Is Smoke Tree Deer Resistant?

Smoke Trees (Cotinus spp.) are beautiful specimens that do well in sunny gardens grown as small trees or large shrubs. Their colorful leaves and wispy flowers add a touch of color and interest to any garden, even in wooded areas populated with deer. One of the great benefits of the Smoke Tree is that it is deer resistant. There don’t seem to be too many woodland critters that will bother Smoke Trees, though there are a handful of insect pests to watch out for. That being said, deer will eat pretty much anything when hungry enough, especially in the winter when food is scarce, so precautions should be taken if damage is noticed.  


According to Rutgers University this plant is “Seldom Severely Damaged” on their rating scale from Rarely Damaged to Frequently Severely Damaged. This means that it is relatively uncommon for Smoke Trees to be damaged by deer, and when damage does occur, it is typically minor. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your Smoke Tree if you live in an area where deer are prevalent. In addition, you may want to protect your tree’s branches and trunk in the winter months when deer are rutting, i.e., rubbing up against larger shrubs and trees to spread their scent, and damaging your landscape in the process.  

Keeping Deer Away From Smoke Trees

In many instances, Smoke Trees will not need much intervention to keep deer away. They are not a desirable food source for deer and seldom receive severe damage. However, if you are noticing damage, there are a few tricks you can use to deter these large pests. Some natural deer deterrents include planting pungent plants nearby like rosemary, thyme, catmint, and chives, or even spreading these aromatic spices on your plants regularly. Garlic powder, cayenne, and hot sauces also accomplish this. If deer are rubbing up against your trees and shrubs, especially in the winter months, try installing a temporary fence or trunk guard to ensure that the bark isn’t stripped away, which can hinder growth and increase the likelihood of pests and disease. 

Will Smoke Tree Come Back After Deer Eat Them?

Smoke Tree is a rather resilient shrub. If severe damage occurs to your Smoke Tree, either by deer or some other event, trim the branches back 6 to 8 inches from the ground. This will cause the plant to push out new growth from its base. Though regrowth is possible, you may be sacrificing a year’s worth of blooms, an adequate payment for keeping your beautiful Smoke Tree alive. Late winter or early spring is the best time to cut back Smoke Trees, although damaged and dead branches can be removed at any time to prevent further infection by pests or disease. 

Sources: Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station ‘Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance’ 2018

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Author Lynn Gusman - Published 7-27-2023