When you live where deer populations are high, as they are here in Wisconsin, deer damage often seems to go hand in hand with gardening. Preventing browsing deer from treating your landscape like a delicacy-filled buffet has always been important, but with the rise of Lyme disease, keeping deer away from favorite outdoor areas takes on more significance.
No plant is completely safe from hungry deer, especially during stark winters. But when food is prevalent, deer can be choosy eaters. Selecting plants with the following qualities can help make your landscape less attractive to these visitors and keep your garden off their list of preferred feeding spots:
1. Aromatic foliage
Given options, deer pass over plants with strongly scented foliage. Shrubs such as Gro-Low Fragrant Sumac or the more upright Fragrant Sumac, release strong aromas when leaves are bruised – or chewed. That goes for these shrubs’ glossy green spring leaves or fall’s gorgeous sumac mix of orange, purple and red. Fragrant foliage of silvery leaved perennials such as Little Spire Russian Sage or Walker’s Low Catmint, both beautiful when massed in fragrant borders, do the same – as does Ornamental Onion, the 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year.
2. Thick, leathery leaves
Deer tend to choose soft, tender leaves over fuzzy, tough ones every time. Plants with leathery, sword-like foliage, such as Adam’s Needle Yucca or the dramatic, yellow-variegated Color Guard Yucca, lend your yard a Southwest look while keeping deer at bay. Thick, stiff leaves on shrubs such as Show Off Forsythia rarely sustain deer damage, even when drenched in a wave of golden yellow flowers each spring. Blackout Coral Bells provide front-of-the-border plantings with substantial, purple-black leaves that help send deer (and rabbits) on their way.
3. Thorny stems
Deer typically avoid a mouthful of prickly plant parts. Golden Torch Barberry, introduced to the United States by McKay, forms a beautiful, upright shrub on prickly, deer-resistant stems. Even in deer country, the thick golden leaves are still around in fall for stunning orange-gold color. Rose Glow Barberry, with its mottled rose-pink leaves, purple fall foliage and persistent bright red berries, flourish as deer pass it by. Unfortunately, there is an important exception to this thorny guideline – roses. Deer love them as much as we do, thorns and all.
By peppering your landscape with plants that are less attractive to browsing deer, you can keep plants intact and keep deer moving on. Shop our plants online for deer-resistant plants and other selections to beautify your landscape. We ship FedEx anywhere in the continental United States. If you’re local, opt for truck delivery or pick up your latest favorites in-store at Winterland Nursery, McKay’s Madison, Wisconsin-area retail garden center. See you there!