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Deer-Resistant Perennials

Perennial Plants Deer Don't Eat -- As Much

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When we designate certain plants as "deer-resistant perennials," we don't mean that Bambi never eats them. Rather, the term is meant to call attention to plants that Bambi finds less attractive than the other choices on his menu. But do be aware that deer will eat just about anything when starving, lest you be lulled into a false sense of security. This tactic in deer control simply allows you to play the odds: If you grow plants that deer are less likely to eat, you increase your chances of escaping pest damage.

1. Aurinia Saxatilis

Picture of yellow alyssum, a yellow flowering ground cover.
David Beaulieu
You may know Aurinia saxatilis better by such common names as "Basket of Gold," a reference to both the abundance of its flowers and their striking color. This yellow alyssum, when planted en masse and displayed to optimal advantage, will furnish your landscaping with jaw-dropping beauty in spring. Aurinia saxatilis is a short, mat-forming plant, making it an effective ground cover. Its blue-grey leaves only add to its allure.

2. Bleeding Hearts

Picture of bleeding heart. The flower is truly heart-shaped, "bleeding" a drop.
David Beaulieu
The most widely grown bleeding heart is Dicentra spectabilis. This deer-resistant perennial can become quite large, under the right growing conditions. When that happens, it's a "spectacular" plant, as the specific epithet suggests. But even as a smaller plant, it can be mesmerizing, as one's attention is drawn to the uniquely-shaped individual flowers. It's hard to think of a more whimsical and more aptly named plant: The shape of a bleeding heart's flower lives up to the plant's common name -- right down to the little drop of "blood" dripping out from the bottom!

3. Fringed Bleeding Hearts

Picture: Fringed bleeding heart has delicate foliage. Some prefer fringed bleeding heart.
David Beaulieu

Fringed bleeding heart is a smaller plant than its showier cousin. As lovely as Dicentra spectabilis is, some prefer fringed bleeding hearts (Dicentra eximia). There are at least two reasons for this:

  1. The fern-like foliage is more attractive
  2. And those leaves persist through the summer heat, unlike those of Dicentra spectabilis

4. Dutchman's Breeches

Picture of Dicentra cucullaria. Also known as Dutchman's breeches, it's a spring ephemeral.
David Beaulieu

Yet another whimsical plant in the Dicentra genus is Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), the shape of whose flower matches its common name as perfectly as does "bleeding hearts" for Dicentra spectabilis and Dicentra eximia. But in one respect, Dutchman's breeches could not be any more different from Dicentra eximia: it is a spring ephemeral. Not only are its flowers short-lived, but so are its leaves.

5. Catmint Plants

Picture of Little Titch catmint flowers. Little Titch is a dwarf catmint.
David Beaulieu

Catnip plants are catmint plants, but not vice versa. Confused? A look at the botanical names in question will clear up any confusion:

  1. Any plant listed as being in the Nepeta genus is considered to be a catmint
  2. So when you see that the botanical name for catnip is Nepeta cataria, you know it automatically qualifies as a type of catmint
  3. The cataria part of that name should remind you that this is the one best known for exciting cats
  4. But there are other deer-resistant perennials in the Nepeta genus that are grown for their ornamental value: They are long-blooming perennials

Click the link below to learn more about two types of ornamental catmint, the smell of which Bambi hates.

6. Foxglove

Picture of foxglove flowers. Foxgloves are poisonous plants.
David Beaulieu

Like daffodil bulbs, there's a good reason why Bambi leaves foxglove alone: It's poisonous!

Foxgloves are tall, slender plants at 2-5 feet tall and just 1-2 feet wide. Their height makes them good candidates for the back row of a layered flower bed. Meanwhile, as plants that tolerate dry shade, they're useful for filling up spots in your landscaping where many other plants would be malcontents. Another plant that Bambi will leave alone and that tolerates partial shade is wood spurge.

7. Salvia Plants

King's Gold cypress is backdrop for Caradonna salvia in picture. It's a gold and purple color combo.
David Beaulieu

Like the related garden sage plants (Salvia officinalis), ornamental salvias are not eaten by Bambi for the same reason that catmints escape his depredations: they stink (well, according to Bambi, anyhow)!

Grow Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' if what you desire is a splendid foliage plant: its variegated leaves boast three colors: white, green, and purple.

But if it's flowers you want, grow any of the blue-flowering salvias. Caradonna salvia is my own favorite, as I adore its dark, graceful flower spikes. What, you want something spiky, but you don't like salvia? Red hot poker plants are not one of Bambi's favorites; unlike salvia, its spikes come in flashy, warm colors.

Bambi finds a number of herb plants stinky, especially ones in the mint family, such as bee balm.

8. Bearded Iris

Fragrant "zebra" bearded iris flowers.
Courtesy: Missouri Botanical Garden

It's not just poisonous plants and plants with pungent odors that Bambi mostly avoids. For some reason, ornamental grasses aren't one of his favorite foods, either. And in addition to plants with pungent odors, deer don't eat plants that smell perfumy, for the most part.

That works out well for us humans, as most of us have a powerful hankering to grow fragrant flowers. But Bambi finds these just as stinky as the pungent-smelling ones. Go figure.

Not all irises are equally fragrant. When in doubt, try to find the old-fashioned varieties.

9. Lamb's ear

Lamb's ear photo. As the picture shows,lamb's ear has silver leaves.
David Beaulieu

Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) is another case of a deer-resistant perennial that's hard to figure. It's easy to see why Bambi would be disdainful towards prickly plants. But what's so unappetizing about the velvety leaves of lamb's ear? Maybe they're too dry (like eating wool?).

Lamb's ear spreads readily, making it an effective ground cover. A drought-tolerant perennial, it also works well in rock gardens. Its soft, silver leaves furnish a luxurious backdrop for companion plants.

10. Lavender Plants

Lavender picture.
David Beaulieu

Since I've mentioned aromatic plants quite a bit above, you probably figured I'd eventually get around to lavender, right? Lavender is the poster child for herbs grown for their fragrance. Let's thank our lucky stars that Bambi isn't a fan of potpourri!

Ants, too, dislike the smell of lavender, which has made it useful, traditionally, for organic ant control.

The plants bear lavender-colored flowers (but then, considering the plant's name, what else would you expect?!). Click the link below to learn more about growing lavender. When you're done reading, come on back, because I present more choices for deer-resistant perennials on Page 2....

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