Flowers and Shrubs That Deer Won't Eat
Where deer are concerned, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that no plant is 100% deer proof. The good news is that there are plants that deer will only eat as a last resort.
In general, deer tend to avoid strongly scented plants like herbs, plants with thick or leathery leaves such as yucca and thorny plants such as holly and thistle. Bear in mind though that fawns will sample everything as they learn which plants are most palatable. There are also regional differences in which plants deer eat and don't eat. And within the same geographic location, there can be differences in diet between herds of deer.
You can test plants by putting them out for a few days before planting to see if your local herd has a taste for them. Larger, established plants usually recover from mild browsing. Plants that are nibbled by deer during winter dormancy generally recover in the spring.
So, what can you plant? For early springtime color, try daffodils, hyacinths and Crown Imperials. A note of caution: don't plant the Crown Imperials too close to your house. The bulbs have a very strong odor even underground. Later in the spring you can use old-fashioned favorites like bleeding heart, columbine, lily of the valley and foxglove. For summer-long color, annuals such as calendulas, marigolds, nasturtium, sweet alyssum and zinnias are good choices. For perennials, try peonies and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans).
If you have a shady yard, don't despair. Hostas may be deer candy but ferns are rarely eaten. There are many to choose from ranging from the small but colorful Japanese Painted Fern all the way up to the elegantly tall Ostrich Fern. If you want color, astilbe are seldom bothered by deer.
Surprisingly, there are ornamental grasses that deer tend to stay away from. The brightly colored Japanese Blood Grass is a popular choice. If you enjoying making dried flower arrangements, you will want to plant Northern Sea Oats.
When it comes to shrubs, who doesn't love lilacs? Deer, that's who! They also avoid butterfly bushes, boxwood, forsythia and Rose of Sharon.
Your local extension office can provide you with a comprehensive list of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees rated for deer resistance in your area.
© 2008 Caren White
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