Plants Deer Don’t Love, Though I Do

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Deer Proofing The Garden (Or Not)

It always surprises me to hear people complain about the stress of living through renovations of either home or garden. I just love the entire process, and though the inevitable interruptions and delays can indeed be annoying, the juiciness of bringing something fresh and new into being outweighs any annoyance. My garden making has continued with the usual fits and starts, and last week, we built a handsome berm that now embraces the center of my circular driveway. We studded the berm with large mossy rocks re-purposed from where they had been awkwardly plunked into the wrong places, then covered it with topsoil and stockpiled compost.

Today, I placed the major plants and my skillful and patient crew wrestled them into the ground. We divided grasses and many large clumps of perennials, and split up a bunch of privet honeysuckle (Lonicera pileata) I’d been growing on for just such an occasion. This tough if unprepossessing shrub has some terrific strengths; it’s glossy, tidy looking, and drought resistant, spreads into dense thickets, and insects and pests ignore it. That includes deer, and by using it to edge the new berm, I’m hoping to keep deer out of the new plantings.

Deer Resistant, Never Deer Proof

We have a resident herd of deer that happily nosh on new growth ivy next door, so I’ve had to be very thoughtful about what I plant. So far, they have shown no interest at all in lilacs, so I tucked in a compact Miss Kim (6 x 8 feet) and a cutleaf form (Syringa x persica Laciniata) that makes a shrubby mound some 6-8 feet high and wide over time. That will make up for the rather sorry old lilac I had to remove when tree rats made it their jumping off place.

Barberries are also generally ignored by deer, and I love both their fragrant flowers and the plump little edible berries that follow. I especially appreciate evergreen barberries, which combine thorny stems and prickly leaves, making them daunting plants for all sorts of pests. Most evergreen barberries have rich green foliage and showy flowers in bright yellow, orange or red, followed by edible berries. William Penn (4 x 6 feet) has leathery olive green foliage that takes on bronze winter tints, with sweet scented yellow flowers in spring. Darwin barberry ranges from 4-10 feet in height and width, and can take a surprising amount of shade in stride. The dusky foliage sets off clusters of light orange blossoms and bright blue berries in high summer.

Deciduous Beauties Too

I’m also using deciduous barberries for their astonishing spring flowers and foliage. I’m a sucker for dazzlers such as Orange Rocket, Crimson Ruby, and Daybreak, as well as Golden Nugget and Sunjoy Golden Pillar, which makes a wavering fan of sunshine yellow in spring. It’s all too true that the thorny stems are unattractive in winter, but no worse than rose bushes, after all, and much tougher.

I don’t use a lot of pink, but I have always wanted to grow Magnolia  x Galaxy and now I am. This shapely small tree reaches 18-20 feet in time, with a spread of 10-12 feet, so it’s placed where it can mature comfortably and be enjoyed from my living room. I surrounded it with clusters of Royal Burgundy (3 x 3 feet) and Crimson Ruby (2 x 3 feet) barberries to continue the deer-repelling plantings, also adding lots of deer non-favorite Leucothoe fontanesiana Scarletta (2 x 3 feet), a compact and colorful form with glossy green foliage tinted red in winter and dangling spikes of white bell flowers in spring.

A Heavenly New Huckleberry

The Northwest is rich in evergreen huckleberries, and I fell for a new compact form of Vaccinium ovatum Scarlet Ovation (3 x 3 feet), which boasts bright, copper red new growth. Its fine textured foliage makes a pleasing contrast with a glamorous false spirea, Sorbaria sorbifolia Sem (4 x 6-8 feet), which has much-dissected golden-green leaves tinged with rose and rust and plumes of white blossoms in June. It’s a spreader, which is just fine in this situation, and it’s easy to chop off the new shoots if they get out of bounds.

True spireas also come into play, since they are healthy, drought tolerant deciduous shrubs which deer usually leave untouched. I’m using compact S. thunbergiii Ogon (3 x 4 feet) to bring cheerful splashes of color to the spring garden, when clusters of white flowers bloom amid lemon yellow foliage. The leaf color deepens through summer and blazes orange in autumn. Old gold and mahogany Goldflame (4 x 4 feet), with raspberry blossoms, also boasts magnificent fall color and I rarely plant a garden without it.

Hopeful But Probably Wrongly

Having wreathed the border in all these deer resistant plants, I of course could not resist planting other things I love, knowing all too well that deer do too. Hoping to defeat them by sheer numbers (really, really silly idea), I put in lots of compact Nandinas, from my favorite Gulf Stream (3 x 4 feet) to an improved version called Obsession (2 x 3 feet) with ruddier new growth.

If that wasn’t dumb enough, I added native Nootka roses and some Rosa glauca, in hopes that it will fill in the gaps of a ruffled, plumy blue-grey chamaecyparis that lost a few lower limbs in a winter storm a while back. The roses have been sitting around in pots for several years, so I am hoping that the deer will continue to overlook them. If not, oh well. Time to try something else…

This entry was posted in Garden Prep, pests and pesticides, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Plants Deer Don’t Love, Though I Do

  1. Steve Stanzione says:

    I’ve recently discovered this new to me variety of Huckleberry (Scarlet Ovation). And I’m wondering how well it stood up to the deer browsing over time? As well as the other plantings in your landscape. Thank you.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      What I know about deer is that some deer will eat almost anything, especially the youngsters, who are basically indiscriminate. However, the Scarlet Ovations have held up very well, and despite having deer wander through the gardens daily, they haven’t destroyed any of the big plantings I’ve done from that list. So far. Knock on wood. I think the best defense is to block off the super highway deer paths as best you can and plant the perimeter of the garden with things deer like but rebound fast (like redtwig dogwoods). Good luck!

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