It wasn’t long after I began working in retail garden centers that I learned never to call a plant “deer proof”. It seemed as though the deer were always out to contradict me, plants that I had long believed to not be bothered by deer were being destroyed in everyone else’s landscapes. I have, over the years learned of a few plants that are less likely to be eaten by deer.
There are many factors that may influence what your deer are eating. Maybe it is a hard winter or there are so many deer in your area that they have exhausted their natural sources and have to come into your yard. If you or your neighbors feed the deer, or even have bird feeders you are more likely to see damage on your plants. I even believe that at a certain point in the summer when the fawns are weaned off their mothers and they are trying plants for the first time they must eat everything to determine if they like it or not.
We have all tried our share of deer repellents too. Most of them smell awful and need to be reapplied every week and again if it rains. This is almost impossible some springs, like last year, when it rained every day. There is one deer repellent that I stand by, it’s the only one that I trust for my plants at home. It’s called Plant Saver. It is a granular product you sprinkle over the top of your plants. It’s all natural so you can use it safely in your vegetable gardens, there is no lingering odor of rotting eggs like many other repellents and best of all it lasts for over a month before you need to reapply, even if it rains.
Using repellents is great but it also helps to plant shrubs that are less palatable to deer. Here are some of our less tasty suggestions.
Potentilla – Yes, we’ve all see them, and many of us have had them, all for good reason. These plants are tough and don’t require much maintenance. They are excellent bloomers in shades of white, yellow and pink, depending on the variety. They benefit from an intense pruning every few years and once they are established in your landscape are very drought tolerant. Some of our favorite varieties are; Dakota Sunspot, Lemon Meringue, and Crème Brulee. These are newer varieties that have lovely foilage. They do require full sun to flourish so plant them someplace that they will get a good 6 hours of sunlight or more each day.
Juniper – Again, we have all had them, but the deer don’t typically like them. These evergreens come in all shapes and sizes from upright to spreading with foliage that ranges from a deep green to frosty blue. All the varieties require full sun and are drought tolerant once they are established. Some of our recommended varieties are;
First Editions Sky High Juniper, Blue Chip Juniper, and Andorra Compact Juniper. The spreading varieties are excellent as ground covers or in rock gardens and the upright Sky High makes an impact as a specimen plant.
Gro-Low Sumac – This might be a new one to you but I guarantee that you have seen them in plantings before. Gro-Low Sumac has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially in mass plantings in commercial landscape settings but it is an excellent choice for you landscape at home. In our climate these lower growing shrubs will reach about 24” in height and spread out 4-5’. These are great along the foundation of a house, particularly if you have low windows, or around the perimeter of a low deck. They require little pruning and are very easily kept to a smaller size if that’s what you desire. Gro-Low Sumac have very fragrant leaves that when planted in full sun will turn a beautiful red and orange in the fall. These plants will also grow in relatively shady areas, just don’t except to see as intense of fall colors.
Russian Cypress – This is one of my favorite evergreens. Russian Cypress grows extremely well in sunny and shady areas and is not susceptible to many pests or diseases. Growing to about 12 inches tall and 3-4 ft. wide this shrub is an excellent ground cover. It’s soft green foliage is easy to prune and maintain. In the winter months the green foliage will turn to a bronze before coming back to green in the spring.
Snowberry – A shade tolerant, Wisconsin native shrub, Snowberry, is one of the more underused landscape plants. It’s 4-5 ft height makes it an excellent choice for foundation plantings, hedges and screening. These shrubs are best when planted in groupings since they tend to send up shoots that then create the look of one large shrub. Their soft green foliage comes out on gracefully arching branches that will produce light pink flowers in July which grow into pearly white fruits that last throughout the winter months. Some smaller size varieties are Galaxy Snowberry and with pink fruit, Candy Coralberry.
Spirea – We have all seen these landscape plants, they are probably the most common group used because of their hardiness to temperatures, drought and their appearance. Spirea’s come in a range of leaf colors from dark green to bronze and chartreuse. Since there are so many varieties it can be hard to pick favorites, but for something a little different I would recommend Pink Sparkler Birchleaf Spirea. This is a new take on the standard Birchleaf Spirea with light green leaves and pink flowers in June. It’s keeps it shape very well and requires little pruning. It is also known to re-bloom in August. You might also try the Double Play Candy Corn Spirea. Its leaves emerge a reddish orange in the spring and as they mature turn to a pineapple yellow, then Purple flowers appear in June and July. This is another low-maintenance shrub that grows well in full sun.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas to implement in your own landscape. As always, our knowledgeable staff would love to help you find the perfect plants. It can be difficult sometimes, living alongside nature in the Northwoods, but as you know, it’s well worth it. All we need to do is adapt our ways of landscaping a little. Happy Planting!