When I began gardening here in a forested community in the autumn of 2009, my earliest efforts resulted in unexpected frustration as deer, rabbits, moles and voles ate much of what I planted. I still remember planting a flat of perennial Phlox plants and finding them gone the following morning, nothing left but holes where they had been planted only hours before.
Even plants that I expected to be ‘deer proof,’ like a new hedge of hybrid blue holly shrubs, died within months from the stress or repeated grazing. That frustration set me on a path to re-learn how to garden in such a ‘wildlife friendly’ environment.
Over a decade later, I’m still learning. But I’ve discovered a growing list of plants that the deer in our area leave strictly alone; plants that can be planted with confidence that they’ll be left alone for the gardener to enjoy. But ‘deer proof’ isn’t the only quality I’m looking for in plants. I also want beautiful plants that are reasonably easy to grow, persistent and that will support other wildlife. I want functional plants that serve a variety of purposes within the novel ecosystem of our community.
I began writing about these special plants for a local garden newsletter in May of 2021. The original set of nine articles has been republished here, with articles about additional plants on my ‘deer proof’ planting list added from time to time. I hope these articles will prove helpful to others who are trying to enjoy a garden where deer roam freely.
Gardening should be fun and bring joy to our lives. That is why I am always happy to discover a new group of plants that thrive in our climate, grow beautifully without a lot of fuss, and that don’t attract the attention hungry deer looking for the salad bar. Allow me to share another of my favorites….
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Mountain Laurel May 2022
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Scarlet Buckeye April 2022
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Narcissus March 2022
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Ajuga February 2022
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Mahonia January 2022
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Hellebores December 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Italian Arum November 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Evergreen Ferns October 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Rosemary September 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Scented Geraniums August 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Verbena July 2021
Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Agastache June 2021
A valuable guide, thanks so much. Deer are getting more numerous with each passing year!
They are indeed, Eliza, and some folks just give up trying to grow much because of the deer pressure. There are many things I won’t even attempt here anymore, as much as I may love the plants or want their crops. It helps to know what you CAN grow, especially for folks new to the area. ❤ ❤ ❤
Thx for your deer-resistant plant suggestions. I’ve tried several myself with success (my garden looks increasingly like a “fern farm,” and I keep adding clumps of helebores); others on your list have not done well in my garden, like ajuga (but not b/c the deer ate them), and I’ve had mixed results with daffodils/narcissus (but again, not due to deer-snacking). I’ve also had success with astilbe, acuba, azalea, grasses (liriope, PA sedge, toffee-twist), holly (although you say you didn’t), camelia, hydrangea (although friends report the opposite), forsythia (although I don’t like them any better than the deer do), itea, leucothoe (I know I’m misspelling), plumbago, prostrate yew (NOT the other kind), chamcypress (again, forgive misspelling), solomon’s seal, sweetbox (although mine have a tendency to yellow for reasons I haven’t sleuthed)…and last year, I planted hardy begonias w/o incident (we’ll see if they come-up this year), and also planted my first mahonia (there’s a mature “volunteer” specimen in my garden that deer have ignored). Oh, and let’s not forget “false aralia” (which I call “crazy plant”); I doubt a nuclear bomb cd kill it, let-alone a deer. I was led to believe deer don’t like anemone…and it appears that they don’t like them much…but maybe they sometimes do a “taste test” (?); anyhow my crop blooms mostly-beautifully, but when I examine the plants that don’t, I notice that they’re missing their buds.
ANYHOW, sorry to run-off at the mouth. My garden is also plagued by lots of shade in addition to deer, but 2 months ago 3 trees from my neighbor’s property fell down on mine (do NOT get me started…turns out it was MY responsibility to remove the nabe’s felled trees, which cost me $4,600, not including damage to my existing plantings…blew a rather big hole in my gardening budget). However, trying to look at the “bright side” if you’ll pardon the pun, the resulting increase in sunlight shd open the door to installing plants I wd otherwise not have tried. So I’m smacking my lips as I survey your other recommendations.
Thx again. I look forward to your future posts as always…and your gorgeous photos!
Well Monica, I’m happy to hear that you can still look on the ‘bright side’ after all of that. And I thought we had it bad when one of our neighbor’s trees fell across our yard and took about about 5 of our fruit trees some time ago. Again, like you, I naively thought the neighbor would pay for the clean-up. The loss was entirely ours. Our other neighbor gave us a beautiful little seedling Magnolia tree from his yard in sympathy, and we planted it near where we had lost fruit trees in that storm. It has just taken off! I’m amazed at how much it has grown. It will continue ‘throwing shade’ for quite a while to come. It is very interesting to hear what plants your deer eat and what they leave alone. Yes, ferns and hellebores take up more of our real estate each year, too. But they are so easy, and are beautiful in their own way. No fault there. But Solomon’s Seal was gobbled up in less than a month from planting it. Deer aren’t ‘supposed’ to eat Caladiums, but they ‘taste test’ a leaf from time to time. I’ve put Plant Skydd granules on the Amazon ‘subscribe and save’ list because I’m going through so much of it, along with spray bottles of ‘Repels All.’ That is all that saves our Hydrangeas from extinction. The Ajuga and Narcissus may want more sunlight than they’re getting in your (once) shady yard. It is always interesting, isn’t it? Such a pleasure to hear from you, Monica. I hope that you are well and ready to enjoy spring. ❤ ❤ ❤
OMG, I can’t believe you went through the same devastation from a neighbor’s falling trees…and the insult-to-injury factor, i.e., the victim’s responsibility to bear the entire expense of removing the perpetrator trees AND repairing the resulting garden damage. (Our insurance covered the cost of repairing the damage to our fence and electrical lines…but no compensation for the endless hours my 78-year-old husband has spent dealing with the latter.)
Like you, one of my neighbors keeps apologizing to me (the trees weren’t his, so I keep telling him not his fault…and he keeps saying “but you work so hard on your beautiful garden”); nice to know that someone noticed, right? Unfortunately, not the perpetrator.
If you can tell I’m in a RAGE, you’d be right.
That said, while bombs are falling on moms & kids in Ukraine, it’s hard to complain (even for me), but anyone who knows me knows I’m not a “bright side” person…I’m actually way-darker than my garden. Now I’m thinking evil thoughts @ my neighbors’ trees, while trying to figure out how my plants (future plants) might benefit from the increased sun.
Very interesting that deer have eaten your Solomon’s Seal….hmmm; I’ve had the same experience as you with Caladiums, which deer aren’t “supposed” to like; I’ve planted some which deer haven’t touched…but now that I think about it, only in hard-to-reach locations; the others have been “munched,” though not destroyed. Okee-dokee, what do you think of trying hardy begonias in one of those locations this year instead, now that I know it’s not just “me”? Plus I’m DYING to know if I can plant Lantana in one of my pots with the increased sun (I had masses of them in pots on my “roof terrace” back in Brooklyn). Not sure it will work here, but you’ve spurred-me-on….as you always do…just when I’m ready to give up.
Thx again for the sympathetic words…do you think you cd start a separate “chat room” (like a group-therapy thing) for gardeners who’ve had neighbors’ trees fall on them?
Your cranky comrade,
Hi Monica, So nice that we can encourage one another now and again. We have neighbors who go out of their way to help one another. In our community we have a ‘chainsaw gang’ who will show up and help when a tree falls blocking a driveway or street. But then there are those few who keep their focus squarely on themselves and won’t help out even when the damage comes from their property. I understand your rage and had to finally let mine go. Putting one’s hands in the dirt helps. But that is another story from another time. More recently, our own trees fell (away from the house!) and into the street, landing in the driveway across the street. That was late afternoon just before neighbors were headed home from work, so quick work was required to clear things up. At least we had insurance that time since we had damage to a light and a fence. That left me with nearly full sun where we previously had dense shade. It takes some time to re-think and adjust. And then, just when you have finished planting for sun, the trees grow and you have shade once again. The garden is always about change- some very slow and some ‘lightning’ fast. 😉 Deer rarely touch my perennial Begonias and I have several pots and nice patches of them now. So I’d encourage you to try them. The nice thing about pots is you can move them around until you get the light just right. I’m glad you have a willing husband to muck around with you and deal with the garden. Misery loves company, and then suddenly we’re laughing about it again. Take care, and plant something you’ll enjoy. Something thorny, I hope, on the side where your neighbors trees fell…. WG ❤ ❤ ❤