No doubt, the deer population in North Carolina has increased in recent years. In a few short hours they can wreak havoc on your landscape. While the best control is a seven-foot tall fence, there are other ways to deter the deer. One of the easiest ways is to use deer resistant plants. We asked local experts for their favorites.
Some might think traditional green-leaf boxwoods are boring, but there are varieties that can add excitement to your shady garden. ‘Elegantissima’ has creamy white variegation and ‘Sunshine’ has yellow variegated foliage ‘Unravelled’ is an interesting weeping form.
Also called Chinese fringe-flower, loropetalum is a common shrub in southern landscapes. But it’s the purple leaves and fushia pink flowers that make it a delight in spring and often again in late summer.
Sometimes referred to as ‘Christmas Rose’ or ‘Lenten Rose’, hellebores bloom from winter to early spring and thrive in part-sun to shade. Still relatively unknown to many gardeners, these hardy plants with beautiful flowers are perfect for almost any garden situation.
An evergreen with bright red bottlebrush-shaped flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer, the shrub is eye-catching in the sun to part-sun garden. ‘Woodlander’s Red’ has become the standard cold hardy form tolerating single digit temperatures.
While deer will eat every tulip in your garden, they will leave your daffodils alone because the leaves contain a toxin they don’t like. An added benefit is daffodils are one of the first flowers to give your garden color in the spring.
‘Miss Huff’ Lantana
‘Miss Huff’ is the hardiest of the perennial lantanas and has vibrant multi-color blooms summer through fall. An exceptional plant growing five feet tall and wide in full sun, ‘Miss Huff’ loves heat, is long lived, and is an excellent source of nectar for desirable wildlife.
The deer might nibble on fatsia, but they usually don’t devour it. The plant adds dimension to your shade garden with its big broad leaves in both variegated and non-variegated varieties, and dramatic clusters of white flowers in the fall and early winter.
While the common nandina can become invasive unless properly pruned, there are other cultivars to consider that stay well mannered in the garden. ‘Flirt’ is a true dwarf two feet tall with blue green foliage topped with purple new growth. ‘Obsession’ is a newer introduction with more color and a maximum height of four feet. ‘ Fire Power’ stays small and has flaming red winter color when planted in full sun.
Sharp thorns that deter deer surround this delicious cold-hardy fruit tree. A smaller variety also makes an attractive foundation shrub for sunny areas. It is extremely low maintenance needing little more than a yearly organic fertilizing.
Japanese Yew Pine
This versatile large shrub or small tree is favored in the southern climate. It has feathery branches covered with short evergreen leaves, and tolerates a wide range of light conditions and soils. Two cultivars are low growing. ‘Red Tip’ is slow growing and only three to four feet tall and wide with reddish tinge new growth. ‘Purple King’ is more spreading, reaching three feet tall by six feet wide. Both like some afternoon shade and require extra water in periods of drought.
This evergreen shrub, a symbol of the south, is widely used in local gardens. The leaves are glossy and leathery with large fragrant wax-like white flowers that put on a continual bloom from mid-spring to early summer. These now come in a multitude of sizes from low growing to extra large.
Several lavender varieties grow well in our climate. Keep in mind the plant needs four conditions met to grow it successfully; at least six hours of full sun, good drainage, good air circulation, and an annual pruning—in the fall is best but second best is Valentine’s Day.
Japanese Flowering Apricot
How can anyone garden without a Prunus mume? It can bloom as early as January, is fragrant and brightens the winter world.
Ornamental grasses are avoided by deer and are considered highly resistant to their grazing. Some suspect the deer hate the rustling sound of the grasses.
The list of deer resistant plants is actually quite extensive. You can also use mahonia, aucuba, osmanthus, abelia, camellia, tea olive, cryptomeria, pieris, ferns, amsonia, purple coneflower and coneflower hybrids, baptisia, gaura, cleome, crinum lilies, cast-iron plant, coleus, cosmos, begonia, vinca, and petunias. The list seems endless until the deer eat a plant they weren’t supposed to eat.
A word of caution; there are no “deer proof” plants. When deer are hungry, they will eat anything to survive. They also love the new growth of vegetation in the spring and relish flower buds.
To help deter them even more, remember to frequently spray your plants with a deer repellent throughout the growing season to mask the taste of the plant and, hopefully, send them on their way.
Plant Sources: Architectural Trees, Pine Knot Farms, Gardener to Go, Garden Supply Company, Waterwise Garden Design, Bountiful Backyards, Atlantic Avenue Orchid & Garden, Designscapes of North Carolina.