Do You Feed the Deer?

  • Post published:08/20/2011
  • Post comments:4 Comments
50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants

It’s been a rough year for the vegetable garden at the End of the Road. There was lots of rain in the spring which was great for all the gardens. Then rain became scarce and if I have learned anything in my years of gardening it is that vegetable gardens need regular watering to thrive and be productive.

However, a new problem this year was bunnies! We haven’t had problems with rabbits in the past, but this year we have seen them frolicking on the lawn, running across our road, and gazing at the chickens. This would be fine if they stopped at frolicking, running, and gazing, but they love beans and broccoli. They have joined the deer who ate all the pea plants this year as well as squash and the tips of my rose bushes.

With all these problems in the vegetable garden I was surprised that there were so few depredations in the ornamental gardens. That mystery was solved when I received a copy of Ruth Rogers Clausen’s informative book “50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat” with stunning and useful photographs by Alan L. Detrick published by Timber Press ($19.95). A quick look through the different categories in the book showed that my gardens are full of deer resistant plants.

Deer have become a greater problem for gardeners because the deer population has increased about twenty times over in just the past decade. At the same time towns and suburbs have spread out into deer habitats. The deer have retaliated by refusing to give up their habitats without a fight. Even my brother in a New Jersey suburb battles deer. At least I can leave my land open for hunters who I have always found to be respectful and happy to enjoy my woodlands, even if they don’t bag a deer. I also wish that the hunting season were longer, especially since natural predators like coyotes seem to be in a period of decline.

Clausen has provided a generous list of deer resistant plants that can be used in a varied garden. While she says that no plant is completely deer-proof, generalizations can be made. Deer seems to find plants with fuzzy leaves such as lamb’s ears, and licorice plant unappealing. I have to admit that although my summer squash have hairy leaves this did not entirely deter the deer this year.

Deer also find some plants like euphorbias and hellebores poisonous. The castor oil plant can make a glamorous statement in the garden, in the ground or even in a pot, but the deer will keep their distance.

Highly scented plants like culinary herbs or fragrant flowers like lilac and lily of the valley confuse deer enough they don’t stop to nibble. At the same, deer apparently know  that plants with tough foliage like peonies and Siberian iris, as well as ferns and grasses will likely be indigestible.

We are fortunate that so many beautiful plants are of absolutely no interest to deer. Let me list some of the perennials I have in my garden that are deer resistant: peonies, yarrow, lady’s mantle, astilbe, cimicifuga, salvias, Siberian iris, epimedium, and I’m trying real hard to get a false indigo, Baptisia australis, going. I also have daffodils, snowdrops, ornamental onions like the Allium ‘Globemaster,’ and autumn crocus. My herb garden is deer-proof with basils, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Clausen gives information about hardiness zone for each plant as well as size, cultural information and most helpfully a deer resistance rating. “A rating of 7 indicates that deer sometimes nip off flowers but leave the foliage alone. . . 8 indicates that just one or two flowers may be nibbled or destroyed, but the plant is otherwise left alone, as with peony . . . 9 indicates that deer occasionally browse young spring foliage, but mostly ignore the plant . . . and 10 indicate that deer very seldom browse foliage or flowers and usually avoid the plant altogether” as with Japanese painted fern.

Clausen also gives Design Tips for each plant along with suggestions for plant combinations. I think this book is a real winner.


In my calendar we have hit the middle of summer which means Fairtime. I hope I will see some of you at the Friends of the Heath Library Book Sale tent next weekend. The Heath Fair runs from Friday evening on August 19 through Sunday afternoon. You can get great food at the Fireman’s Barbecue and at the Green Building (which is currently painted red) where homemade pie a la mode is my favorite dessert. After the Fair on Sunday, August 21 you can attend the Free Harvest Supper at the Town Square in Greenfield from 4:30 – 6:30 pm for one of the best meals you will ever have. Produce is donated by area farms and volunteers turn it into scrumptious dishes. Musicians play and everyone has a great time. The meal is free, but any donations made will fund Farmer’s Market vouchers distributed through the Center for Self Reliance so hungry families can have the fresh fruit and vegetables we all need to be healthy.  ###

Between the Rows  August 13, 2011


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Lisa at Greenbow

    I would never feed deer. As you say there are too many around. In this respect nature has to take it’s course around my place. I have only seen deer around here one time. My garden is fenced so they don’t bother to come in. My dog keeps the rabbits at bay. They used to nest in my garden. After we got Luna they soon departed. She thinks their nestlings are doggie treats.

  2. Cyndy

    Oh my Pat, talk about a post and a book in due season! I’ve never had deer, but they run through my back yard on a regular basis here in NC, so far scared off by the puppies. I’ll definitely be checking this book out. Sorry I was called away for a long talk with my real estate agent that night in Seattle – hope you got a bite to eat!

  3. Kate

    I keep checking in to see how the fair went!

    We somehow don’t have nearly the trouble with deer that our predecessors at this house did, but we have a good electric fence around the vegetable garden and we liberally apply “predator urine” around the peripheries (saves the septic system a bit too 😉 ) And I was just commenting the other day that I have never seen a rabbit in NH r VT — I know they exist, but around here the coyotes, foxes, fishers, bobcats, raptors, etc seem to keep them in check.

    The bad news is late blight arrived today. It has to be something!

  4. Pat

    Lisa – Things do get out of kilter. Someone told me that rabbits were on their way up while coyotes were on their way down, but it will be better next year.
    Cyndy – I am so glad to hear that you are settled in NC. I hope the deer don’t get too attached to you. And I never went hungry in Seattle! So good to see you again.
    Kate – I mislaid my camera, but the Fair post is up. It is interesting that Vt and NH don’t have rabbits. I knew that Maine didn’t have termites but I assume that is a weather thing.

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