A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer
Deer Resistant, Never Deer Proof
My new garden is filling in fast and I am so thrilled to watch the progress. My transplanted shrubs are thriving on the blend of sandy loam and fish-and-tree-waste-based compost (a local specialty). Of several dozen kinds I planted, only one has been deer-browsed so far. I am a bit puzzled by that, since the shrub in question, Sorbaria sorbifolia Sem, also called the ash leaf sorbaria, is not usually a deer-preferred plant. Indeed, it is sometimes called deer proof, though in my yard, that is a fantasy. Deer resistant is as good as it gets, and Sem has here-to-fore fit that category solidly.
If my sorbaria were the common form, it might have outgrown the deer by now. My sweet little Sem is a much better mannered form of this often aggressive shrub, which can exceed 10 feet in height and the size of your garden in width. No, Sem is a handsome, red-tinged form with much-dissected foliage, and it makes a ruffled mound about 4 x 4 feet or so in time. Still, the family vigor means I’m not in despair about the deers depredations, but I did take time to stick a tomato cage around the poor twigs, wrap the cage with chicken wire, poke some sharp, twiggy sticks around the edges and top it off with a second, nesting cage to keep those hungry snouts at a distance. That should give Sem time to recover its groove and put on fresh foliage.
Get-Over-It Gardening With Deer
I can, in fact, suggest a range of plants that deer will never touch, that won’t need water, and will never outgrow their spot. In a word: Plastic. In real life, it’s a little harder. Over the years, I’ve seen lists of plants deer love and plants deer hate, and have been fascinated to notice some of the same plants on each list. It seems that deer in one area eat things that deer elsewhere don’t. They can also change their habits: For many years, deer in my yard ignored azaleas, but one year, they ate them eagerly. I now have deer that browse the new growth on ivy, which I’ve never seen before. On one notable occasion, a deer ate the better part of a large and extremely toxic angel trumpet, yet I found no dead Bambi in the driveway.
Voracious and charming, greedy and beautiful, deer can be the bane or the grace of the garden. Although young deer will eat pretty much anything, mature deer are more discriminating. Sort of. And if there are no deer-proof plant, there definitely are deer resistant ones. Often these are plants with hairy, smelly, waxy, dense, or highly textured foliage. In addition, I’ve never seen deer eat ferns or grasses, or eucalyptus or madronas, or entire Doug firs…
After all these years, I don’t try to outwit deer, just to leave them mildly baffled. I feel that I have learned quite a lot about these lovely if totally annoying creatures, having been blessed with many of them in each of my gardens. At present, my yard hosts a growing family in the front yard and a clutch of young bucks in the lower back yard. Sometimes my neighbor even calls and asks me to get my deer out of his garden. Still, if I tell you deer don’t usually eat this or that, I mean MY deer, THIS year. For what it is worth, I offer you my my current list of plants my personal flock of deer rarely eat (all of):
Allium Ornamental onions
Begonia Begonia (tuberous)
Endymion Spanish bluebells
Fritillaria Crown imperials (specifically)
Shrubs & Subshrubs
Brugmansia Angels trumpet
Buddleia Butterfly bush
Ceanothus California lilac
Cistus Rockrose (usually)
Datura Angels trumpet
Hypericum St. John’s wort
Mahonia Oregon grape
Nandina Heavenly bamboo
Pieris Lily-of-the-valley shrub
Potentilla Cinquefoil (usually)
Rhododendron Rhododendron, Azalea
Ribes Flowering currant
Senecio Sunshine (specifically)
Acanthus Bear breeches
Agastache Hummingbird plant
Crambe Sea kale
Echinacea Cone flower
Eryngium Sea holly
Gaillardia Blanket flower
Kniphofia Poker plant
Meconopsis Welsh poppy
Monarda Bee balm
Oenothera Evening primrose
Perovskia Russian sage
Phormium New Zealand flax
Rudbeckia Black-eyed Susan
Santolina Lavender cotton
Scabiosa Pincushion flower
Stachys Lambs ear
Alyssum Sweet alyssum
Calendula Pot marigold
Clarkia Farewell to spring
Cleome Spider flower
Eschscholzia California poppy
Nicotiana Flowering tobacco
Ricinus Castor bean
How is it that I am just now finding your blog? I want to try a BUNCH of the recipes (I, too, like all things cauliflower) and I’m looking forward to studying your planting notes to acquaint self with some new-to-me cultivars and species.
Welcome, Emily! I hope you find some fun stuff to try, in the garden and in the kitchen. Please suggest anything you’d like ideas about. I love questions!
How do you make your Garlic water? Can it be used on other plants?
A friend of mine sprays mint tea on her plants to scare away deer and rabbits. What do you think of that idea?
See this week’s post for more ideas and my current favorite deer away recipe!