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.
I 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.
The 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.