What deer don’t eat, so far …

It’s time for me to look at my deer-munched plantings with a glass-half-full attitude. Deer, in large numbers, are here to stay unless my little section of south-central Connecticut is suddenly cohabitated by a throng of hungry mountain lions … but that would bring another set of issues. Enough sniveling over all the greenery I’ve planted that deer now see as dinner (That’s a deer, granddaughter deer. and Do deer tweet?). Time to focus on what deer haven’t eaten … yet.

In my gardens, fuzzy, silver and fragrant seem to be off the list of deer faves. Stachys byzantina, a.k.a. Lamb’s Ear, in the common flowering form and the non-flowering variety ‘Helene von Stein’ are both ignored. Many gardeners decry common Stachys’ wild looking flower stalks – they tend to fall this way and that after heavy rains. I don’t. Bees love the flowers, I welcome the subtle purple flower color and I simply cut back unruly stalks after giving them a chance to pop back up after a rain. Remove all stalks when flowers fade to enjoy the fuzzy silver foliage long into autumn.

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Plants with similar downy coverings – common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), downy Salvias (sages), Santolina, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ grows best for me), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and artemesias – also avoid deer browsing.

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Deer have not touched common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) foliage, shown here in autumn and in bloom.

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Deer leave all my green- and red-foliage ground-cover sedum alone.

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Deer have yet to nibble away ornamental grasses, Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca’), any variety of thyme, and Siberian or bearded iris (though I’ve heard of deer eating iris in other gardens).

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To date, deer don’t seem interested in allium, most narcissi (except my early blooming Tete-a tete miniatures when I forget to cover newly emerging foliage), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), native ferns, boxwood (Buxus sempervirens, ‘Green Ice’, and ‘Green Mountain’), and Pieris japonica. They have not yet nibbled my newly planted Montgomery Spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa), but time will tell.

Deer leave my rhododendron and laurel shrubs alone during late spring, summer and early autumn, but I fence rhododendron from late autumn through winter to keep deer from ‘pruning’ them into green-topped umbrellas. This year I’m also going to fence in the small laurel shrubs so deer cannot re-shape them.

Check out Elegant Silvers by Jo Ann Gardner & Karen Bussolini as a go to resource for silver foliage plants. I cannot attest that all their listed deer-resistant plants will be so in your garden, but their list is a good place to start.

Please share any truly deer-avoided plants you’ve discovered. The list is likely to be ever-changing, but it’s one I’ll be working on for the rest of my gardening-in-Connecticut days.

Garden thoughtfully …

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4 comments for “What deer don’t eat, so far …

  1. November 15, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Doesn’t it seem like scientists should be able to analyze the chemical compounds in plant tissues and find what it is that attracts deer? What makes arborvitae so tasty and what makes them bypass pieris and boxwood?

    Certainly texture (fuzzy, smelly) is one thing deer avoid, but there must be nutrients or taste chemicals that could be isolated so plants could be bred for that.

    (And then take it further and breed palatable taste compounds into barberry, multiflora rose and bittersweet…. it could be done, no? Maybe a spray compound we could drench stands of burning bush with and attract the deer to come in and munch)

    • joenesgarden
      November 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      Laurrie, I like the way you think!.

  2. November 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Heyyy, Joene, I like your caveat, “so far.” Well, so far, deer don’t eat plants in my herb garden, except rose. I believe they don’t like most herbs. Or, they’re too lazy to bend over. So far.

    • joenesgarden
      November 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Lee, I’ve also found deer avoid most herbs, so far. Unfortunately basil is not among the herbs deer avoid.

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