Dear Deer, Please stay away

Ever since my friend sent me the photos of his natural defense against deer damage in his garden, I’ve been giving fresh thought to the fairly wide selection of deer-resistant conifers. Last winter I approached this topic with fairly broad generalities, simply referring to conifer species that have shown resistance. Today, I’d like to take another look at deer-resistant conifers from a regional perspective by listing conifers that have been successful in different parts of the country.

Pinus mugo 'Tannenbaum'
Deer prefer that taste of the Eastern White Pine over the Christmas tree shaped ‘Tannenbaum’.

A great example is from my friend in the Mid-west. In his experience, living in rural eastern Iowa, Picea pungens cultivars have been very deer resistant. That includes both the larger and dwarf forms such as the larger, ‘Fat Albert’ and ‘Hoopsii’ as well as dwarf forms such as, ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’ and ‘St. Mary’s Broom’. He also noted that although the deer absolutely love his Eastern White Pine cultivars (Pinus strobus), they seem to stay away from Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’, an intermediate sized, broad tree-form of the Mugo Pine. In his area, the deer also tend not to bother with Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar).

My friend on Long Island, New York has found that all of the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) are resistant to deer damage. Unfortunately, some conifers that folks in others regions have had success with, such as Cephalotaxus and Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’, seem to taste just fine to the deer in his area.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon'
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’ shows some resistance to browsing deer.

My friends living in various locations along the mid-Atlantic area have found cultivars of Thuja plicata to be resistant to the herds in their region. They have also noted little damage from deer on the cultivars of Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) such as ‘Black Dragon’, ‘Kitayama’, or ‘Sekkan’. The Oriental Spruce (Picea orientalis) shows resistance in this area whereas the Norway and Colorado spruce (P. abies and P. pungens) only somewhat. Cephalotaxus (Plum Yew) and Thujopsis (Staghorn Cedar) show some resistance in this region.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Joe Kozey'
‘Joe Kozey’, an excellent cultivar of the highly resistant, Sciadopitys verticillata.

One conifer that none of my friends have ever seen bothered by deer is Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese Umbrella Pine) and its cultivars. (Update: one of my friends does report some deer damage to Sciadopitys in her section of Connecticut. See comment below.)

Of course all of my friends emphasize that it depends on the size of the herds, the severity of the winter and availability of other foods. As noted in my previous post on this topic, natural defense can go a long way to prevent deer damage. Man’s best friend can also be a deterrent to deer entering the property – many dogs love a good chase after four-legged trespassers.

Conifer Lover

2 thoughts on “Dear Deer, Please stay away

  1. Hi Ed, Here in southwestern CT, we typically have good luck with juniper, white pine, mugo pines and blue spruce. Umbrella pine is iffy and forget about any of the chamaecyparis or arborvitae – both are deer candy here.


    1. Hi Debbie – it really is interesting the different experience people report from different regions of the country. One thing seems to be fairly common, and that is your observation regarding the Chams and Arbs – both seem to be deer candy just about everywhere. Thanks for adding to my list!!!


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