Choose certain plants and scents to help repel deer
By Pam Baytos
OSU master gardener volunteer
Don’t hate Bambi; well, at least try not to. Before you get a gun, arm yourself with some information about a few plants that are somewhat deer-resistant. No plant is completely deer-proof, because deer will eat anything if they’re hungry enough. But you might start to combat your deer problem by choosing a few deer-resistant plants.
While deer love spring tulips, daffodils are one of the most deer-resistant plants around. The unpleasant flavor and tendency to upset their stomachs keep deer at bay. If these get nibbled, you’ll know your deer are famished. They’ll only take a bite once, though, and most likely spit it out. If your deer aren’t too hungry, a border of daffodils might keep them out of the flowerbed. Another spring bloomer is the hellebore, whose blossoms are poisonous to deer.
Lambs’ ears’ soft coat, which my granddaughter and great-nieces love to make into bows, are another plant that sends the deer looking for something else to munch on. Lambs’ ear adds a soft gray background color to brighter flowers and attracts bees to their lavender blooms come summer. Bee balm leaves have a hairy underside that deer dislike, but make a wonderful addition to our gardens that attract bees and hummingbirds. While tall speedwell (Veronica sp.) are on the menu in your garden, the hairy foliage makes it something that is seldom damaged.
Scented plants seem to deter deer, so plant a few herbs that they avoid along the edge of your beds or in areas where you find damage. These include lavender, rosemary, mints, thyme, oregano and sages. They also will turn away from the smell of boxwoods, I don’t blame them for that one. I’m so glad deer have stayed away from the wonderful aroma of my peonies along with the minty scent my spotted deadnettle.
Ornamental grasses will often deter deer because of their bad taste and sharp, pointed blades. Grasses add motion and vertical structure.
Another maintenance-free, disease-resistant addition to your garden that deer avoid are irises. These beauties stand tall even after blooms fade and seed pods make striking accents in fall.
Just remember deer tend to avoid plants with spicy, soft, scented or spiky traits. These selections are not completely foolproof (deer will eat thorny rose bushes) but these choices might keep away deer, and they’ll also become a nice addition to your garden. Deer are also creatures of habit and will eat along their routine traffic paths, so changing what’s available might help. You can try spraying all new plants with deer repellent right after planting because deer are curious about anything different that’s added to what they think is their menu.
You can find a nearly complete list of “Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance,” online at: http://go.osu.edu/deerrating.