Are hydrangeas deer-resistant? The short answer is no. Deer love to graze on the leaves, flowers, and tender tips of hydrangeas. That said, there are strategies that hydrangea-loving gardeners like me can use to reduce deer damage. First, plant the most resistant types of hydrangeas. Next, use a barrier to keep deer away from your plants. Finally, spray deer repellent to stop grazing. Keep reading to learn more about growing hydrangeas in deer country.
Are hydrangeas deer-resistant?
The first time I planted a panicle hydrangea in my garden I was so pleased. It was a gorgeous specimen and I was envisioning months of massive flowers. The following morning however, most of the leaves were gone and all the tender branch tips were nibbled. Devastating! I learned the hard way that the answer to the popular question, ‘Are hydrangea deer-resistant?’ Is nope. Deer love hydrangeas.
Hydrangeas are stunning landscape plants that offer year-round interest to the garden – lush green leaves, attractive bark, and eye-catching round, flat, or cone-shaped flowers. Flower hues include white, pink, red, blue, violet, and green, and those blooms can persist for months, even deepening in color as they age. So if you frequently have deer patrolling your yards and garden should you avoid planting hydrangeas? Not necessarily. First, hydrangeas can bounce back pretty easily from minor deer damage. You may sacrifice a few flowers or leaves, but the plants won’t be set back too much. A hydrangea that suffers repeated major damage, on the other hand, may not recover as well or at all. Plus, having deer mow off your leaves, flower buds, or fully opened flowers each year is frustrating.
So what should you do? The best way to stop deer from eating hydrangeas is by combining several tactics. First, I look for hydrangeas that offer some resistance to deer. Yes, there are a couple species that are less favored by deer. I then add a physical barrier to prevent nibbling and use deer repellent sprays in case all else fails.
Are hydrangeas deer-resistant? Let’s rate hydrangea types for deer-resistance
As noted above, the answer to the frequently asked question, ‘Are hydrangeas deer resistant?’ is no. But don’t be discouraged as there are certain species that are less prone to deer damage. Below you’ll learn more about the types of hydrangeas and their deer resistance.
To make it even easier, I’ve created a deer-resistance rating system:
Good deer resistance = 🌼 🌼 🌼
Some deer resistance = 🌼 🌼
Little deer resistance = 🌼
No deer resistance = zero flowers
Bracted hydrangea (Hydrangea involucrata, zones 6 to 9) 🌼 🌼 🌼
Bracted hydrangea is somewhat resistant to deer. This species has soft, fuzzy leaves that are not as palatable to Bambi as others so it may be your best bet if you want to deter deer. It’s also a stunning plant with cultivars like ‘Blue Bunny’ adding year-round interest to the garden. ‘Blue Bunny’ grows 2 to 4 feet tall and has intense violet-blue flowers surrounded by creamy white bracts. Bracted hydrangeas have flat, lacecap blooms and are very ornamental.
The best site for bracted hydrangeas is part shade. A site with morning sun and afternoon shade is best. It’s generally a trouble-free plant, but I’d suggest watering deeply each week or two if there is a prolonged drought.
Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, zones 4 to 8) 🌼 🌼
Is climbing hydrangea deer-resistant? Actually, the plants are rarely bothered by deer, but it’s because they grow far taller than deer can reach. The vines of this stunning plant can grow 40 to 50 feet tall and happily scramble up walls, tall trees, and arbors. Young plants are susceptible to deer and should be protected with chicken wire or another barrier until they size up enough that occasional grazing doesn’t result in serious damage.
Climbing hydrangea offers four season interest to the landscape. The newly emerged lime green foliage lights up the spring garden, while the lacy white summer blooms add weeks of mid-season appeal. In autumn the leaves turn a rich gold and winter interest comes from the textured, exfoliating bark.
If you want to add a climbing hydrangea to your garden, it’s essential to provide serious support for this vigorous plant. It can take a few years to settle in, but once a climbing hydrangea starts to grow it won’t take long to cover a structure. I have one growing up an old tree, but gardeners who want to use climbing hydrangea to cover a wall should consider that the plants can make regular house maintenance, like painting, a problem.
Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, zones 4 to 8) 🌼
There are three types of bigleaf hydrangeas: mophead, lacecap, and mountain. Mophead hydrangeas are incredibly popular landscape plants with deep green, heart-shaped leaves, mounding forms, and large rounded flowers in pink, blue, and violet. Lacecaps have plant forms similar to mophead hydrangeas, but their blooms have a flattened shape with tiny fertile flowers surrounded by showy white bracts. Mountain hydrangeas also have flat flower clusters, but they’re smaller than lacecaps. The plants are very cold hardy, however.
As for deer resistance, bigleaf hydrangeas aren’t deer-proof, but they do seem to be less popular than oakleaf and panicle hydrangeas. My guess is that the leaves, which are fairly thick, make this species less palatable to deer. If deer are a major issue in your garden, I would recommend covering newly planted bigleaf hydrangeas with chicken wire or another barrier for the first season to allow the plant to settle in and size up.
Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata, zones 3 to 7)
Also called peegee hydrangeas, a panicle hydrangea in full bloom is a spectacular sight. They typically have an upright, tree-like form and produce massive cone-shaped flowers from mid to late summer. There are cultivars that are super compact and grow just a couple of feet tall and others that can mature to 20 feet.
Are panicle hydrangeas deer-resistant? Definitely not. Deer love to eat the flowerbuds, as well as the new shoots of these plants. This is where you need to put deer deterring tactics, like repellent sprays, to work. You’ll find information on these below. I have noticed, however, that the compact varieties of panicle hydrangeas, like ‘Bobo’, tend to be more heavily grazed by deer than medium-sized (like Limelight hydrangeas) and tall-growing ones. This is because it’s easier for the deer to reach the plants.
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia, zones 5 to 9)
Oakleaf hydrangea shrubs are native to North America and prized for their unique, oak-leaf shaped foliage as well as their tall, cone-shaped flowers. This is one of my favorite plants and if you asked the deer that frequent my backyard, they’d agree. They love it too. Oakleaf hydrangeas are true year-round plants with fresh spring foliage, knockout summer blooms, spectacular autumn color, and unique textured bark in winter.
There are several cultivars available at nurseries with ‘Snow Queen’, ‘Snow Flake’, and ‘Ruby Slippers’ the most common. To reduce deer damage, protect young plants with a barrier and spray religiously with deer repellent sprays. Opting for a tall-growing cultivar, like ‘Harmony’, which can grow 8 to 10 feet tall means that deer won’t be able to reach much of the plant at maturity.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens, zones 3 to 8)
This reliable, hardy species, generally called ‘Annabelle’ by gardeners, sadly offers no deer resistance. They love it! But so do I and that’s why I use deer repellent sprays to protect my beloved ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas. It’s an effective way to enjoy this showy plant which adds weeks of flower power to the summer garden.
Smooth hydrangeas are easy, fast-growing, and compact. The plants grow up to 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar, and do best when planted in partial shade. While ‘Annabelle’ is very popular, you may also wish to try a cultivar like ‘Incrediball’ whose flowers can grow a foot in diameter!
How to protect hydrangeas from deer
Ok now that we’ve looked closer at the various types of hydrangeas, let’s talk about strategies to prevent damage. There are two main ways to keep deer away from your precious plants: 1) using a physical barrier and 2) applying deer deterrent sprays. You can pick one of these tactics or combine them for double protection. Let’s explore each of these options.
Deer Prevention Strategy 1: Physical barriers
A physical barrier is the most effective method for preventing deer damage to ornamental plants like hydrangeas. There are many types of physical barriers you can use: bird or deer netting, chicken wire, or fencing. For small or newly planted hydrangeas opt for a piece of chicken wire, netting, or a chicken wire cloche. They can be draped overtop plants or suspended on stakes. It’s a great way to protect plants, particularly at a vulnerable time such as when the flowerbuds are forming.
A more permanent, and pricey, type of physical barrier is a fence. There are many types of fences you can use to exclude deer, and I’ve tried several over the years. I used to use 7 foot tall deer netting supported on 8 foot tall posts. This was a good way to keep deer from my vegetables as well as vulnerable plants like hydrangeas. But there were times deer jumped over the netting or ran right through it, so I needed another type of barrier. I currently have a electric fence around my backyard. It’s been extremely effective in excluding deer from my shrubs and perennials, as well as my vegetable garden.
Wooden or chain link fences are also valuable in preventing deer damage. They can cost a lot so if you garden on a budget, you may wish to find another solution for deer damage. A few years ago I visited a friend who had a sneaky way to prevent deer from eating her perennials and shrubs. She installed an 8 foot wide border of medium-sized gravel around the perimeter of her backyard. The deer didn’t like walking over the uneven stones and therefore didn’t venture into her yard. The 8 foot width of the rock barrier dissuaded jumping. It was an invisible, but effective fence!
Deer Prevention Strategy 2: Protect hydrangeas with deer repellents
Are hydrangeas deer resistant? They can be if you spray them with deer repellents. Sprays are an effective tactic for keeping deer away from your beloved hydrangeas. There are many products available at garden centres and online with most combining strong smells and bad tastes. They’re typically made from ingredients like garlic, putrified eggs, dried blood, capsaicin, and wintergreen oil. Many of these products also contain a sticking agent, like fish oil, which helps the spray persist through watering, rain, snow, and other bad weather.
Common deer repellent sprays include Bobbex, Plantskydd, and Liquid Fence. Be sure to read the directions before you spray to ensure you apply them properly and at the right frequency to prevent deer from eating your hydrangeas. Bobbex, for example, is applied every 10 to 14 days starting in spring when the plants begin to grow.
I spray deer repellents on my hydrangeas in mid-morning, once the dew has evaporated. The leaves should be dry before you spray and the temperature should be above freezing. If you spray later in the day make sure there is time for the product to dry on the leaves before night. Spraying deer deterrents on wet foliage can reduce their effectiveness.
Now that we’ve answered the question, ‘Are hydrangeas deer-resistant?’, and we’ve talked about strategies to protect your plants, you may want to learn more about shrubs that actually are deer-resistant. While hydrangeas are often damaged by deer, there are shrubs that are highly resistant to deer.
For further reading on hydrangeas and other hardy shrubs, be sure to check out these articles:
- Unusual hydrangea varieties for the garden
- How to care for hydrangea in the fall, including pruning and fertilizing
- Panicle hydrangeas: 3 no-fail choices
- How to protect your hydrangea for the winter
- Trees with white flowers: 21 beautiful choices
- The best time to plant hydrangeas
Is ‘Are Hydrangeas deer-resistant?’ a question you’ve been wondering?