It happened again. You shopped all the eye candy on the garden center tables taking home a gorgeous carload of colorful flowers that made your heart sing. You lovingly planted and watered them, happily anticipating the flowers that would greet you all summer. One morning you went out to admire your plant babies and it had happened. Mowed down to sad, snipped little stalks – the deer had eaten them.
Well, let’s fix that, shall we? We have a herd of deer at Homewood and must be very selective about what we plant in our display gardens. The annuals listed below are plants we plant without needing sprays or other methods of deterrence to prevent them from being eaten by deer. Reminder: Annuals are typically high-performing bloomers that die at the end of the season. Plant them near your high-traffic areas where they can be most admired and add interesting seasonality to your landscape.
Also, keep in mind that annuals are high-energy plants and most bloom better with regular fertilizer. Always water plants well and let them soak in a while before fertilizing. Prepared soil that has had 1 to 2 inches of soil conditioner and 1 inch of compost laid over the top and tilled to a depth of 8 to 10 inches provides conditions needed for best performance.
Annual Sages (Salvia splendens, S. farinacea)
All sages are deer-resistant, but, for annuals, we like the colorful spikes of scarlet sage that also comes in smoky amethyst, white, and peach. While deer won’t eat them, pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds are very happy to visit them. Mealycup salvias such as ‘Victoria Blue’ make wonderful garden plants, as well, and can be a substitute for the more-finicky lavender plant. Both will tolerate part shade, though full sun is best as is well-drained soil.
Fanflower (Scaevola aemula)
This annual is excellent for window boxes and hanging baskets where its loads of lavender, pink, or white fan-shaped blooms can cascade attractively. Plant in sun or morning sun and afternoon shade but wait until late April to May to plant when the soil has warmed up. If it gets leggy in midsummer, a light pruning will get it back into shape with blooming resuming quickly. Avoid overwatering and fertilize lightly.
Lantana (Lantana camara)
From spring through late fall, lantana provides abundant globe-shaped flower clusters, often multi-colored in two or three glowing tones. Few flowers come close to lantana for performance, heat tolerance, drought tolerance, deer resistance, and blooming its fool head off without any help from you. A wide variety of pollinators love them, too. Color choices abound and you can find them in mounding and cascading types. Plant in full, blazing sun. Drought tolerant once established with few pest or disease problems.
Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
Brilliant in orange, yellow, and paprika-red, marigolds attract beneficial insects and thus are good for planting around vegetables. Their petals can be used in seasonings, too, as I recently found in the Ajika Georgian blend, my favorite new spice mix from Trader Joe’s. Marigolds like the sun and will tolerate even soils that are poor, performing well in all but the hottest days of summer. Water weekly, more often during droughts, allowing the plants to dry out between waterings. Remove spent blooms and fertilize lightly through the season to promote new flowers. Potential pests include spider mites in dry weather and leafhoppers. For the former, use a miticide such as Mite-X. The latter can be controlled with sticky traps, diatomaceous earth, or insecticidal soap.
Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
This graceful ornamental grass punctuates plantings with deep and lustrous burgundy topped by oatmeal-colored plumes tinted with the same. It is an excellent accent plant also providing a soft texture and nice movement to garden beds when the breeze tousles its leaves. It is heat and drought-tolerant, pest and disease resistant, and a wonderful container plant. Plant in full sun in lean soil (hint: no need to add compost or fertilizer).
Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)
What sets these apart, other than being pest-resistant blooming machines, is their lovely upright, spire-like habit making them good for the back of the flower border. They bloom in deep violet-blue and pretty pastel shades of lavender, pink, and white, as well as bi-colors, and make good cut flowers. In full sun, they are unflinchingly tough but do amend your clay soil before planting. Trim them back a little in mid to late summer to freshen them up and promote more flowering.
Vinca/Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus rosea)
This is not “vinca-vine” but a mounding or cascading annual, and I can’t emphasize what an excellent plant this is. By summer’s end, when other plants look like they wish you would end them, vinca’s green leaves gleam, free of disease or pest damage even in the hottest parts of the landscape. They pump out flowers through the season, even in part sun, though full sun gives better performance. Flowers come in red, lilac, pinks, lavender, and white. With the introduction of the sexy Tattoo series, there is also coral, tangerine, and cherry shades all with smoky purple eyes.
Honorable Mentions are Celosia, blue evolvulus, bacopa, bidens, cape plumbago, melampodium, flowering tobacco, and zinnia. For a much longer list of deer-resistant plants, visit homewoodnursery.com and go to the Learn page.
Tina Mast is the Communications Director for Homewood Nursery and lives and gardens in Wake Forest. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.