Anyone who has read this column on a regular basis knows that I have a deer problem. I can look out my kitchen window any given morning and will typically see four deer circling my vegetable garden, but this past weekend there were eleven. Yikes! It’s time to get serious about the deer and I am planning to add an electric fence to protect the edible plants, but it’s not practical or cost-effective to surround my entire property with electric fencing. That leaves my ornamental plants vulnerable to grazing and I am learning to rely on deer-resistant plants.
There is no such thing as a deer-proof plant - if hungry enough, deer will eat anything - but certain plants are less palatable than others and those of us who live on deer super-highways need to concentrate on those plants. Here is a list of my five favourite deer-resistant perennials and shrubs:
1 - Bigroot Geranium - Perennial geraniums are hardy, low maintenance and long blooming plants. Yet even when the flower show is over, the foliage is still very attractive and even turns a glowing pinkish-red in autumn. These deer resistant plants are also very tolerant of sun or shade, thriving in a variety of conditions and when planted densely, bigroot geranium will quickly create a soft, attractive ground cover.
2 - Japanese Forest Grass - It’s no secret that I love ornamental grasses and have found them all to be very deer-resistant. Great choices include maiden grasses, fountain grasses and grassy plants like sedges, but my top pick for an ornamental garden is Japanese Forest grass. Growing about 18-inches tall, it resembles a miniature bamboo with an attractive cascading habit. I really love ‘Aureola’, a golden form that makes an outstanding groundcover or edging to a pathway. The colour is best in sun, but it can also take light shade.
3 - Boxwood - Boxwood is a tidy evergreen shrub that can be clipped to create clean lines in a formal garden or unique topiary shapes. I love boxwood for its hardiness and low maintenance, as well as its year-round beauty. It makes a fabulous low hedge, but can also be planted in a mixed border as a specimen plant. ‘Green Mountain’ has a unique conical form that adds a formal accent to entranceways and garden beds, while a rounded cultivar like ‘Green Velvet’ is a good choice for hedging. Boxwood can also take some light shading and is very deer resistant.
4 - Purple Beautyberry - This is a lesser known shrub, but is steadily gaining popularity thanks to its unusual bright purple fruits. The shrub itself will grow about 4-feet tall and has pretty green foliage produced on arching branches. Yet, come autumn, just as the foliage begins to yellow, the gorgeous clusters of purple berries are revealed and hold onto the plant well into winter.
5 - Astilbe - Astilbe are hardy perennials that produce feathery flower plumes throughout the summer. Depending on the cultivar, the plumes may be white, crimson, cherry-red, pink or peach. The flowers are very long lasting and should be planted in large drifts for best effect. Astilbe will thrive in sun or shade and make excellent planting partners for ferns, ornamental grasses, lungwort, dead-nettle and many other deer-resistant shrubs and perennials.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 Book Award American Horticulture Society) and the host of The Weekend Gardener. Find her on facebook, twitter and at www.nikijabbour.com.