After all the hard work that goes into making a beautiful garden, nothing makes a gardener's blood boil more than waking up to find that hungry deer have decimated several prized plants. There are various methods to deter deer from destroying your garden, and one way is to choose deer resistant plants for the garden.
Notice that I am not suggesting deer proof plants. There really is no such thing as a deer proof plant. When deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything, even a plant they would normally consider to be a second rate meal. Deer resistant plants are generally avoided by deer, although there are always going to be some deer who didn't read the rules and will eat some of these plants regardless of their palatability.
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Deer are the most likely to view your garden as their own personal cafeteria in the spring when plants are the most tender and juicy. If you are very lucky, you may have to protect your plants only for the first few weeks of the growing season. If this is the case in your garden, temporary fencing around vulnerable plants may be the answer. But in areas with a high deer population, or if some of those deer who don't read the rules live nearby, you may have to resort to gardening with deer resistant plants.
Deer tend to be like some little children. They don't like to feel odd textures in their mouths. Plants that are prickly or fuzzy can be considered as deer resistant plants because in many cases the deer will avoid eating them. Aromatic plants are also avoided by deer, along with plants that have a milky sap and those that give deer an upset tummy.
Deer seem to especially enjoy munching on hostas and daylilies, but if the hostas and daylilies are surrounded by deer resistant plants, the deer may bypass these plants in search of a meal that is easier to reach. If you have plants in your garden that seem to be particularly desirable to deer, consider protecting them with a border of deer resistant plants. A low-growing groundcover planting of bugleweed (Ajuga), sweet woodruff (Galium) or aromatic thyme planted around the hostas and lilies may prevent deer from reaching your prized plants.
Woodland plants complement hostas quite well and many woodland plants are disdained by hungry deer. Deer avoid eating ferns, bleeding hearts, lily of the valley, harebells and members of the geranium family, including woodland Cranesbill along with the scented geraniums that have become popular garden plants. Protect plants that are deer delicacies by surrounding them with deer resistant plants.
Herbs make a fine addition to an ornamental garden. In addition to being useful in the kitchen, many herbs are also beautiful and they are disliked by deer. Most members of the mint family are avoided by deer, including anise hyssop (Agastache). Other deer resistant herbs include rosemary, dill, ornamental chives and other alliums, wormwood (Artemisia), lavender, lemon balm (Melissa), bee balm (Monarda), sage and oregano. There are several varieties of oregano, both culinary and ornamental, all which are avoided by deer. Catnip is another deer resistant plant, but it does attract cats and may cause another garden problem altogether.
Other aromatic plants that deer usually avoid include salvia, yarrow (Achillea), dead nettles (Lamium) and Russian sage.
If a plant is prickly in any way, deer will tend to avoid eating it. One exception to this rule is roses. Apparently roses are a delicacy for deer and they will put up with a few thorns so they can munch on the blossoms. But many other thorny or prickly plants are deer resistant.
Ornamental grasses can be considered deer resistant plants. Deer don't seem to like the rough texture and cutting edges of ornamental grasses. Flowers that have spiky centers are also avoided. These would include coneflowers (Echinacea), zinnias, gaillardia, pincushion flowers (Scabiosa), Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia), and globe thistle (Echinops). The spiky texture of sea pinks (thrift) makes them undesirable to most deer.
Deer will happily devour many shrubs, but there are some that are deer resistant. If browsing deer are a problem in your garden, consider planting thorny barberry, Northern bayberry (Myrica) or evergreen boxwood. Daphne is also avoided by deer, along with privet, smokebush, spice bush (Lindera) and members of the spruce family.
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Plants that have a fuzzy texture tend to be deer resistant. Fuzzy deer resistant plants include lamb's ears, cockscomb (Celosia), rose campion (Lychnis), poppies, astilbe, Joe Pye Weed, goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) and mulleins.
Other deer resistant plants have a milky sap that deer dislike. Plants with distasteful sap include butterfly weed (Asclepias), spurge (Euphorbia) and peonies.
If a particular food tends to give you heartburn you most often avoid eating that food. Likewise, deer will avoid eating plants that make them sick or upsets their stomach. Deer can't go to the pharmacy to buy antacids, so they will avoid eating plants that give them indigestion. These plants include morning glories, daffodils and narcissus, snowdrops, foxgloves, hellebores, elephant ears (Taro), monkshood (Aconitum) and the peonies that were mentioned earlier.
When planning or adding to a garden in an area with a lot of deer traffic, keep in mind that deer like a diet of bland, juicy plants. If the plant is smelly, spiky, fuzzy or sappy, chances are the deer won't like it nearly as much as you do. It is possible to have a beautiful garden, despite the deer, so long as you work with deer resistant plants.