Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Deer vs. Gardener

It’s common for many gardener’s to be plagued by the dreaded problem of the garden becoming a Deer Buffet. Imagine a blinking red neon sign over your gate that reads, “EAT here” that remains on until the plants are nubbins, or just tipped enough that they never bloom.

Sometimes you feel like you put out the WELCOME sign for Bambi. 🙂

There are oodles of resources on the web for researching Deer “RESISTANT” plants on the web. Here’s one of the very best that I’ve seen. The Sunset western Garden Book has a Deer-Resistant list is a pretty darn good compilation too. So, I’m not going to go into it in any depth on the plant list end of things. Particularly since you need to check with your local nursery expert to see which are appropriate for your area anyway.

Notice I use the term “RESISTANT’ and not “DEER-PROOF”. There is a huge leap of Horticultural faith that needs to take place here when you learn the difference.

The strategy that I use and teach my clients for keeping deer at bay in the garden is this:

1) Deer are hungry.

2) Adult Deer have defined palates.

3) Young Deer eat whatever Mom eats.

4) It’s the Teenagers that do all the damage and eat EVERYTHING at least once.

This explains why there is no such thing as any Deer PROOF plant. Plant choices can vary from Region to Region and Zone by Zone. The best we can do is be thoughtful about the strategies we use about planting in areas where Deer have access to our gardens.

Here is the full extent of my strategy:

1) Plant pokey and annoying plants.

2) Anything that will make it difficult or annoying to reach the food they want is fair game.

3) Think ankle biting plants like Barberry or Juniper that they might have to step through to get to the good stuff.

4) For annoying plants, think about anything that smells great to us, like Rosemary or Lavender. Deer have such a highly attuned sense of smell that to them, these lovely things smell horrifying.

5) In general, just make it too much work to get to your tender and tasty buffet.

Here’s a shot of my front yard this Fall. Not bad huh? No Deer damage this year at all!

The above picture shows my Red Barberry ‘Crimson Pygmy’ alternated with Spanish Lavender, Eunoymous Fortunei ‘Emerald-n-Gold’ and Nandina ‘Gulf Stream’. Plus ‘Tri-Color’ Sage for an extra dose of smelliness with Hebe ‘Quicksilver’ and a beautiful Heather that’s turned bright red for Fall and Winter. I can’t remember which one it is though, I’ve been collecting red Heathers and have not been good at record keeping.

Here’s is one of the best plants for shade and Deer-Resistance from Great Plant Picks, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, one of my favorites!

Photo Credit - Chris Hansen,

Go forth and plant in your Deer grazing area, just do it thoughtfully. Deer munching WILL happen. Go with the flow, change plants out if need be. But mostly, don’t let the Bambi’s get you down!

Please visit the blogs of other Lords and Ladies of The Garden Designer’s Roundtable and read what valuable advice they have on Deer too!

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

14 thoughts on “Garden Designer’s Roundtable – Deer vs. Gardener

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  6. Brunnera – hadn’t thought of that one! Thanks for the tip, Christina! And your front yard looks beautiful, too. The perfect testament for folks who think they can’t have a beautiful, deer-resistant garden.

  7. I have no experience of deer damage at all.
    I can see you have heaps of experience and a very carefully worked out strategy which makes sense to me.
    Absolutely love your borders!
    Thanks and best wishes

  8. Christina,You’re garden is lovely. I use lots of brunnera, too. It’s a decent replacment for hosta that the deer simply love. Here in CT, we generally don’t use barberry since it is very invasive, so our palette of deer-resistant plants is even narrower. But barberry is a good option for keeping deer away from more susceptible plants.

  9. Thanks for a great post. Glad to hear that Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ works well for you – one of my favourite shade plants.
    I am also just about to plant a number of Euonymus ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ as an alternative to E. microphyllus ‘Aureovariegatus’ which the deer have totally ravaged! Let’s hope I have the same degree of success in southwest England. L

  10. Pingback: Garden Designers Roundtable – Designing with Deer | Harmony in the Garden

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