Each April deer lop off the buds of my roses. In my mind I see a doe and a fawn munching the various bud colors, red, yellow, pink and white, like different flavors of candy. After finishing their rose lollipops, they move into the forest near my home, not consuming anything else in my yard until the next spring.
After reading Ruth Clausen’s book, 50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants (Timber Press, 2011) I understand the deer’s disinterest in my other plants. Fortunately, my choice of bulbs, perennials and shrubs are not particularly appetizing to deer.
During the past thirty years, Ruth Clausen has written several gardening books, won awards and frequently contributed to top gardening magazines. Clausen’s residence in deer-infested New York and her education in horticulture and in botany have contributed to her knowledge in deterring garden destruction by deer.
The book’s first chapter discusses ways to fence, to protect and to re-locate certain plant types she designates as “deer candy.” Her list of common plants to avoid includes daylilies, hydrangeas, impatiens, petunias and tulips. She notes that fallen fruit and acorns, which are deer attractors, can easily be removed from gardens areas.
Although Clausen emphasizes that if a deer is hungry enough, it will eat any plant, she suggests 50 annuals, perennials, shrubs, bulbs, herbs and grasses that are extremely unappetizing to deer. Many are familiar plants such marigolds, boxwood, spirea, weigela and fountain grass. The plants are arranged alphabetically by common name, followed by a botanical name.
Each plant’s “Quick Look” box lists the zones of hardiness, size and the deer resistance rating for each plant. Clausen recommends only plants with a deer-resistance rating of 7 to 10. This limits the plants from ones that deer “sometimes nip off flowers but leave foliage alone” to others that deer usually avoid altogether. A photograph and “Design Tips” are included with each plant’s seasonal appearance and growth requirements. Since some of the plants, such as monkshood or caster bean, contain poisonous leaves, sap or seeds, safety precautions with these are adequately explained.
To me the information in “Design Tips” is the most interesting part of each plant’s description. Clausen suggests color combinations and specific deer-discouraging vegetation to enhance the plants’ appearance. Hellebores are recommended as a replacement for hostas, a favorite deer snack. Daffodils, snowdrops, ferns and astilbes are suggested as attractive compliments to the hellebores’ early spring blossoms.
If you are coping with a deer invasion or want information on how to avert one, this book provides solid solutions in easily readable text. As Clausen wisely advises, “Rather than constructing fences and barriers, you can deter deer with your smart, beautiful plant choices.”
Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.