Gardening with Deer

Gardening with deer? While doing so takes some effort, it can be done. The keys are to know your foe and, with all good gardening, choose the right plant for the right place.

Before choosing any landscape plant for an area not protected by deer, understand that deer will eat anything when hungry enough, and not all deer share the same tastes. What one or many deer avoid in one garden another individual or group may devour in another garden.

The local deer in my neighborhood tend to avoid plants with fuzzy and/or silver leaves, ornamental grasses, native ferns, most herbs, foxglove, amsonia, nepeta, Siberian iris, lychnis, nearly everything in the allium (onion/garlic) family, daffodils/narcissus/jonquils, low growing sedum, boxwood, bayberry, and some conifers such as white pine, blue spruce, and some junipers.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Local deer occasionally nibble new bearded iris leaves, the very first shoots of Tete-a-tete narcissi as these emerge early, crocus (even the supposed deer-resistant tommasinianus varieties, but only rarely), Lady’s Mantle, and peony foliage (generally either in early spring as they emerge or later summer into autumn), as well as young, within reach foliage of lilac, viburnum, and pee-gee hydrangea.

Read more on how I garden with deer in the heavily deer-populated region of south-central Connecticut by clicking Gardening with Deer, as recently published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust newsletter.

Browsing deer - do you see all three?

Browsing deer – do you see all three?

When gardening with deer you may not be able to plant all of your favorites, without investing in a fenced area, but you can still create beautiful gardens from mostly deer-resistant plants.

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4 comments for “Gardening with Deer

  1. Jim
    May 14, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Boy oh boy do I ever feel your pain. In one evening a heard decimated a couple dozen roses to the point that i didn’t have one rose bloom until fall. It was tragic. But it was my own fault for not taking proper precautions. You just roll the dice every nice when you decide to skip out on protecting your plants. But that’s what I get for growing roses. I have fewer now (I think due to successive brutal winters). I rolled the dice and finally lost on my korean spice viburnum ‘Mohawk’. I had a few dozen blooms on a 3-4yr old shrub. I was so excited to FINALLY be able to smell those spicy flower clusters. They descended and nipped 3/4 of the buds off the shrub one night. I still got some blooms though. I didn’t know they liked Mockorange. They chopped that down last year but this year I have buds and have sprayed the shrub diligently. Having said all that, there are definitely some that have never ever been touched: Ninebark ‘Center Glow’, lilacs, ornamental grasses, Baptisia, Veronica, catmint, calamintha, siberian and bearded irises, ferns, astilbe, generally montauk daisies although I have had all the flowers nipped off but never the plant leaves/stems, achillea, aconitum, my alchemilla mollis has never been touched, Geranium macrorrhizum, poppies, peonies, Lespideza thunbergii, and planted a bunch of rose campion from seed last year that SHOULD bloom this year (I’m excited about that).

    I sprayed around the yard last night with Deer Stopper. I tend to buy at least one gallon of concentrate a year. Yes, expensive, but it holds off those buggers pretty well.

    • May 15, 2015 at 7:07 am

      Jim, it is always so interesting to hear what deer browse on in other gardens. How lucky for you that your local deer don’t eat baptisia; in my yard they munched them to the ground. Have you tried encircling young trees with welded wire cages until most branches grow beyond the browse line? This was successful for my viburnum. It’s not the most attractive solution, but it gives young trees a fighting chance. Deer browse management plans certainly keep avid gardeners on their toes!

  2. May 14, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    Joene, Deer aren’t as thick on the ground in my area as in yours (I think because we still have quite a bit of non-garden habitat left for them, and because there is a lot of deer hunting in Maine — where many families depend on their annual deer for winter food). In my circumstances, I can grow some deer-favorite plants (e.g., hosta), if I cover them with netting when they’re first opening their new growth, Once the plants are better established, I uncover them. As spring turns into summer and deer have more foods to choose from, they are less likely to frequent my garden.

    • May 15, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Jean, hosta in my yard would be gone at any stage were it not growing within a fenced garden, I net hosta growing in a nearby client’s yard, otherwise they quickly become deer food. I am in one of the most deer dense regions of CT. Much of the wooded areas here have minimal native undergrowth due to heavy deer browsing. Though hunting is popular, deer learn to bunch into non-hunting areas during hunting season.

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