Your garden may be a feast for the eyes, but it may also be a feast for the local deer population and other herbivorous mammals. Having a lush garden that attracts wildlife is a joy, but the last thing you want is your beautiful garden decimated by a hungry herd of deer.
However, there are ways to prevent this by planting certain species of plants that deer find unpalatable. While there are no fully deer-proof plants – a hungry deer might eat anything – there are some species that may look beautiful but have bristly textures, fuzzy leaves, or poisonous compounds that deter deer from eating them.
There are certain plants that deer love, so when planning your garden, avoid these if you don’t want it to be a deer buffet. The docile creatures, particularly white-tailed deer, tend to like narrow-leafed evergreens such as arborvitae and fir, as well as English ivy, daylilies, and hostas. Studies have also shown that they prefer fertilized plants to those that haven’t been fertilized.
While it is impossible to make your garden fully deer-proof, there are certain plants that deer find unpalatable and will avoid eating, unless forced to find food. Bear in mind that even these deer-resistant varieties can also be vulnerable in the first few weeks of growth due to being nitrogen-rich, however, they can be protected from being damaged by spraying them with a deer-repellent for the first few weeks of growth.
There are some plants that deer tend to avoid altogether due to their strong aroma, odd textures, or unpalatable leaves. Here is a list of deer-resistant plants to place in your garden that look beautiful but aren’t on the menu for deer.
1. Canna lilies (Canna indica)
Canna lilies, commonly known as Indian shot or African arrowroot, are sun-loving annuals that grow up to five feet tall and make a striking statement in any garden. They have green or burgundy leaves that can be striped or variegated, and elegant flowers in bright colors. Cannas have a long lifespan and the tuberous roots can be dug up each autumn and stored in a box of peat moss for the winter to be planted again next spring.
2. Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Pot marigolds, also known as common or Scotch marigold, or ruddles, is an old-school, deer-resistant annual that blooms in bright shades of orange, yellow, rust, and soft pink, adding dazzling color to any garden. Calendulas boast single- and double-petaled varieties and have anti-bacterial healing properties and repel certain insects, as well as hungry deer.
3. Bluemink (Ageratum houstonianum)
Commonly known as the floss flower, blueweed, pussyfoot, or Mexican paintbrush, this is an annual bloom with pompom-shaped clusters of lavender-blue flowers that look like mini powder puffs, adding a soft, pastel-colored touch to the garden. Standing about 24 inches tall, the elegant bloom has several varieties and comes in shades of light or dark blue, pink, purple, or white. The rough-textured foliage and fuzzy flower clusters keep deer at bay.
4. Salvias (Salvia spp.)
While there are plenty of perennial, and evergreen species, the frost-sensitive annual salvia are classic deer-resistant plants that are drought tolerant and come in a range of bright colors. Members of the mint family, salvias have a square stem and fragrant foliage and thrive in full sun.
5. Verbena (Verbenaceae spp)
Verbenas are semi-woody annual flowering plants with small five-petaled flower clusters that brighten up in the garden in colors of blue, purple, lavender, pink, dark red, yellow, and white. They have dark green, oblong, toothed leaves with an unpalatable taste that deter deer and can bloom from spring until frost.
1. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Boasting elegant silvery foliage and a strong fragrance, Russian sage is an eye-catching sunny perennial with spiky clusters of flowers. Its fragrant foliage is highly deer-resistant, and the plant produces an abundance of bright amethyst blue blooms from late spring until autumn. Russian sage may not be a favorite with deer, but bees and hummingbirds flock around the sweet-scented flowers.
2. Catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
Catmint or eastern catmint is an aromatic herb that produces clusters of lavender-blue flowers and is detested by deer. The easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plant likes full sun and well-drained soil and is thought to have been as herbal tea and insect repellent centuries ago during Roman times. Bright bushels of lavender purple add color to the garden in early summer and early fall.
3. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp)
Snapdragons or dragon flowers are so named due to the flowers’ resemblance to the face of a dragon and are bright-blooming annuals that deer tend to avoid. Snapdragons can grow from 6 to 36 inches tall and come in many colors, ranging from pink, purple, and burgundy to red, yellow, orange, and white. When the unique flowers are pressed on both sides, they look like dragons opening and closing their jaws.
4. Ligularia ‘Bottle Rocket’
Ligularia ‘Bottle Rocket’ or leopard plant is a bushy perennial with leathery, serrated foliage and spectacular bright orange-yellow flower spikes that thrives in the shade. A great deer-deterrent due to its thick, textured leaves, Ligularia can live up to five years in optimum conditions.
5. Bee Balm (Monarda)
Bee Balm, also known as horsemint, Oswego tea, and wild bergamot, is part of the mint family and is a highly fragrant perennial with minty-scented foliage that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but deters deer. Daisy-like flowers with tubular petals in vibrant hues of pink, purple, red, and white add colorful cheer and aromatic scents to any garden, year-on-year.
1. Boxwood (Buxus spp.)
Boxwood is a popular landscape shrub that is prominently featured in traditional European garden designs and can be left to grow in its natural form or pruned into intricate shapes and designs. Ranging in height from a few inches to ten feet, the foliage of this plant can be toxic to animals such as cats, dogs, and deer, if ingested.
2. Wax Myrtle (Myrica spp.)
Wax myrtles, also known as bayberry, bay-rum tree, candleberry, and sweet gale boast neat evergreen foliage that can be sheared into a variety of shapes and designs. The non-leguminous plant has a strong, spicy scent that deters deer, and certain varieties like the Pacific wax myrtle are extremely drought tolerant.
3. Doghobble (Leucothoe spp.)
Doghobble, also known as drooping leucothoe, fetterbush, and mountain doghobble, is an evergreen spreading shrub with several varieties that grow in both coastal and mountainous regions. The shrub has graceful arching branches with sharply toothed glossy green foliage and clusters of drooping and fragrant white flowers. The foliage is highly toxic to animals such as cats, dogs, and deer if ingested.
4. Evergreen Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
Evergreen barberry is a low-maintenance shrub with rich colors that makes an interesting addition to any garden. While the deciduous Japanese barberry (B.thunbergii) is an invasive species, the evergreen barberry does not have the same invasive tendencies. They have sharp thorns which are a good deterrent for deer and make for excellent hedges or live barriers.
5. Sweet Box (Sarcococca spp.)
Sweet box, or Christmas box, is a slow-growing evergreen shrub native to eastern and south-eastern Asia that bears fragrant clusters of tiny white flowers and red or black fruit. The sweetly scented plant prefers deep shade and can grow where few other plants can and comes alive in winter when everything else in the garden is hibernating.
Common Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Small Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro).
Boxwood (Buxus), juniper (Juniperus sp.), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), Andromeda (Pieris japonica), and Bluebeard or the blue mist shrub (Caryopteris).
Some deer-deterrent ground covers include Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’), Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), and Liriope or ‘lilyturf’ (Liriope spicata).
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