The Q&A Archives: Using Butterfly Bushes As A Natural Hedge To Keep Deer Out Of The Garden

Question: I live in Zone 5 of New York state, and deer have been a problem for a while now.

I'm told that I could use the butterfly bush to create a hedge to, if not keep out, at least deter the deer and maybe force them to go elsewhere.

I have about a 90' line to work with, so I don't even know how many plants that would be. I'd like something that grows relatively fast, and is to too invasive. I don't want to be fighting the plants as well as the wildlife. It sounds like a "pretty" shrub, and I would gro high enough so they couldn't jump over. (It would also keep out the 2 legged critters, too.) Do you think this is a viable solution?

Barberry was recommended, but that is too invasive for me.
Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Answer: Unfortunately, I doubt this would work. Deer that are in the habit of dining in a yard tend to keep coming back. They will junp over eight feet no problem, too.

Butterfly bushes are pretty when in bloom, but their routine care includes a hard pruning every spring to shape it, induce bushiness and increase blooming. Especially in zone five, I would expect fairly severe winterkill each year necessitating a trim almost to the ground. This is not a problem for the plant since it blooms on new wood, but it reduces its ability to function as a barrier.

In my garden, the deer eat, sample and trample without much discretion so they can do a lot of damage in a short time. Unfortunately there is no magic list to give you. Deer will learn to eat almost any thing and their menu varies depending on what they have learned to eat so far. They are creatures of habit, so if they are dining at your house they will be likely to nibble on whatever you plant sooner or later. The best way to try to make a list of plants is to check with your neighbors and see what they are still having success with and what they are not. Some gardeners also report success using the repellants (both home made and those that are commercially available), especially in areas where the browse pressure is not very severe. In my own sad experience, the only reliable solution over time is a tall fence.

However, there are some published lists of plants to consider. Keep in mind that deer are adaptive and will learn to eat new things. For example, foxgloves are on some lists but the deer ate mine, so the lists are starting points rather than absolutes. Also check to be sure that a listed plant will thrive in your area (many of these should.) Good luck!

Penn State published a list of plants (for a discussion about the list and the original, please see )


Scientific Name Common Name Scientific Name Common Name
Abies sp. + fir Heder helix g.c. English ivy
Acer negundo + box-elder Ilex sp. = holly
Ageratum* flossflower Iris sp. * iris
Ajuga* bugle weed Juniperus sp.= juniper
Aquilegia* columbine Kerris japonica = Japanese rose
Berberis sp.= barberry Larix decidua + European larch
Buxus= boxwood Lupinus sp.* lupine
Catalpa sp. + catalpa Maclura pomifera + Osage orange
Cercis sp. + redbud Narcissus sp.* Narcissus
Chamaecyparis sp= false-cypress Paeonia suffruticosa= tree peony
Clematis sp.* clematis Papaver orientalis * Oriental poppy
Cotinus coggygria +smoketree Picea sp. + spruce
Crataegus sp. + hawthorn Pinus sp. + pine
Cytisus scoparius=Scotch broom Rhododendron sp. rhododendron
Daphne sp. daphne Robinia pseudoacacia+ black locust
Delphinium* larkspur Symphoricarpos albus= snowberry
Digitalis* foxglove Syringa vulgaris= lilac
Ginkgo biloba + maidenhair tree Tulipa sp.* tulips
Gymnocladus dioica+ Kentucky coffee tree Yucca* Yucca
+ tree or tree-like
* herbaceous plant
= shrubby
g.c. ground cover

West Virginia Extension offers a discussion of deer damage and a list of plants at

Cornell University has also published a list and a discussion at

I hope these help!

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