Living in a neighborhood with deer presents a unique set of challenges. It can be extremely difficult to have a beautiful garden in deer country. They seem to love our favorites, don’t they? And once they lose their fear of humans, the battle intensifies.
The white-tailed deer population here in the south keeps expanding and deer have learned where the good stuff is. It isn't in the forest! Each deer herd has its favorites and they vary from herd to herd. Fawns learn from their mothers what to eat and what to avoid.
There's a lot of helpful information out there and handy charts with plants rated by their resistance to deer browsing as "frequently damaged", "occasionally damaged" and "rarely damaged". (We included a link to UGA's chart at the end of this blog) If you have a terrible deer problem, do yourself a favor and stick with plants in the "rarely damaged" category. These are plants that they dislike and would have to be really starving to eat.
This blog covers just a few of the plants we grow that are known to have a high resistance to deer browsing. There are a few things that they won't eat under any circumstances and we will cover those, too.
Rarely Damaged Plants For Shade
'Florida Sunshine' Anise is a chartreuse colored evergreen shrub for shady gardens. The leaves smell like licorice and deer absolutely WILL NOT eat them. They would move to a new zip code if this was their only plant choice. Seriously. The beautiful golden foliage really brightens up the shade, too. A best-seller at Full Bloom Nursery.
Japanese Plum Yew is another shade loving evergreen, in fact it is a conifer that loves shade, which is very unusual. 'Prostrate' Plum Yew is an excellent ground cover for shady slopes and large areas under trees (think of it as Juniper for the shade). Deer very rarely browse it and most often avoid it altogether. They would have to be VERY hungry with few options to eat this one. Its lacy foliage is dark green with new foliage emerging a bright mint green.
Ferns have compounds that a deers stomach can't tolerate so they learn at a young age to avoid them. There are many ferns that are perennial here in zone 7 and Autumn Fern is the best-seller of the bunch here at Full Bloom Nursery. Autumn Ferns are evergreen and surprisingly drought-tolerant once they are established, making them a very low-maintenance perennial for the shade. (Hellebores or Lenten Rose is another great perennial for the shade garden that deer avoid).
Rarely Damaged Perennials For Sun
Catmint (not to be confused with Catnip) is a tough, beautiful perennial for those hot sunny sites. Blooms for a very long period beginning in late spring and through most of the summer. The aromatic, minty scented leaves repel deer and this plant is often planted in an attempt to protect other plants near it that deer do eat.
Blue Hyssop is another perennial with very aromatic licorice scented leaves which give it its tremendous deer-resistance. This is one we can seriously say they will NOT eat. If they eat it in your yard, you might as well give up and move! Honeybees and other pollinators LOVE the summer bloom spikes of this sun & heat loving perennial and you will, too.
Yarrow is another wonderful perennial for hot sunny sites with terrific deer-resistance. We grow a red variety called 'Strawberry Seduction' and a golden-yellow one called 'Coronation Gold'. The ferny silver-green leaves are very aromatic and that is key to its high deer-resistance. Give it good drainage and leave it alone and it will thrive!
Balloon Flower (Platycodon) has an unusual flower and becomes a best-seller here at Full Bloom Nursery once the buds form. The buds pop open to reveal blue, bell-shaped flowers. We grow the variety 'Sentimental Blue', an excellent low-growing border or rock garden plant. It is a prolific bloomer that is pest and disease free and deer seldom ever bother it.
Pineapple Sage & Mexican Sage
If you want something for the hummingbirds that the deer won't destroy, these two varieties of Salvia are a must. Plus they are absolutely stunning in the summer garden. Plants in the Salvia genus have square stems and any plant with square stems has good deer-resistance. But these two for some reason have the best deer-resistance we have witnessed of all the Salvias. Give them plenty of room, lots of sun and good drainage and you will be rewarded immensely.
Deer like grass, right? Not always! What they do eat is succulent new growth of turf type lawn grasses, not tough fibrous ornamental grasses such as Maiden Grass, Fountain Grass or Pampas Grass. Ornamental grasses add a whole new dimension and texture to our southern landscapes and every sunny yard benefits from what they have to offer. They don't want much water, no need for fertilizer and the pests, including deer, leave them alone. Their seed heads add interest in summer and fall. A haircut once a year in early spring is all they need to look fabulous.
The plants featured in this blog are just a few that deer really do despise and if they've ever eaten them in your yard, you have a serious problem and very hungry deer with few options. Check out the handy publication below from UGA that lists plants, shrubs, trees etc. by their deer-resistance and please comment on plants you've had success with when battling deer.