If you’ve got deer in your neighborhood, it’s important to choose the right hedging material before putting out hundreds of dollars on hedge trees. If you don’t do your research, you’ll end up with a hedge that looks like a row of lamps like the one pictured here.
I think it’s a crime that garden centers even sell Thuja occidentalis (commonly sold as ‘Pyramidalis’ cedar) without asking if it’s going in a fenced yard. Garden center staff should warn customers that the hedging is not deer proof and will have to be enclosed within a tall fence. There are countless examples of these goofy looking half-eaten hedges in my neighborhood, and I really feel sorry for the owners.
5 deer resistant evergreen hedges
1) Thuja plicata (arborvitae) is mentioned on the British Columbia Environment Ministry website as being resistant to deer browse and also shade tolerant.
Keep in mind that Thuja plicata is a forest giant, so you are best to plant a dwarf cultivar to get it to be in scale for the home garden. There are not many of these to choose from on the market at any one time, because unlike T. occidentalis it has not given off a quantity of variants. An alternative to searching out dwarf cultivars of Thuja plicata is to keep it pruned to prevent it from attaining its full potential.
IMPORTANT: Be careful which Thuja you purchase: there are many different varieties and while some are deer resistant, many are not. For example, as mentioned above, Thuja occidentalis (commonly sold as ‘Pyramidalis’ cedar) is notorious for being eaten heavily in winter by deer. The resulting skinny-on-the-bottom shape is really dreadful looking. Unfortunately, the trees will never recover their natural shape, even if you protect them after the damage has been done.
2) Leylandi cypress is a beautiful hedging tree and completely deer proof. Once established (by about the third year) it is extremely fast growing, which is a mixed blessing. In my previous home we had a gorgeous Leylandi cypress privacy hedge, but it was a big job to prune it every spring. It requires a lot of space (minimum of 10 feet), even if you are diligent about pruning it.
Some people love Leylandi Cypress for its size and fast growth, others loathe it for exactly the same reasons. Here’s a lively discussion about the pros and cons of Leylandi Cypress as a hedge.
3) Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar) ‘Yoshino’ is a fast-growing evergreen tree that makes an absolutely stunning hedge. However, given that it is fast-growing, you will need to keep up with the pruning to keep it in scale. I’ve seen one local ‘Yoshino’ specimen tree which has grown to about 7′ diameter by 20′ tall in 22 years with no attempt to restrain its growth. If you find it too tall in 10 to 15 years, just cut it off at the base. New shoots will emerge so just pick the strongest one and start again.
4) Italian Buckthorn cultivar ‘John Edwards’ is a narrow evergreen shrub that is reliably deer resistant. This is a truly beautiful shrub that fills the increasing need for fast-growing, easy care, moderately-tall-yet-narrow plants that will work in today’s smaller urban lot size. The leaves are small and the tiny flowers at the base of the outermost leaves are a noticeable orange-red which open to pale yellow. In good soil with very moderate watering and a southern exposure, it can triple in height in two years yet remain less than 2′ around. Only hardy to zone 8.
5) Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom) is an attractive shrub with glossy green leaves that grows quickly to a maximum height about six feet tall. It has fragrant white blooms in late spring and responds well to pruning. The deer never touch it. It can’t be grown in extremely cold climates, as it is only cold hardy to zone 8.