Double Duty: 5 Plants to Deter Deer While Attracting Birds

deer on the road hedgeTo escape the city I live in, I recently took a rural bike ride, and the first thing I saw when cycling down a rural road was a large, beautiful deer noshing on someone’s shrubbery.

“How wonderful!” I thought.

Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who actually wants to look at your shrubbery, pruning it with the obsessive adoration shown by Mr. Miyagi as he futzed over his bonsai in Karate Kid. For you, a deer chowing down on your precious bush might be just the thing you don’t want.

Well, we’re here for ya. We’ve got a list of shrubs and flowers you can plant in hopes of deterring deer from feasting on your yard like a football team at the buffet banquet.

In fact, we’ll go you one better. Here’s five plants known to deter deer yet attract birds. Talk about multitasking.

Of course, here’s the caveat — deer “should” be deterred by these plants, but some of them are wacky and will eat it anyhow. Think of that relative of yours who thinks peanut butter, bacon, and banana belong on the same sandwich. There’s no telling on taste, even if you’re a deer!


This one’s a big family to choose from. Ground cover, shrubberies, planters — they’re all available in cotoneaster. With over 300 varieties, to say it’s extremely diverse is an understatement. It usually flowers in the spring and early summer, which then produces bright red or orange berries in the winter, much to the delight of our birdie buddies.

Cotoneaster frigidus

Its adaptability makes it a great thing to plant, but it also makes it a nemesis in some parts of the world. The problem with cotoneaster is that some varieties are invasive. An “invasive species” is one that is aggressive, hard to limit growth with, and is able to take over native species via choking roots. That’s why it’s good to talk to your local gardening pros to see what cotoneasters can grow in your area, and which are a no-go.


The mahonia aquifolium is colloquially named the “Oregon-grape” but it’s not the kind of grape you want to be using (except medicinally). Birds, however, love it. So do butterflies. Its lovely yellow flowers draw in the butterflies in the spring, but the bluish-black berries keep the birds happy through the latter half of the year.

Oregon grape

Low-maintenance and easy to grow, this durable evergreen has a holly-like foliage, making Oregon’s state flower a plant not easily noshed on by Bambi and friends.

The red twig dogwood

There are many varieties of dogwood, but we’re talking about red twig. This is a plant that thrives in the northern US and Canada. With cold-season berries, it’s popular with birds, and its dramatic red coloring makes it popular for landscapes year-round. There’s added benefit though — its root system is a great weapon against ground erosion! If you want to shore up your embankments, these roots will spread far and wide, helping you do so.


Visually, explains them well:

Red twig dogwood shrubs provide year-round interest. But despite bearing spring blossoms, variegated leaves in summer, and berries from summer to fall, clearly this plant’s common name explains the main reason people grow it: namely, the bush’s red twigs, which are brightest in winter. Read the landscaping info page here.


Many annuals like calendula and baby’s breath will be a deterrent to deer, but snapdragons will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They can easily be grown from seed and will fill your garden with tall fragrant flowers bursting with color and scent. They dry well for the crafting crowd too.


And talk about flexible — in US gardening zones 8 through 10, you can plant these in the fall for a burst of winter color too.

The columbine

A beautiful flowering plant, it’s available in more than 70 varieties, suited to a variety of terrain and climate. They’re wonderful in woodland areas and are hardy and strong for rock gardens. Hummingbirds love them, while deer and rabbit aren’t so impressed.

colombine flower

But wait! there’s more!

There are so many deer-resistant plants out there, and bird-attracting plants, and rabbit-deterring ones. Check out your local gardening center to see what the pros think will grow best in your corner of the world. There are native species to your region that can really help manage wildlife in your yard.

With smart planning and adaptive thinking, there’s no reason you can’t attract birds and butterflies while keeping foliage-chomping friends like deer and rabbits at bay. Talk to your local pros today!

Plants in your local area

What plants native to your area provide the same service?

What kinds of wildlife to you want  to discourage from your garden? Which species would you like to see more of?

Tell us about it in the comments section.


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