Gardening In A Place With Deer

 

Plant ferns with confidence, knowing they will not be eaten by hungry visitors to your garden.

Plant ferns with confidence, knowing they will not be eaten by hungry visitors to your garden.

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Gardening friends across the country share a common frustration with us: deer grazing the valuable ornamental and edible plants in our gardens. This challenge feels as though it is getting more difficult each year as deer populations increase. And its not just deer who show up to feed at the buffet of our well-tended gardens. Rabbits, voles, moles, squirrel and muskrats also destroy plants and steal produce form our gardens each season

Discovering the damage is always a bit of a shock, and always creates frustration. Two Oakleaf Hydrangea shrubs which escaped damage until now were stripped of their leaves sometime yesterday. We’ve had enough rain that spray repellents were washed away. The careful planting of distasteful plants around them was not enough to keep these hungry deer away.

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Hydrangea, 'Ruby Slippers'

Hydrangea, ‘Ruby Slippers’

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A neighbor suggests we plant things especially for the deer, to feed them. While this may sound like a good idea at first, the reality is the deer will eat those plants to the nub, and then continue on to the rest of the garden. The more food available, the more the herd will increase.

Some neighbors enjoy seeing the deer in their yards. They find them beautiful. I have no argument with that. However, the reality is that these gentle and graceful creatures not only decimate the vegetation, they also carry ticks. The ticks often carry Lyme’s Disease and other dangerous diseases, which create life-long illnesses in those who develop the disease.

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August 27, 2014 Parkway 024

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That is why my partner and I have spent the last six years, since we moved to this deer ridden tick infested forest garden, doing everything we can to eliminate the deer from around our home. Some tell us up front we are on a fool’s errand. And maybe they are right. But since I love to garden, the alternative is to simply sell and move on in hopes we won’t find deer in our next neighborhood.

But as man develops nature into more sprawling neighborhoods, the native animals learn to live among us. Their fear of us diminishes with their options.

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Native Hibiscus fill our garden this week.  Deer never touch them, and they bloom for more than a month each summer.

Native Hibiscus fill our garden this week. Deer never touch them, and they bloom for more than a month each summer.

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I first wrote about gardening in spite of the deer two summers ago, in June of 2013. The techniques and plant list I offered then was based on three years of experimentation and conversation with other neighborhood gardeners; and extensive reading on the subject. After another two years of gardening, and watching deer continue to somehow slither in through the fences we’ve constructed to keep them out, I’m ready to revise the plant list and offer somewhat different advice.

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July 16, 2015 Hibiscus 015

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The bottom line is that there are a few plants the deer almost never touch. They will walk right past them without touch a single leaf. And these are the only species one may plant with total peace of mind. Planting other species the deer and other critters find tasty leads to loss. You may enjoy the plants at times, but will be faced with the damage done at others.

Now sometimes it is worth it. Many plants the deer graze will eventually grow to a height and breadth so that grazing may damage, but will not destroy the plant. Many of our roses have now grown to that stage.

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July 16, 2015 Hibiscus 008

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Yes, I love roses and have planted them despite the fact they are simply deer candy. I have lost many rose shrubs to the deer over the past few years. But a few have established and now flourish. I think the secret has been to chose large growing, hardy shrub roses. The smaller tea roses can rarely gain enough size to survive. The same can be said for Rhododendron, Azalea, Hydrangea, and other marginal shrubs.

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The Rhododendron I brought home in February has finally bloomed!  Some may find these electric purple flowers highly strange.....

The Rhododendron I brought home in February finally bloomed!

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Another factor to consider is that newly planted nursery shrubs are already rich in Nitrogen from the grower. A high Nitrogen content makes the plant tastier; like salted French fries to our palate. Nitrogen, and other elements in fertilizer, are considered salts. If we can keep a plant alive, through whatever means, for the first two or three years; it not only grows larger, it also grows less appealing.

When considering how much extra fertilizer to spread around your shrubs and trees, if any, this is an important consideration.  Growing your garden on the lean side might offer additional protection from grazing.

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Camellia susanqua

Camellia susanqua

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We have observed that plants which grow extremely well in some of our gardens, such as Camellias and Hydrangea macrophylla, also called Mophead Hydrangea, get eaten in others.  My mature Camellia bushes are left alone, but I’ve had tremendous damage done to some, but not all, newly planted Camellia bushes.   Sometimes shrub species and perennials that nurserymen and landscape architects recommend as ‘deer resistant’ get eaten, anyway.

Experience is the best teacher. Somehow, deer rarely stick to the published lists of plants they are supposed to avoid.

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Camellia

Camellias begin to bloom here in October.

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Maybe I’ve grown cynical, but now I seek out poisonous plants for our garden. No, I’m not planting poison ivy as ground cover and Castor beans in the flower beds. Although Castor beans have lovely foliage and I plant them some years….

I’m not interested in plants poisonous to the touch. I’m interested in plants which deer and other animals will not graze because of the poisonous compounds in their leaves.

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Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

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These animals are smart, and they know these things instinctively. Even if you lose a Caladium leaf here and there, it won’t happen very much.

The other general group of plants the deer leave alone are the strongly scented herbs. They do not like, and will not bother most herbs. And herbs offer beautiful foliage along with some flowers. Ferns, likewise, rarely suffer from grazing. A frond may disappear from time to time, but the plant remains.

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Bumblebee on Basil

Bumblebee on Basil

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 Rough textured and strongly scented foliage protects other sorts of plants, as well. I’ve never had a Pelargonium grazed. Whether you plant Zonal Geraniums in a flower pot, Ivy Geraniums in a hanging basket, or scented Geraniums in a pot or bed, you can plant with confidence. In fact, I’ve had some success with planting scented Geraniums, some of which will grow very large in a season, around roses and Hydrangea to protect them from grazing. Deer dislike scented plants that much.

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hardy Geranium makes a lovely, deer resistant ground cover all season.

Hardy Geranium makes a lovely, deer resistant ground cover all season.

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Native hardy Geraniums are nearly as safe a bet. If tasted, they won’t be eaten. These make a nice ground cover at the front of a bed and around shrubs.

Many native shrubs and trees remain immune to grazing. Maybe this is why the deer leave naturally overgrown areas to shimmy into our garden buffet. There is a benefit in learning to appreciate the aesthetic of native plants. These may not be first choice from an ornamental point of view, but they will survive.

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Native Mountain Laurel blooms here in May for several weeks.  This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.

Native Mountain Laurel blooms here in May for several weeks. This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.

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It is very frustrating to realize there is absolutely nothing you can do, short of building an 8” high wire cage around your garden, to protect those fruits and vegetables you would like to grow for your own family. I’ve seen 10” high secured netting draped on heavy frames to protect tomato plants in my neighbors’ garden. Sure, the deer couldn’t get at the plants, but squirrels found their way in to steal the tomatoes. Ditto with potted tomatoes grown ‘out of reach’ on the deck.

Just remember, most animals haven’t a care in the world beyond finding food and staying alive. They have 24/7 to scheme a way in to your garden for dinner. So whether you want to plant blueberry bushes, apple trees, strawberries or a row of beans; it is likely it will be eaten before it ripens in a garden like ours.

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Re-blooming Iris, "Rock Star"

Re-blooming Iris, “Rock Star”

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That said, there are still many beautiful choices in trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs and ferns from which to choose. Here is a freshly curated list for your consideration. We live in Zone 7b, in coastal Virginia. This list is peculiar to our climate, but many of these plants may grow well in your garden, too.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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Key to symbols:

!  a native plant in our area

# attracts birds with berries, fruit, nuts, or seeds

*  a nectar producing plant which attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects

+ a nectar producing plant which attracts hummingbirds

$ poisonous

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

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Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

Bamboo provides cover for nesting birds, shelter from the weather, and a steady supply of insects to eat. Deer never touch it.

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# * + Althea, Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is.  These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer.  Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

# * + $ Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

 

Bamboo (various species)

! #   Bayberry, or Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera

! # * Beautyberry Bush Callicarpa americana

# *   Boxwood Buxus sempervirens

! # * + Butterfly Bush Buddleia (various species)

# * + Butterfly Tree or Glory Tree  Clerodendrum trichotomum

Butterfly tree

Butterfly tree

Camellia C. japonica and C. sasanqua

# * +Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia

! # * Dogwood Cornus florida

Edgeworthia

# * English Laurel Prunus laurocerasus

Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

# Fig  Ficus carica

* Forsythia

! # * Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus

! * Hydrangea arborescens

# Japanese Maple Acer palmatum

# * + $ Ligustrum

* +Lilac Syringa vulgaris

# * Mahonia Mahonia aquifolium

! $ Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

Lilac

Lilac

! # * Magnolia virginiana and other species

# *Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

! * & Native Holly Ilex opaca

! # Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia

# * + $ Oleander

# * Fire Thorn Pyracantha (various species)

Yucca filamentosa

Yucca filamentosa

! # * +Red Bud Cercis canadensis

# * $ Rhododendron

# * +  Silk Tree or Mimosa Albizia julibrissin

# * St. John’s Wort Hypericum

! # Southern Wax Myrtle  Myrica cerifera

! # + Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia

$ Yew

! #* Adam’s Needle Yucca filamentosa and other species

Perennials and Bulbs

! $ Wolfsbane, Monkshood Aconitum

Echinacea

Echinacea

* $ Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

! # * + Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberose and Asclepias incarnata

* + Canna Lily Canna

Our garden on the fourth of July:; a Salvia grows through Colocasia, punctuated with a dark leafed Canna.

Our garden on the fourth of July:; a Salvia grows through Colocasia, punctuated with a dark leafed Canna.

*  Centaurea ( various species)

# * + $ Columbine

* $ Colocasia Elephant’s Ear

* $ Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

! # * Coreopsis ( various species)

 * + Crocosmia ( various species) 

* $ Daffodil Narcissus ( various species)

! # * Daisy Asteraceae ( various species)

* $ Daphne

Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

Butterfly bush with Canna and native Hibiscus

* + $ Larkspur Delphinium

# * Dianthus ( various species)

! # * Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea

* Euphorbia ( various species)

# * Fall Anemones A. hupehensis

Fern   (click for detailed information)

# * + Gaillardia ( various species)

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

* Geranium ( various species)

* + Ginger Lily Hedychium ( various species)

! * Goatsbeard Aruncus dioicus

* Goldenrod Solidago rugosa

Gingerlily

Gingerlily

* $ Lenten Rose Hellebore ( various species) (note, this plant is highly poisonous)

* $ Dutch Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis

 * #  Iris (Bearded, Dutch, Louisiana, Siberian, etc.)

# Ivy

! # * + Rose Mallow Hibiscus moscheutos

! * +Joe Pye Weed  Eutrochium ( various species)

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

# * Lambs Ears Stychys Byzantina

* + Mexican (Bush) Sage (Salvia leucantha) or Salvia Mexicana

* Muscari ( various species)

* Oxalis

* Pelargonium ( various species)

* Peony Paeonia ( various species)

* $ Plumeria

* + Red Hot Poker Kniphofia ( various species)

! # * Black Eyed Susans  Rudbeckia ( various species)

Oxalis triangularis grows in a pot outside as part of a small shade garden.  Although leaves are grazed from time to time, the plant is happy here in the partial shade.

Oxalis triangularis grows in a pot outside as part of a small shade garden. Although leaves are grazed from time to time, the plant is happy here in the partial shade.

$ Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

 

Herbs

Rose scented Pelargonium.

Rose scented Pelargonium.

* $ Artemisia

# * Basil

#*Catmint

apple mint

apple mint

* Comfrey

* Curry

# * Dill

* Fennel

* Germander

* + Lavender

*Marjoram

* Mint

!# *+ Monarda

Salvia with Colocasia

Salvia with Colocasia

* Oregano

# * Parsley

* + Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans

Rosemary

* Sage Salvia species

Annuals and Biennials

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season.  Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season. Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

* Angelonia

* $ Caladium

$ Castor Bean Ricinus communis (all parts of this plant are highly poisonous)

# *+Spider Flower Cleome hassleriana

* Dusty Miller Centaurea cineraria

# * +$ Foxglove Digitalis purpurea

# * + Lantana or Shrub Verbena Lantana camara

* + Mandevilla sanderi

* Mexican Heather Cuphea hyssopifolia

* New Guinea Impatiens Impatiens hawkeri

* + Pentas ( various species)

* Plectranthus ( various species)

* Purple Heart Tradescantia pallida

# * + Zinnia elegans

Vines

May apples with Vinca

May apples with Vinca and ivy

! * + Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans

! * + Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens

# * $ Ivy

! # * + $ Passionflower Passiflora incarnata

*  Periwinkle Vinca major & V. minor

# * Star Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides

! # * + Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

To have confidence your garden won’t be grazed, choose plants known to be poisonous. 

Pick Your Poison:

Poisonous ornamental shrubs: 

Narcissus

Narcissus

Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Daphne

European Holly Ilex aquifolium

Hellebores

Hellebores

Elder Sambucus

Ligustrum

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia

Oleander

Rhododendron

Yew

Some species of Oak are poisonous

Poisonous Perennials and Bulbs

Artemesia

Wolfsbane, Monkshood AconitumApril 13, 2015 spring flowers 007

Columbine

Caladium

Daffodil

Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

Elephant’s Ear Colocasia

Foxglove Digitalis

Columbine

Columbine

Hellebore

Hyacinth

Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

Larkspur Delphinium

Plumeria

Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

Poisonous Annuals

Castor Bean Ricinus communis

Tomato leaves (though the deer have grazed my tomatoes)

Potato leaves

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia 'China Pink' grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Poisonous Vines

Ivy Hedera

Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

Passion Flower Passiflora Caerulea (leaves)

 

Plants that will need extraordinary measures to protect in a forest garden include:  Azaleas, Hostas, daylilies, Oriental Lilies, Roses, impatiens, some sedums, Tomatoes, squashes, sweet potato vines, cucumbers, beans, and mophead Hydrangeas.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome

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June 22, 2015 foliage 012

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

14 responses to “Gardening In A Place With Deer

  1. Thanks for sharing this updated list. I think you are right on the nursery pots being particularly tasty, as I found out recently! 😉 I wonder if flushing the pots for five minutes with a hose might leach out the extra salts? I’m hoping the newly munched rudbeckia and echinacea survive and re-sprout. Darned deer!
    That 7-acre garden I visited today was completely enclosed in deer and rabbit fencing (oh, my!).

    • Eliza, I believe the fertilizer salts go systemic in the plant. The leaves actually TASTE better because of the high N content. Flushing the soil would have limited effectiveness, and then only over time. I believe the trick is extra protection over those first few seasons. Some neighbors build chicken wire cages around new shrubs. We have never wanted to do that. I’m still amazed the Rudbeckia was munched. My Echinacea is destroyed some years, but this year so far so good. Believe it or not, this month’s Virginia Gardener magazine actually has an article on how to ATTRACT deer to one’s garden. Of course, there is a similiar article on how to attract toads…. We have both, and rabbits to boot. Yahoozie!

      • I can’t think of a single mammal that I would want to see in my garden. They all tend to be predatory. Birds, amphibians, some insects, yes. Deer are pretty, but way too destructive. When our neighbors first moved in next door, (not gardeners) they put out a salt lick to attract deer so they could watch them from their deck – I was scandalized! I suggested since they have kids and deer promote Lyme, perhaps it might not be such a great idea. It took months, but finally common sense prevailed.

        • That leaves me speechless, Eliza. I joke with my deer loving neighbor that we should patent a contraceptive salt lick. Surely they can come up with oral contraceptives for deer? Wouldn’t that solve a multitude of problems??? Thank goodness you put things into perspective for them and got the dang thing removed ( or just not replaced?) I like chipmunks, but they don’t seem to live around here. Our cat in the garden is quite enough for us 😉

  2. You’re right: there’s nothing like personal experience. Thanks for sharing yours.

    • Thank you, RIckii. Seeing the deer at the Connie Hansen garden in Lincoln City, OR really brought home to me this is a problem across the country. Even in the midst of all of those homes and businesses, the deer still roamed the streets enjoying the feast. It is a wonder how resourceful they can be. I have been wanting to leave you comments on your page, RIckii, and I often have trouble with the form. Your last two posts are particularly lovely. I look at your garden and drool. Isn’t it interesting how some of your vines grew abundantly, and the others haven’t filled in. Location, location, location! Best wishes, WG

  3. Thank you so much for this wealth of information! I actually love all the plants and trees you’ve listed. I am going to make a lot of these and keep with me when I go to the nursery! Thank you kindly for the compilation. It’s much appreciated! Really! Best wishes and have a wonderful weekend to come! Koko:)

    • Thank you for your kind words, Koko. I am so happy you can use the list. We have wasted so much money buying plants which were quickly eaten by one thing or another. It helps to buy with some confidence your new plant can survive! I once bought 6 Oakleaf Hydrangeas on someone’s assurance they were deer resistant. Well, not one was still growing 18 months later. Now i’ve learned to grow them in pots in a protected place for a year or two before planting them out, and then to still protect them. It is always an adventure 😉 Best wishes, Koko, and thank you for visiting. WG

      • I can imagine the frustration. We want to see beautiful things and that includes flowers and the like. Deer are beautiful too but leave the flowers alone! Hahahaha. Really your list is wonderful and I can see those plants in my yard. Good to know there are some lovely plants the deer will leave alone! Thank you again! 🙂

  4. Bec

    I really feel for you with such a bad deer problem – I’ve just got a bad squirrel problem in my small suburban garden in Manchester (UK) – they eat my bulbs! though they’re not around munch at the moment – that might be because more cats have moved in around me.
    you’ve got many lovely British forest and woodland plants that grown in the shady side of my garden or I’d like to grow if I had more space.
    Do blackberries live (obtainable) in W virginia as there are often bramble bushes in the forest and woods where the deer live in our countryside and they might be unaffected by deer?
    good luck with the continuing fight – the photographs of your garden are lovely too.
    love bec xx

    • Bec, thank you so much for your thoughts here. If you have squirrels coming in to eat your bulbs and generally dig things up you surely have experienced the same thing we discovered here. Squirrels come from all around to feast on the immature fruits of peaches and apples (planted by the previous owner) before throwing down the cores. They love the nut trees and dig in the flowerpots. We have a cat, too, but he doesn’t seem to bother the squirrels or deer, and he doesn’t harm the birds. (He just loves to watch them.) Squirrels will take Tulip bulbs, but will leave daffodils and Hyacinths alone. They don’t bother our Squill or Frittillarias. Blackberries grow here very well. We have farms raising hybrid thornless cultivars where one may go pick this time of year. We also have native varieties naturalized. They are so prolific they pop up like weeds, and I generally cut them out. We let a few canes grow in our borders these last few years, and I saw unripe berries growing a week or so ago. I’m sure something has enjoyed them by now! Thank you for your good wishes and kind words, and for visiting today. Best wishes,
      WG

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