Getting Started on a Deer Resistant Garden!
Sure, gardeners have a unique understanding and appreciation of the natural world, but that doesn't mean we're immune to the annoyances of unwanted garden visitors. Now, we're not talking about pollinators - they're more than welcome to stop by and help keep our plants happy! Instead, it's the ones who come to eat all of our hard work (deer, squirrels, and rabbits - we're looking at you!) that really gets under our skin. So, how do you make your garden look a little less appetizing? Read on to find out!
First Things First
It's essential to remember that deer and rabbits were here before us and are just doing what they have to in order to survive. That being said, it's all just a matter of learning how to fill your garden with beautiful plants that don't mistakenly look like a salad bar to Bambi and Thumper! Fortunately, many plants have evolved to coexist with animals, with many developing ways to keep them at bay all on their own. These are the varieties you'll want to include in your display to avoid being ransacked by foraging critters.
Remember: The best we can do is fashion a garden with as little appeal to hungry animals as possible. Of course, if the deer are genuinely starving, they'll try to eat nearly anything just to survive.
Some of Our Favorite Critter-Resistant Bloomers
- Bearded Iris - These beauties are extremely drought tolerant and evergreen.
- Japanese Iris - These species will grow in semi-bog conditions and are also evergreen.
- Dutch Iris - A cut flower favorite, Dutch Irises grow from fall-planted bulbs and bloom in the spring.
- Alstroemeria - With their exquisitely marked blooms and lush, tropical foliage, these are some of our all-time favorite plants. Fortunately, feeding animals disagree as they taste awful. These bloomers are perfect for garden beds or containers and will bloom for months at a time.
- Daylilies - Now, these terrible tasting plants seem to differ by region, with some deer and rabbits turning up their noses at them while others dig right in. There are several examples of regional preference for specific plants - sort of like grits in the south and fish tacos in Southern California!
Another category of bulbs and plants that can be useful for you are downright toxic to feeding mammals. Don't worry - we're not talking about killing off unwanted visitors, which seems pretty harsh. Plants defend themselves with toxins very fast, burning the soft tissues of the mouth and nose immediately upon contact.
These plants truly do bite back, and because the goal is not to be eaten in the first place, they advertise their toxicity very clearly through smell. This warning might not be apparent to humans, but any animal living by instinct respects this signal and gives them space. Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Galanthus are prime examples of plants that have developed an active toxin to avoid being eaten.
Deer Resistant Bulbs and Plants
|Amaryllis - Belladonna||Buddleia - Butterfly Bush|
|Asclepias - Butterfly Weed||Crocosmia|
|Chionodoxa||Eremurus - Foxtail Lilies|
|Convallaria - Lily of the Valley||Iris|
|Cyclamen||Hemerocallis - Daylilies (in some regions)|
|Dicentra - Bleeding Hearts||Kniphofia - Torch lilies|
|Echinacea - Coneflowers||Leucocoryne|
|Fritillaria||Pelargonium - Hardy Geranium|
|Galanthus - Snowdrops||Rosemary|
|Garlic & Shallots||Salvia|
|Hippeastrum - Amaryllis|
|Leucojum - Snowflakes|
|Lavandula - Lavender|
|Zephyranthes - Rain Lilies|
Planning Your Deer and Rabbit Resistant Garden
In addition to recognizing what plants deer will steer clear of, it's essential to recognize the plants we love that deer also fancy, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peas, and fruit trees. Of course, they'll also go out of their way to nibble on tasty Tulips, Azaleas, and Hibiscus.
So, before you plant your garden, make sure you have a solid plan based on the types local animals tend to feed on and avoid. Then, draw as many of your choices as possible from the lists of lousy tasting and actively toxic species, only planting the snacking favorites you simply must have and are planning to defend from local wildlife.
We all love Tulips, but they're basically the equivalent of peanut M&Ms in the animal world. So, if you're planning to grow these gorgeous flowers, thickly interplant them with something aggressively toxic, like Daffodils, for protection. As temptingly tasty as those Tulips are, deer and rabbits will think twice about munching on them when highly toxic Narcissus are intermingled.
Narcissus Daffodils are fantastic for defending other plants in your garden as well, which is fantastic because the protection lasts much longer than their blooms. The leaves continue to shield surrounding plants, and underground, the Narcissus bulbs deter gophers from other tubers, bulbs, and root crops.
While many strategies help lessen the stress caused by animals in the garden, this is the perfect place to start. Select plants that have evolved their own defense against being eaten, and use that adaptation to your benefit. In essence, work smarter, not harder!
- Katie Elzer-Peters