I am still often amazed when people bring their children into the public garden where I work and not only the kids but the adults are totally freaking out over seeing four ducks in the pond near the garden entrance. OK I kind of get it when they are excited over a school of a couple dozen colorful 2 feet long KOI fish, but ducks?
What flips them out even more than the ducks are when chipmunks (or to be accurate, I should say three lined tree squirrels) run in front of them. Really? Ducks and chipmunks. I can only imagine what would happen if these people got within a few feet of a deer.
I have to admit it; I do stop and stare when I see a deer. Even though they really are just super sized rodents that are actually very common in the area where I live. Sure, I admit Bambi is awfully cute in the movies and even in real life in a field. When she is in your backyard removing $200 of plants you spent last weekend planting, she is not so cute.
Deer are a major problem to many a gardener. Not only do they have this habit of seeing your landscape as a salad bar, those darn antlers are often rubbed out on the bark of your favorite new landscape tree. About a decade ago, I planted three bald cypress in the lot behind my house that I subsequently lost this way.
After that, I planted 3 of those little $25 Home Depot white pines. They were promptly eaten bare the next winter. That was the final blow in my attempt to beautify the scrub woods adjacent to my home. About 10 clumps of daffodil and an abandoned wood chip path are all that remain.
Today, I know better. I now know you need to select plants that are not the 1st thing a deer would order if he went into Ric Bayless Frontera restaurant.
Here are some recommended plants if you have lots of deer pressure in your garden.
Deer resistant ferns
For natural style shade gardens ferns are the bee’s knees and they are one of the most deer resistant plants. Most of them like shade and moist soil, but there are lots that are more adaptable and can take a bit of sun especially morning sun. Royal fern (Osmunda regalis) and Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) are two examples. Both of these ferns grow from 2 to 4 feet tall and are bold additions to the landscape. Even the standout Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) can take a bit of sun or dry soil – not both though.
Deer resistant ornamental grasses
If you are going for a prairie or new American style garden you are aware of the potential of ornamental grasses as a center piece in creating a sun filled garden sanctuary. What you might not be aware of is deer don’t much care for most ornamental grasses or bamboos.
Some good choices include:
- Andropogon sp. – Big Bluestem
- Fargesia sp. – Clump Bamboo
- Festuca glauca – Blue Fescue
- Hakonechloa macra – Hakonechloa
- Helictotrichon sempervirens – Blue Oat Grass
- Imperata cylindrica – Japanese Blood Grass
- Juncus Effusus – Hard Rush
- Miscanthus sinensis – Japanese Silver Grass
- Panicum virgatum – Switch Grass
- Pennisetum alopecuroides – Fountain Grass
- Pennisetum orientale – Oriental Fountain Grass
- Schizachyrium scoparium – Little Bluestem
Deer resistant groundcovers
Depending upon the groundcover, Bambi can either ignore them or in the case of Wintercreeeper, English Ivy, or Hosta they really enjoy the variety of your menu. Here are some of the better choices that deer will tend to ignore.
- Convallaria majalis – Lily of the Valley
- Epimediurn sp. – Barrenwort
- Galium odoratum – Sweet Woodruff
- Lamium sp. – Spotted Deadnettle
- Pachysandra procumbens – Allegheny Spurge
- Pachysandra terminalis – Pachysandra
In future posts I will talk about trees, shrubs, and perennials that deer don’t prefer.
I have two cocker spaniels that I clip myself. I spread their fur around to keep critters at bay. It works for a few weeks, unless it rains. The scent must fade pretty quickly. The fur does NOTHING to keep the racoons from digging up my stuff, though. I made the mistake once (once! just freaking once!) of burrying my kitchen scraps and then planting a bush on top. The next morning, a raccoon had dug up the bush to ransack the scraps. Now, years later, every time I dig a hole for any reason a racoon comes overnight to inspect it. It must associate my scent with food… I’ve started putting a heaping pile of dog doo over all my new plantings and it (usually) deters those blasted diggers. But they make using any sort of organic ammendments – fish emulsion, bone powder, etc – a nightmare, and I just can’t use standard fertilizer.
On the bright side, we tend to get underground hives of yellow jackets in places where me and the dogs hangout. If I leave some kitchen scraps on top of the hive, a raccoon – maybe a possum – will eat the scraps AND dispose of the hive for me.
I discovered your website today and am enjoying it a great deal. Your information regarding tree selection and care/pruning is very helpful and easy to understand. I was a little disappointed in your section about deer resistant plants as there are many trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals to choose from for those of us who live in areas heavily populated by these beautiful but pesky critters. I work for a tree nursery/garden center in upstate New York and a large percentage of our customer base has high deer pressure. I am one of their growers, as well as, their pest/disease consultant.
Below I have listed a few plants that are deer resistant. I hope this is helpful to you and your many readers:
Shrubs: Spruce are always safe, as well as, Boxwood, PJM Rhododendrons, Russian Cypress, Barberrry, certain varieties of Viburnum, Fothergilla, Witchhazel, Fragrant Sumac, Ninebark and Spirea. Some of these may get nibbled on but the deer will quickly realize they do not like them and move on. There are also certain varieties of sun loving Hydrangea that deer do not care for that are just lovely.
Trees: Crabapple, Dogwood, Redbud, Beech, Dawn Redwood, River Birch, Dwarf River Birch, Japanese Maples, Spruce, White Pine, Concolor Fir, Austrian Pine, Vanderwolf Pine, Ginko, Oak. A note of warning here: young saplings, especially the deciduous varieties can be at risk of consumption if not protected until they get a larger.
Perennials: There are many perennials to choose from that deer will not eat. Choose perennials that are in the herb family, such as, lavenders, sage, mints, and agastache. Perennials with a scent will not get eaten. Rub your fingers on the foliage and then smell your fingers, if you notice a scent then you most likely have a deer safe plant. Deer do not like herby plants. Other deer resistant plants include: Astilbe, Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Shasta Daisy, Helinum, Hardy Geranium, Coreopsis, Bergenia, Saponaria, Ferns, Hellebores, Baptisia, and many others.
This is not a complete list but it may be helpful to those looking for some deer resistant plants.
I think you missed the last sentence of my post that said I would write future posts about deer resistant trees, shrubs, and perennials. This post was really just a start. That’s OK I usually miss several sentences when I am proof reading!
Thanks for your suggested deer resistant plants.
David Douglas says
Lots of choices to choose from. Thanks for the great lists. Was wondering how well spreading hair clippings, say from a barber shop, works in keeping deer from eating newly spouted grass like they did in the movie The Rookie with Denis Quaid. Will that really work? I know I never like finding a hair in my food when I’m eating. Any other suggestions?
David, I don’t know if that works or not. It is a common recommendation for keeping rabbits out of gardens also. I think it is related to the animals smelling the scent as much as the taste of hair. I have tried it actually, but cannot say if it did any good.