Blue Star Juniper–More Deer Candy

Last autumn I treated myself to an adorable little Blue Star juniper (Juniperis squamata ‘Blue Star’). I planted it in one of my many garden beds not fenced to keep deer at bay. I had such high hopes it would eventually grow into the 2-3 foot tall, 3-4 foot wide mound its tag promised, particularly because it had sharp, prickly needles that suggested it might live up to the ‘deer resistant’ label it was given.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI need  real deer-resistant shrubs to fill the void left when tropical storm Irene toppled a hydrangea paniculata and a buddleia. These shrubs (center and right in the photo) had anchored a section of what I call the triangle bed. I had been playing with plant combinations in this spot for many seasons and, before Irene hit, had finally achieved a blend that looked good, not just during spring as is shown here, but all season.

Crocus and daffodils bloomed first,  them iris , Lamb’s ear, rose campion and lavender stepped in. The hydrangea and buddleia continued to grow as black-eyed Susan’s and a dark red yarrow joined yellow sedum blossoms. Then dark purple blooms of buddleia (I think it was ‘Black Knight”’) joined the long-blooming black-eyed Susan’s in attracting many butterflies. The hydrangea grabbed the show as its huge flowers matured from their creamy shade of late summer to their mauve shades of autumn.  The only sparse season was winter. Even before Irene took the buddleia, I had decided to replace it with another blue-grey evergreen to balance the existing blue spruce.

With both the hydrangea and the buddleia gone the bed was all out of scale.  I considered planting another hydrangea paniculata but active voles were one reason the original hydrangea toppled; they had feasted on the hydrangea’s roots. Besides, I wanted shrubs that did not need to be fenced from the deer’s damaging teeth.

I settled on a Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ where the buddleia once stood as it should grow from 4-8 feet tall. The Blue Star juniper was to eventually form a 2-3 foot tall mound of blue-gray color between the pieris and the bird bath. It would mirror the foliage of the spruce.

The juniper survived through autumn’s first frost.


It survived the first snow in early November. Notice the tracks left by deer passing by, showing the juniper no interest.



It survived through a January 2013 winter thaw.



It was buried by the snows of February and I gave it no thought until I was able to survey my plantings after the snow finally melted in late March. What I found is not pretty.

Juniper 'Blue Star' browsed 4-13-13The hoof tracks left behind, the condition of the browsed stem ends, and the lack of any broken branches left behind on the ground suggest deer are to blame. I’m sure the shrub is a goner but I decided to leave it in place to see how – or if – it responds as the weather warms.

Though it looks very sad in its blanket of new mulch. I’m pulling for it to fight back.

Right now it’s a reminder that many ‘deer resistant’ labels mean squat.

The only way to really know what local deer like is to plant it and hope for the best.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry

14 comments for “Blue Star Juniper–More Deer Candy

  1. Sue
    April 17, 2013 at 6:29 am

    If the bed has voles, they may be the culprits. During the winter of 2010-2011, voles decimated just about every woody plant in one of my gardens. A blue star juniper was among the casualties.

    I can’t imagine how frustrting it must be to garden with constant deer browsing pressure. Just the few raids I get a year are annoying. A friend of mine who lives in New Britain has herds of them coming through her yard every night. I was surprised when she told me they ate roses. Ouch!

    • April 17, 2013 at 7:03 am

      Sue, I considered voles as the culprits, but I have not seen vole activity in that bed for quite a while now … it’s something I keep a close eye on. Plus, all the plants in that bed, including the juniper, were solidly in the ground. When voles are present there’s root damage from vole browsing.
      I saw deer tracks in the bed as I was cleaning it up a couple of weeks ago. Deer around here have browsed on junipers after snow melts in early spring, when they have depleted other food sources. I’m pretty sure deer ate my juniper.
      If I purchase another blue star I will have to fence it during winter. This is the only way I manage to keep deer from rhododendron, kalmia, viburnum, magnolia, upright juniper, and any other new tree/shrub except pieris, boxwood, and blue spruce.

  2. Frances
    April 17, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Joene, I feel your pain. Deer browsed one of our three (deer resistant) chindo viburnums badly this winter. We were hoping for a hedge within the next couple of years, but this is quite a setback. I’ve counted as many as 13 deer out back some evenings. Gardening in the country is challenging!

    • April 17, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Frances, so sorry to hear about your viburnums. We have counted as many as 18 deer in winter herds traversing our property. They have browsed the wooded areas to the point where there is nearly no understory shrubbery.

  3. April 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    That is really disheartening.

    • April 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      Kathy, I have an ever-shrinking list of plants not touched by deer. Disheartening, indeed.

  4. Laura
    April 19, 2013 at 1:44 am

    I completely share your frustration. Two nights ago, deer browsed my perennial garden. I had just placed Sweeney Deer Repellant Stations all over the yard. I then sprayed the remainder of the deer candy plants with Deer Solution. I did not spray the Siberian Iris, because for 11 years they have been untouched by Bambi. This morning, I went out and the Iris were eaten to the ground. The deer even ate the Globe thistle!

    • April 21, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Laura, they must have been mighty hungry! So sorry for your plant losses.

  5. April 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    How frustrating. I used to live in an area overrun with deer and this was one plant they left alone. I have read before that deer’s tastes can shift from region to region and this is proof of that.

    • April 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

      Marguerite, I’ve found that deer tastes are different from year to year and neighborhood to neighborhood, and that the babies will try anything.

  6. April 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    This is a heart breaker. What I find is that deer sample everything. If it is deer resistant, that means they don’t actually eat it, but they strip off branches to see if they do want it, then leave it alone after that. But that effectively strips a little transplant.

    It does look like your deer did more than sample — they seem to have really decimated that beautiful shrub. It makes me want to cry!

    • April 21, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Laurrie, after losing so many plants – I actually don’t want to tally up the total – I’m beyond crying. I will now have to add fencing around any new juniper replacement I get and all the Coast leucothoe I planted last autumn. The two leucothoe left unfenced were both heavily browsed as I noted in an earlier post. Fron now on any new shrubbery besides boxwood, pieris and blue spruce will be protected by welded wire fencing until they are too large for deer to reach. Certain low-growing shrubs will just have to be fenced during winter.

  7. April 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, Ihave neer seen deer eat Blue Star before . I have lots of clients who have them and, until now, I wuld have said they are deer resistant. I did find the deer pressure was VERY hih this year and that the deer ate so many plants that they’d left alone for years.

    • April 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Debbie, I’m going to try planting Blue Star again in a different location and, this autumn, I will cage them. Perhaps it was just that there was so little for deer to eat during the winter’s extended snow cover. Perhaps they ate my Blue Star because it was still relatively fresh from the nursery. If I could figure out what deer eat and why I’d be very wealthy! I have not seen deer browse mature Blue Stars so I’ll try again to get them to a more mature stage.

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