In my search for plant ideas to help in my heavily deer-foraged garden, I came across the book 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen. The premise of the book is that “you can still have a lush, thriving garden by making smart plant choices. Many stunning plants are unpalatable to deer because of their poisonous compounds, fuzzy or aromatic leaves, tough, spiny or bristly textures, and for a variety of less obvious reasons.”
The author stresses that there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant. During times when deer are hungriest they will try to eat most anything. You might also notice that one group of deer leave your asters alone while another group or individual browses it any chance she gets. Plants that are considered “deer candy” and not recommended are hostas, lilies, daylilies, tulips and roses (except Rosa rugosa which deer leave alone). Clausen offers a more complete list of these favorites to avoid. But she lists in depth many more plants that you can happily grow without feeling you need to keep watch over your garden.
How do you know if the damage you have is from a deer? Deer do not have upper incisor teeth so the damage will look very raggedly torn. Rabbits tend to cut off stems very cleanly. You’ll also notice shrubs that are practically bare of leaves until about 5’ high. That’s about the chewing height of a deer. Clausen reminds us, “Imagine if you had to deal with browsing giraffes!”
The book rates plants based on the extent that a plant species will be desired (aka nibbled on). It then goes into good detail on how to successfully grow that species. A healthy plant that is occasionally nibbled may be able to withstand more deer attacks.
So what can you plant? Here’s a very short summary. You can do an impressive bulb array using Narcissus, Galanthus, Chionodoxa, and Scilla sibirica. A sunny garden would do well with Geranium, Agastache, Echinops, Artemisia, Salvia, Nepeta and Coreopsis. Other perennials include Iris, Monarda (Bee Balm), hellebores, ferns, and ornamental grasses. Shrub choices include Mahonia (Oregon Grape Holly), Caryopteris (Blue Mist Spirea), Boxwood, Potentilla, and Japanese Spirea. And there’s much more: Russian sage, lavender, yarrow, catmint, Gaillardia, and Aconitum. Clausen also includes some herbs and annuals in her book.
It’s great to see a list of plants that DO work with deer instead of the depressing “don’t plant these” lists. Maybe I can start reducing the use of my gag-reflex-inducing rotten egg/urine spray that sends the family into the house and closing windows.