardens and even bonsai. It is great for shade and partial shade, and has good deer resistance.

Sciadopitys verticillata evergreen pyramidal needles
Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese Umbrella Pine)

Thuja x ‘Green Giant’ (Green Giant Arborvitae) – Green Giant is a hybrid and a great alternative choice to the more abundant cultivars of Arborvitae used in landscaping. It has superior deer resistance and is more shade tolerant than the Emerald Green and DeGroots Spire varieties. Green Giant is vigorous, fast-growing, and makes an excellent screen, windbreak, or hedge.

Thuja occidentalis Green Giant Arborvitae evergreen conifer
Japanese Garden in Berlin-Marzahn: Path with pavement from pebble stones is leading alongside a hedge of Eastern Arbovitae (Thuja occidentalis)

Here are a number of conifers according to deer resistance and shade tolerance.

Latin NameCommon NameHardiness ZonesDeer ResistanceSunPart ShadeShade
Cedrus deodaraDeodar Cedar7 to 9ExcellentXXNo
Cryptomeria japonicaJapanese Cedar5 to 8ExcellentXXNo
Cupressocyparis leylandiiLeyland Cypress6 to 10ExcellentXXNo
Cupressus nootkatensisNootka Cypress4 to 8ExcellentXXX
Cupressus sempervirensItalian Cypress7 to 10ExcellentXNoNo
Juniperus sabinaSavin Juniper3 to 7ExcellentXNoNo
Microbiota decussataSiberian Cypress2 to 7ExcellentXXX
Pinus resinosaRed Pine3 to 7ExcellentXNoNo
Pinus rigidaPitch Pine4 to 7ExcellentXNoNo
Pinus thunbergiiJapanese Black Pine5 to 8ExcellentXXNo
Sequoia sempervirensCoast Redwood7 to 9ExcellentXXNo
Sequoiadendron giganteumGiant Sequoia6 to 8ExcellentXXNo
Abies balsameaBalsam Fir3 to 6GoodXXNo
Abies koreanaKorean Fir5 to 7GoodXXNo
Abies nordmannianaNordmann Fir4 to 6GoodXXNo
Abies pinsapoSpanish Fir6 to 7GoodXXNo
Araucaria araucanaMonkey Puzzle Tree7 to 11GoodXXNo
Cephalotaxus harringtoniaJapanese Plum Yew6 to 9GoodXXNo
Chamaecyparis pisiferaJapanese False Cypress4 to 8GoodXXX
Cryptomeria japonicaJapanese Cedar5 to 9GoodXXNo
Juniperus chinensisChinese Juniper4 to 9GoodXNoNo
Juniperus communisCommon Juniper2 to 8GoodXNoNo
Juniperus confertaShore Juniper6 to 9GoodXNoNo
Juniperus horizontalisCreeping Juniper2 to 8GoodXNoNo
Juniperus procumbensJapanese Garden Juniper4 to 9GoodXNoNo
Juniperus scopulorumMountain Juniper3 to 9GoodXXNo
Juniperus squamataSingleseed Juniper4 to 8GoodXNoNo
Juniperus virginianaEastern Red-Cedar2 to 9GoodXXNo
Larix laricinaTamarack2 to 5GoodXNoNo
Metasequoia glyptostroboidesDawn Redwood5 to 8GoodXXNo
Picea abiesNorway Spruce2 to 7GoodXXNo
Picea glaucaWhite Spruce2 to 7GoodXXNo
Picea omorikaSerbian Spruce4 to 7GoodXXNo
Picea orientalisOriental Spruce4 to 7GoodXXX
Picea pungensColorado Blue Spruce2 to 7GoodXNoNo
Pinus banksianaJack Pine2 to 6GoodXNoNo
Pinus bungeanaLacebark Pine4 to 8GoodXXNo
Pinus cembraSwiss Stone Pine, Arolla Pine3 to 7GoodXXNo
Pinus densifloraJapanese Red Pine4 to 7GoodXXNo
Pinus heldreichiiBosnian Pine4 to 8GoodXNoNo
Pinus mugoMugo Pine3 to 7GoodXXNo
Pinus nigraAustrian Pine4 to 7GoodXNoNo
Pinus parvifloraJapanese White Pine4 to 7GoodXXNo
Pinus pumilaDwarf Siberian Pine3 to 6GoodXXNo
Pinus strobusEastern White Pine3 to 8GoodXXNo
Pinus sylvestrisScotch Pine3 to 7GoodXNoNo
Pinus virginianaVirginia Pine4 to 8GoodXXNo
Pinus wallichianaHimalayan White Pine5 to 7GoodXXNo
Podocarpus macrophyllusYew Plum Pine, Buddhist Pine7 to 11GoodXXNo
Pseudotsuga menziesiiDouglas Fir4 to 6GoodXNoNo
Sciadopitys verticillataJapanese Umbrella Pine5 to 8GoodXXX
Thujopsis dolobrataHiba Arborvitae5 to 7GoodXXNo
Abies concolorWhite Fir3 to 7ModerateXXNo
Abies fraseriFraser Fir4 to 7ModerateXNoNo
Cedrus atlanticaAtlas Cedar6 to 9ModerateXXNo
Chamaecyparis obtusaHinoki Cypress5 to 8ModerateXXX
Chamaecyparis thyoidesAtlantic White Cedar3 to 8ModerateXXNo
Larix deciduaEuropean Larch3 to 6ModerateXNoNo
Taxodium distichumBald Cypress4 to 10ModerateXXNo
Thuja plicataWestern Red-Cedar5 to 8ModerateXXNo
Tsuga canadensisCanada Hemlock3 to 7ModerateXXX
Tsuga carolinianaCarolina Hemlock4 to 7ModerateXXX
Taxus baccataEnglish Yew3 to 8PoorXXX
Taxus brevifoliaPacific Yew4 to 9PoorXXX
Taxus cuspidataJapanese Yew4 to 9PoorXXX
Taxus × mediaAnglojap Yew4 to 7PoorXXX
Thuja occidentalisAmerican Arborvitae2 to 7PoorXXNo

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