Deer in the Landscape

Mark Williams, Souvestre, Robert J.

With suburban sprawl continuing to invade wildlife habitat, many gardeners have come face to face with a new reality, the white-tailed deer.

Yes, they are handsome creatures, attractive and docile enough that many homeowners want to attract them with offers of free corn. But deer are browsing animals by nature, and browse they do, on any available vegetation in the neighborhood, including garden and landscape plants.

Roses are often the first to go, with other shrubs of the rose family like photinias and Indian hawthorns also high on the list of preferred snacks.

Of course, tender greens like hostas won’t last long where deer roam regularly, nor will most other lush, leafy vegetation. Gardeners in deer country soon learn to choose from an abbreviated list of plants that somehow defy the deer’s seemingly all-inclusive appetite.

No plant is entirely free from browsing; during drought conditions almost anything might wind up on the menu. Nevertheless, the following plants will usually come through a visit from a hungry deer unscathed:

  1. Grasses: Deer are browsers, not grazers, so ornamental grasses and sedges make great choices for gardens in deer-populated areas.

  2. Herbs: The same aromatic properties that make many herbs useful on the table also help ward off hungry deer. Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and Mexican mint marigold are all deerproof. Related plants, such as flowering sages like Salvia greggii, S. farinacea and S. coccinea, and silvery bushes like Artemisia, dusty miller, Santolina and lavender are also effective. Highly aromatic plants like lantana are also fairly deer-resistant.

  3. Junipers: Prickly, aromatic conifers like juniper and cypress are usually not favored by deer. This versatile group of evergreens includes an array of small and large shrubs, upright specimen trees and spreading groundcovers ideal for sunny, well-drained banks.

  4. Shrubs: Cotoneaster, boxwood, pyracantha, oleander, barberry, nandina, Cherokee rose, Lady Bank’s rose and hypericum are some of the mixed lot of evergreen shrubs usually left unmolested by deer. Deciduous types include buckeye, winter jasmine, barberries, vitex, pomegranate and calycanthus.

  5. Daffodils: A really hungry deer might take a bite of these succulent flowers before spitting them out in disgust, but daffodils usually escape damage.

  6. Wildflowers: Along with all of these plants, many annual wildflowers, especially cool-season varieties like poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, bachelor's-button and gaillardia, will ordinarily escape deer damage. Yes, deer and flowers can coexist (up to a point), and it’s possible to have a lovely landscape with these deerproof plants.
3/19/2005 1:37:39 AM
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