By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Just as most of us have certain likes and dislikes when it comes to food, so do the deer. Planting perennials and shrubs deer don't like to eat may be your best bet to cope with this problem.
Many repellents are currently available to prevent deer from feeding on prized landscape plants. However, homeowners who use these products are finding varying degrees of success. Fences to keep deer out are the most effective deterrents but also may be the most unsightly and most expensive. So what plants do deer prefer, or dislike?
We all know that even though we may not like certain foods, we may eat them if hungry enough. The same is true with deer and our landscape plants. If deer populations aren't very high, however, or the deer haven't had a bleak winter hunting for food, they will avoid certain plants.
A good example is my lilacs. Although there are dozens of cultivars on the "deer banquet table" at my home, they took a nibble of one twig of each cultivar the first winter and, finding none to their taste, they've since left them alone. But then again, I also "offer" many perennials for them, as well as hundreds of acres of adjacent woods.
I have learned that deer like thick, succulent stems or perennials such as of Autumn Joy Sedum, New England Asters, and garden phlox. In fact, this year I learned a trick from the deer. They fed on these plants until mid-June, pruning them back to about a foot high. Left alone the rest of the summer, these plants ended up blooming a month later. In the future I plan to prune some perennials back in early summer, if the deer don't first, in order to extend their bloom season.
If you have pesky deer, you might want to plant these perennials, as they will likely leave them alone early in the season: False Indigo (Baptisia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and Primrose (Primula). Spring bulbs deer tend to avoid include Crown Imperial (Fritillaria), Daffodils (Narcissus), and Squills (Scilla).
They also are fussy about many summer-blooming perennials, and unless starving, tend to leave these alone. Early summer bloomers include Yarrow (Achillea), Peony (Paeonia), Oriental Poppy (Papaver), Plume Flower (Astilbe), Evening Primrose (Oenothera), and Irises. For flowers later in the summer, consider planting Meadowsweet (Filipendula), Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium), Tickseed (Coreopsis), Coneflower (Echinacea), Bee Balms (Monarda), and Speedwells (Veronica). For fall, plant Windflower (Anemone) and some of the many cultivars of Goldenrod (Solidago).
Herbs deer avoid include Mints (Mentha), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Catmint (Nepeta), Oregano (Origanum), and Lavender (Lavandula).
Ornamental grasses also are, for the most part, not attractive to deer. Hardy grasses you might consider include Maiden Grass (Miscanthus), Blue Fescue (Festuca), Switch Grass (Panicum), and Moor Grass (Molinia).
Several ferns are not appealing to deer and would be good choices for moist soil in shade. They include Christmas Fern (Polystichum); the Royal, Osmunda and Interrupted Ferns (Osmunda), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea, but be careful, it spreads!), New York Fern (Thelypteris), and the Ostrich Fern (Matteucia, which is the one often gathered for fiddleheads in the spring).
There are many more perennials you can choose for a deer-resistant perennial garden. Check out the list at http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/oh64.html
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