Rural and suburban landscapes attract deer because they offer a neat little “buffet” of food deer love to eat. Rather than forage over a wide area, deer can “one-stop-shop” for a delicious meal all in one location. Good landscape design and plant selection should include deer resistance along with other design considerations. There are many beautiful plants that are not attractive to deer, and some that actually keep them away. These plants should be the backbone of any landscape where deer are a problem.
Deer instinctively know which plants are poisonous, but there are many plants they simply don’t care for. They are less picky in winter, when their native food supply is dormant or snow-covered.
A good first step is to avoid plants that deer particularly like, such as Hostas, day lilies, tulips and Taxus (yews). Unfortunately deer are attracted to some of our favorite ornamental plants, but substitutes can usually be found for landscaping. Plants with course, fuzzy, bristly or spiny textures, or intense aromas, discourage deer. Hungry deer in the dead of winter will eat just about anything, but if food is plentiful deer will steer clear of less tasty choices.
For example, the following perennials look good in landscapes but are relatively unattractive to deer: Artemisia, Bellflower (campanula), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Catmint (Nepeta), Columbine (Aquilegia), Crocus, Daffodil (Narcissus), Fern, Foxglove (Digitalis), Geranium, Hellebore, Hyacinth, Iris, Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla), Lamb’s Ears (Stachys), Lavender, Liatris (Gayfeather), Naked Lady (Lycoris), Peony, Russian Sage (Perovskia), Salvia, and Yarrow (Achillea).
Deer also ignore most types of ornamental grasses. The following trees and shrubs are landscape favorites and don’t appeal to deer: Ash, Barberry, Boxwood, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Cotoneaster, Dogwood, Forsythia, Grape Holly (Mahonia), Hawthorn, Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina), Holly, Japanese Kerria, Japanese Maple, Juniper, Lilac, Magnolia, Mimosa, Mountain Laurel (Kalmia), Rhododendron, Smoke tree (Cotinus), Spirea, Spruce, Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus), and Viburnum.
A challenge to home gardeners and orchardists is that deer particularly crave virtually all fruit and vegetable plants. If you like apples, strawberries and sweet corn, or peas and lettuce, you need to take steps to protect your crop. Certain plants mixed in with your garden can actually deter deer, however. Surrounding and inter-planting susceptible plants with unpalatable or repellent plants makes them harder for deer to find. Here are some deer-deterrent plants:Catmint, Catnip, Chives, Garlic, Onions, Lavender, Sage, Spearmint, Thyme, and Yarrow.
Deer tastes vary from place to place, season to season and deer to deer. It may take some trial and error to find the ideal mix for your landscape. For a thorough understanding, read “Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden”, by Rhonda Massingham Hart. Remember that newly installed plants are the most vulnerable, so using a deer deterrent is a good idea. The best one we’ve found is Natura PlantSaver, easy-to-use tablets pressed into the root zone to give plants a bitter flavor. We’ve also had good results using “Liquid Fence”, a mixture of smells deer cannot tolerate, in an easy-to-use pump sprayer. We recommend it for any landscape installation if deer are likely to be a problem. The best time to treat plants with deer repellent is when you first plant them.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery and Landscape, located 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call 937-587-7021.
Preventing deer damage starts with choosing plants that deer don’t like to eat.