Deer Gardening

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

rose mallow, Missouri primrose, obedient plant, purple beard tongue, purple coneflower, queen of the prairie, Solomon's seal, swamp milkweed, wild ginger, and wild strawberry.

Although native plants generally aren't as attractive to deer, they won't repel them from your garden. Natalia Hamill, horticulturalist and former director of marketing for the Conservation Department's Grow Native! program, says that a strategy of interspersing native species won't protect your garden favorites.

"Deer have a knack for finding their favorite plants even when they're mixed in with the non-favorites," she said. "They'll eat every hosta but won't touch the celandine poppy planted next to the hosta."

In addition to the native species mentioned above, Hamil suggested planting black-eyed Susan, liatris, blue lobelia, native columbine, native coreopsis, native iris, tall larkspur, purple poppy mallow, shining blue star, speedwell, tall bellflower, wild ageratum, Joe Pye weed, wild geranium and wild indigo.

For a list of native plant nurseries in Missouri, visit the Missouri Native Plant Society website or write to Missouri Native Plant Society, P.O. Box 2073, St. Louis, MO 63144-0073, or send a stamped self-addressed envelope to Grow Native!, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Plant and Repel

Some people refuse to let the possibility of deer depredation keep them from planting their garden favorites. Alan Branhagen, director of horticulture at Powell Gardens near Kansas City, said, "We have a minor deer problem, but we don't let it dictate what we plant. Our philosophy is that people should plant what they like."

In late winter and early spring, azaleas, violas, pansies and hostas tempt the deer. "The deer think we're providing a wonderful salad bar for them," Branhagen said. Powell's gardeners use an egg-based repellent to keep the deer away from those plants.

Understand that if you want to enjoy your pretty plants, you'll have to protect them. Network with local gardeners to learn which repellent sprays work best. Keep in mind that the only sure way to protect plants from deer is to erect 8-foot fences around your gardens.

Deer Relief

When an area is overwhelmed with too many deer causing too much damage, wildlife specialists suggest the option of hunting during the state's deer season to thin the herd. A Conservation Agent can tell you how hunting may be able to help in various situations, from town to suburb to countryside. If you don't hunt, consider allowing friends and neighbors to hunt.

One more thing to consider is that deer may not be your problem. If you don't see the deer browsing (they usually are more active at night) and you don't find clear signs like tracks or deer scat, other critters may be munching your garden plants.

During a talk titled "Oh, Deer!" at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Patrick McNulty of Creve Coeur advised those attending to positively identify what was damaging their garden before trying preventative measures.

"Woodchucks, birds, rabbits, and squirrels can cause extensive damage," he said. "One homeowner reporting deer damage was actually receiving visits from a neighboring llama."

Deer Resistors

Any tender, succulent plants fresh from the nursery, where they have been watered and fertilized, may attract deer, especially early in the season, when green vegetation in their natural habitat is not available. Although no plant is guaranteed to resist deer browsing, gardeners have reported success with the following species.

Perennials

  • Astilbe
  • Bee Balm
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Columbine
  • Coralbells
  • Evergreen Candytuft
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Foxglove
  • Hardy Geranium
  • Hellebore
  • Hibiscus
  • Iris
  • Monkshood
  • Oriental Poppy
  • Peony
  • Perennial Alyssum
  • Perennial Flax
  • Pinks
  • Salvia
  • Yarrow
  • Yucca

Annuals and Biennials

  • Ageratum
  • Dusty Miller
  • French marigold
  • Lantana
  • Larkspur
  • Lobelia
  • Morning Glory
  • Moonflower
  • Nasturtium Ornamental pepper
  • Snapdragon
  • Stock
  • Wax Begonia
  • Zinnia

Groundcovers

  • Bugle Weed (Ajuga)
  • Bearberry
  • Bergenia
  • Dead Nettle
  • Ferns
  • Indian Strawberry
  • Junipers
  • Lady's Mantle
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Mosses
  • Pachysandra
  • Potentilla
  • Sedum
  • Snow-in-Summer
  • Vinca Minor

Herbs

Observers rate many herbs as deer-resistant, because of their strong aromas and flavors.

  • Angelica
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Basil
  • Catmint
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Comfrey
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Lamb's ears
  • Lavender
  • Lavender Cotton
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint
  • Mullein
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Bulbs

  • Autumn Crocus
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil, Jonquil, Narcissus
  • Crown Imperial
  • Glory of the Snow
  • Grape Hyacinth
  • Siberian Squill
  • Snowdrop
  • Snowflake
  • Striped Squill Surprise Lily
  • Various Flowering Onions
  • Winter Aconite

Perennial Vines

  • Akebia
  • Bittersweet
  • Grape
  • Honeysuckle
  • Silver Lace Vine

Trees

These trees are rated by various observers to be rarely damaged, seldom severely damaged or deer-resistant. Protect small seedlings with tree shelters.

  • American Holly
  • Beech
  • Birch: European, White, Paper
  • Catalpa
  • Corkscrew Willow
  • Dogwood: Red Osier, Kousa
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperis virginiana)
  • English Hawthorn
  • Ginkgo
  • Hickory
  • Japanese Flowering Cherry
  • Locust: Black, Honey
  • Mimosa
  • Pine: Austrian, Mugo, Red, Scots, Shortleaf (for southern Missouri only)
  • Sassafras, Common
  • Smoke Tree
  • Sourwood
  • Spruce: Colorado Blue, Norway, White
  • Sweet Gum
  • Sycamore
  • Tulip Tree

Shrubs

  • Barberry
  • Bayberry
  • Beautybush
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Chinese Holly
  • Chinese Junipers (blue and green)
  • Common Boxwood
  • Common Lilac
  • Drooping Leucothoe
  • Forsythia
  • Inkberry
  • Japanese Kerria
  • Oregon Grape Holly
  • Russian Olive

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