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Deer Resistant Ornamental Grasses

Examples of Short, Tall and In-Between Types

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Deer-resistant ornamental grasses offer a number of advantages in addition to allowing you to sleep at night instead of worrying you'll awake next morning to find your whole yard ravaged by Bambi! They offer plant textures that contrast with most other landscape plants, many are drought-tolerant and they offer surprising variation in color.

My intro covers a few of the deer-resistant ornamental grasses, with examples of short types, tall types, and another that's in-between. I also include a plant that looks like it should be in this group (Poaceae) and is treated as if it does but, technically, doesn't belong.

1. Golden Hakone Grass

Photo of golden Japanese forest grass. This ornamental grass grows in shade.
David Beaulieu

Hakone grass presents a "golden opportunity" to many homeowners who may be faced with one or more of the following challenges:

  • Shade
  • Intolerance for aggressive plants
  • Deer pests

Hakone grass will grow in partially-shaded conditions, is not invasive, and is a deer-resistant ornamental grass. The 'Aureola' cultivar affords an added bonus: golden leaves striped green (often with some red, for good measure).

2. Blue Fescue

Blue fescue is bluish, as picture shows. Blue fescue is one of the short ornamental grasses.
David Beaulieu

Would you like to give your landscaping a spiky hairdo? Then Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' may interest you, because that's exactly what a mound of it looks like: a bluish, spiky hairdo sticking up out of the earth!

This is one of my short entries for this introduction. And with a name like "blue fescue," you know the color (really a bluish-gray, which is what glauca means in Latin) is a major selling point. Some growers like to juxtapose it with plants that display a silvery foliage.

3. Miscanthus Sinensis 'Gracillimus'

Maiden grass is a tall ornamental, as this photo shows. Give maiden grass plenty of room to grow.
David Beaulieu

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' and blue fescue are the Mutt and Jeff of this category. An example of a tall deer-resistant ornamental grass, Miscanthus is one of the most graceful plants you can grow in the landscape, literally: the name of this cultivar means "very graceful."

At its most colorful in fall, I nonetheless appreciate Miscanthus even more in winter. During that Scrooge of the seasons, its puffy, silver-white plumes and straw-colored blades stand out against a barren landscape to provide visual interest.

4. Miscanthus Sinensis 'Zebrinus'

Picture of zebra grass. This type of Miscanthus bears a horizontal stripe across its blade.
David Beaulieu
As you can see from the botanical name, this plant is relative of the one in the prior entry. But it's the common name that will most clearly tell the average shopper at a garden center that this plant may be preferable: "zebra grass." When comparing the two, think of this one as the striped version. That's a great selling point for many of us, hungry as we are for plants with variegated leaves.

5. Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum'

Photo of purple fountain grass.
David Beaulieu

Purple fountain (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') is my example of a plant that is in-between, height-wise, for this category. Like blue fescue, this deer-resistant ornamental grass is practically defined by its color ('Rubrum' means "red" in Latin). And like Miscanthus, it bears attractive seed heads.

The one problem with this plant -- for those who garden in cold regions -- is that it hails from the tropics, so it won't survive a northern winter if left outside. Still, I consider it a plant beautiful enough to be worth growing, even if I'm able to enjoy it only during the summer and fall.

6. Lilyturf

Liriope photo. As this photo of liriope shows, the plant does bloom, although it's known as "grass."
David Beaulieu

This final entry, despite its appearance, doesn't even really belong in this category. Lilyturf (Liriope spicata) is actually a member of the Lily family, not Poaceae. Nonetheless, for practical purposes, it is often treated in the same manner as the deer-resistant ornamental grasses discussed above, so we'll bend the rules and include it.

One nice feature of lilyturf, as compared with the other examples listed here, is that its flowers, true to its heritage, look like perennial flowers (in case you're not interested in the puffy blooms produced by Festuca glauca, Miscanthus and Pennisetum.

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