Last week I wrote about selecting trees and shrubs to minimize deer damage. This week I’ll concentrate on flowers, both annual and perennial.
Deer will tear up many annual flowers. Some of their favorites are impatiens, sweet potato vine and pansy. From that list one might conclude that succulent growth might be the main indicator. It’s not that simple.
Deer aren’t particularly fond of begonia or coleus and they also have tender foliage. Vinca isn’t a favorite food either and its foliage is not exactly fibrous. Polka dot plants and pentas are other soft textured annuals to try if deer visit your flower gardens wanting a free meal.
In general, deer don’t like plants with fuzzy foliage. Ageratum and dusty miller fit this description and deer don’t like them. Zinnias have a rough, sandpaper-like texture. Deer don’t like them either. Cleome is another with rough textured foliage. As one might suspect, they are one of the last to be grazed.
Most mints aren’t desired deer foods. Their spicy aroma is a turnoff. Plants in the onion family aren’t sought after either. Ornamental peppers could be a good plant to include, because they contain capsaicin. They are colorful and rarely eaten by critters. Flowering tobacco is another annual to try when deer pressure is high.
As far as perennials go, daylilies and Hosta are among the first that are devoured. Deer will graze these to the ground overnight. The same can be said for tulips and crocus. They are poor choices for this area.
Many perennials commonly planted in this locale are rarely damaged, including a wide variety in the mint family. Catmint, bee balm and nearly all the sages will usually send deer looking elsewhere. Rosemary is also rarely touched.
Yarrow, coreopsis, gaillardia and coneflower are good choices for sunny places. Ornamental grasses are also not high on the menu for deer.
In gardens with more shade, coral bells, dianthus and Lenten roses are a good bet. Angel trumpet is poisonous to most animals as is false indigo.
Lantanas have the same type of foliage texture that zinnias do. They also have strong fragrance. Lambs ear are fuzzy. Neither is sought out by these destructive animals. Prickly pear cactus isn’t a favorite food either for obvious reasons. The thorns can be quite irritating.
When food is scarce deer often go where we don’t want them. Sometimes physical barriers are the best defense for flowerbeds. Electric fence may not be practical or even legal in some places, but it’s effective when designed properly. Other types of fence might not be as effective, but they are more aesthetically pleasing.
There are many deer repellants on the market, but they need to be used regularly. A single dose won’t do the trick. These repellants contain mixtures of smells deer hate. To be honest, most people hate them too, so they are not always a desired treatment.
Pets will sometimes roll in these repellants too. That also destroys plants and can foul the air inside your home if pets then come back inside. Nothing is foolproof.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).