living a well tended life... at any age

dealing with deer, part 2: the plants

So last month I talked about some easy, low-key tactics for dissuading deer. You can also strategically employ plantings to help keep the herds at bay:

Think “deer-resistant”, not “deer-proof”. Every season brings fewer and fewer truly deer-resistant plants. That said, in addition to barberries and daffodils (yes, they are deer-proof, I promise), I have had excellent luck in all of my gardens with the following plants:

Shrubs
Spirea (Spiraea)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Boxwood (Buxus)
Andromeda (Pieris)

Perennials
Fern (various)
Astilbe
Perennial Sage (Salvia)
Ornamental grass (various)
Catmint (Nepeta)
Russian sage (Perovskia)
Peony (Paeonia)
Monkshood (Aconitum)*
Lenten rose (Helleborus)*
Lamb’s ear (Stachys)
Globe thistle (Echinops)
Foxglove (Digitalis)*
Anise hyssop (Agastache)
Yarrow (Achillea)

Annuals
Spider flower (Cleome)
Floss flower (Ageratum)
Annual Sage (Salvia)
Fountain grass (Pennisetum)
Cockscomb (Celosia)

*Note: parts of these plants are toxic if ingested – always wash hands thoroughly after handling.

black fountain grass

fountain grass

Employ “defensive planting”. If you absolutely must have a particular plant in your garden, you can increase its chance for survival by surrounding it with plants that the deer tend to avoid. This does not guarantee that a curious (or hungry) deer won’t browse, but if it nibbles a distasteful plant first, that may be enough to send it on its way.

peony

peony

Get to know your (plant) families. As I mentioned in my last article, noting plants that are thriving in neighboring gardens can help determine what will fare well in your own beds. You can take this idea a step further (with some help from the internet) if you know the family that a particular plant belongs to. For example, the perennial yarrow (Achillea) belongs to the plant family Asteraceae. Chances are, if yarrow is thriving in your garden, other members of its family should do well too.

yarrow and catmint

yarrow and catmint

Fuzzy, wooly, smelly (no, not 3 new dwarfs). Although starving deer will eat almost anything, they tend to avoid plants with foliage that has a pungent scent (like catmint, sage, or almost any herb), or a fuzzy, wooly texture (like lamb’s ear).

echinacea

coneflower

Go native. There are many reasons to incorporate native plantings into your garden – they attract beneficial wildlife such as birds and butterflies, are highly disease- and pest-resistant and require little, if any, maintenance. And while they’re not always 100% deer-proof, native plants such as purple coneflower (Echinacea) and Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium) will bounce back from a deer’s nibbling more readily than non-native varieties.

Last but not least, try to remember that the deer were here first – this is difficult to keep in mind after your garden has been the site of an all-you-can-eat buffet. But the reality is, we are the direct cause of the deer’s rapidly shrinking habitat. And as they become more accustomed to our sounds and scents, they will continue to edge nearer as needed, to seek out food and shelter. Something to think about……..

I hope you found these articles helpful. As a garden designer and a homeowner in an area that feels overrun with deer, I know first-hand how frustrating this problem can be. Feel free, as always, to ask any questions you have here. And if you have some tried-and-true tips to add, please leave them in the comments!

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