There is no way to sugar coat things when it comes to deer; the fictional Bambi may be cute but real deer can be anything but cute if they are dining in your yard! An explosion in the deer population seems to be occurring all over the country and that’s bad news for many gardeners. So, other than putting up a fence or treating your entire yard with repellants what’s a gardener to do? Perhaps the least frustrating and most cost effective long-term plan is to offer a less inviting menu in your yard! Adding perennials to your landscape that the deer don’t particularly enjoy (Note: If famished they will eat just about anything!) is a good strategy to employ. Not only will the deer tend to ignore these plants but they sometimes can also be inter-planted with less deer resistant plants and therefore provide some protection for their neighbors. Here are 4 perennials that you may not know much about that you might want to consider adding to your landscape:
- Basket of Gold - Also known more formally as Aurinia Saxatills is one of the first flowers I ever attempted to grow from seed when I was a young lad! It is also known as Golden Alyssum but unlike its annual cousins, Basket of Gold is a true perennial. It's gorgeous yellow flowers will knock your socks off; particularly since the plant blooms in the spring when there still isn’t a lot of color in your yard. It is not particularly demanding but it does require very good drainage in sunny conditions. Wet soils will cause the plant to die but if you have a dry, rocky slope this plant is for you. BTW you’ll love having it in your yard but the deer won’t!
- Russian Sage - This flower is a member of the mint family and its fragrance is a real turn-off to deer. Russian Sage puts forth delicate blue flowers starting in the early summer and it continues to bloom into the fall. It is a great companion plant with Black-Eyed Susans or Phlox and it looks very pretty next to a pink Rose. It prefers average to dry soil in full sun. It does sometimes need to be staked/supported but I’ve also been able to pinch this plant, similar to what you would do with a Chrysanthemum, to keep it a little neater. The fact that it is not typically bothered by insects or diseases is an added bonus.
- Bee Balm - This plant, also known as Monarda, is also a member of the mint family. Like Russian Sage the deer are turned off by its fragrance and the essential oils that are released when the leaves are crushed. Unlike Russian Sage and Basket of Gold, this plant likes its feet to be moist. It will also tolerate some shade but it does best in a sunny environment. In addition to being deer resistant, Bee Balm was a popular substitute for tea during the American Revolution and it was a common plant found in many colonial American gardens. Flower colors include red, pink and purple.
- Yucca - While this plant is most commonly associated with desert-like growing conditions I’ve grown it in moist soil conditions for years. The leaves are commonly green in color but there are variegated varieties as well. They prefer full sun but can tolerate some shade as well. Their leaves provide a textural contrast to other plants and its stalk of white flowers can be very eye-catching in the late spring and early summer. This is another plant that deer avoid due to the fleshy texture and needle-like spine on the end of its leaves; which can give you a good poke as well as the deer so be careful!
If you have deer trouble you may want to check these plants out. I’ve used them all in my garden and I can personally vouch for their deer resistance!