Saturday 1 October 2022

Five of our Favorite Deer Resistant Plants

Protection from deer, is something that many growers need to consider. Deer damage on agricultural crops can have severe economic consequences, and for the forest gardener, it's essential to protect your establishing plants, as we have discovered over the years. The most effective way to prevent damage is fencing your entire site but in the event, this is not an option, there are some plants we have found to be relatively untroubled by the grazers and browsers.

During this post we'll look at five of our favorite deer-resistant plants, these plants are also largely untroubled by domestic livestock too.

Ginkgo biloba - Maidenhair Tree

Overview: Ginkgo biloba - Maidenhair Tree grows up to 30m at a slow rate. Often referred to as a 'living fossil', it has an incredible history and there is now little doubt that today's Gingko is a direct descendent of ancestors that provided food for the dinosaurs! Leaves are fan-shaped, with two lobes, that turn a stunning yellow in autumn. The species is dioecious with males often selected over females, because the fruit from female plants has a somewhat nauseous smell. It's pollinated by wind and prefers full sun. Seeds are edible. Highly valued medicinal plant.

Uses: Firewood, Pest tolerant, Ornamental, Street tree. Edible nuts

Deer Resistance Potential: Generally speaking,  Ginkgo has an excellent reputation for being deer resistant and indeed it is one plant in our unfenced gardens that do not seem to be bothered. 

Propagation: As forementioned, Ginkgo is usually propagated by cuttings. Take young or half-ripe wood about 15 cm long during May-July, put these in a frame, and keep them moist. They usually put out the best growth in their second year. Grafting is commonly practiced by nurseries to grow new Ginkgos. A Ginkgo tree in Kew gardens had a branch of a female tree grafted onto a male specimen. You can also propagate via seed. Although stratification isn't always necessary, it's likely that germination is better if the seeds experience some exposure to cold temperatures for 2 - 3 months.

It's astonishing to think that these plants may have been living and dying on this planet for the last 270 million years.  Paul found the seeds, pictured germinating here, at the base of a street tree in the center of Skopje, Macedonia.

Ficus carica - Common Fig

Overview: Ficus carica is a deciduous tree growing to approximately 8m at a medium rate. It's a light-demanding plant that will grow best with 8 hours or more of direct sunlight. Can grow in virtually any soil type. Figs may have single-stemmed growth or multi-stemmed shrub-like growth and often send up suckers from the base of the tree and spread branches that are low to the ground. Leaves are deeply lobed and thick.

Uses: Understory tree, Ornamental, Fruit tree

Deer Resistance Potential: Listed as being very resistant, and although some reports of damage do exist generally figs have a great reputation. The deer do not seem to enjoy fig leaves. They may enjoy the fruit, however.

Propagation: Figs are generally propagated by cuttings and for commercial plantations by tissue culture. We have had success with hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn/ early winter planted inside and outside into a free-draining medium (50% river sand 50% sieved compost).

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Japanese Pepper Tree - Zanthoxylum piperitum

Overview: Zanthoxylum piperitum  is an incredible plant that can be grown as a spiny shrub or a small tree, reaching dimensions of 3m by 2m. It is pretty robust, and drought tolerant, and copes with full sun, partial shade, and even some deeper shady conditions, making it a fantastic tree for a forest garden. It's easily grown in a variety of soil types and can tolerate very cold temperatures. Flowers are borne in June and seeds can be harvested in September - October. 

Uses: Great lower canopy tree for a forest/woodland garden. The plant has extensive medicinal value with all parts of the plant having a specific use.  Ground and dry-roasted fruit is an ingredient of the Chinese 'five spice' powder. Harvesting the tree for seeds starts once we see the black seed emerging from some of the husks.  We usually cut the whole umbel off and if all the seeds don't pop out easily just leave it to dry until the separation process becomes easier. The husks can be put into a pepper mill and used as you would black pepper, although a little more sparingly as the taste produces a clove-like numbing as well as a deliciously unique flavor.

Deer Resistance Potential: This is one of the only plants that has grown well in areas we have been planting that are visited by deer as well as goats, horses, sheep, and cows. These mammals obviously do not appreciate the impactful flavor of this famous Chinese spice. The thorns are also a great deterrent. 

Propagation: If the ground the beneath the tree is relatively free of grasses and other plants, the seedlings will emerge. Every year since the plant has been producing seeds, we grow between 10 - 15 plants this way. Sowing the harvested seeds will produce more success with seeds collected in the autumn and sown immediately producing the best results (although some years the germination rates are very low). Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings, 3cm long, planted horizontally in pots in a greenhouse.

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Elaeagnus angustifolia - Russian Olive

Overview: Elaeagnus angustifolia - Russian Olive is a deciduous Shrub growing to 7 m at a medium rate. Its ability to grow in nutritionally poor soil, and tolerate drought and maritime exposure means it is very versatile, and it can make an excellent hedging plant. The rounded form requires pruning to maintain. The species is hermaphrodite and is pollinated by bees. It can fix Nitrogen.

Uses: Hedge, Ornamental, Companion plant

Deer Resistance Potential: Mixed reviews, although the other attributes of E.angustofolia may mean it's worth experimenting with growing it as part of a polyculture hedge.

Propagation: Stored seed can be very slow to germinate, often taking more than 18 months. Ifyou harvest your own seed and sow in the autumn you should be able to bypass the dormancy and receive good germination results in the first season . Cuttings are a more reliable method. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, around 7 - 10cm are recommended.

Pieris japonica - Lily of the Valley Bush

Overview: Pieris japonica - Lily of the Valley Bush is an evergreen shrub growing 4m by 4m at a slow rate.  Its leaves are tough and evergreen and should be protected from drying winds to help prevent leaf damage. It's in bloom from April to May with attractive clusters of spring flowers, The species is hermaphrodite and the flowers are sweet smelling, but the plant is poisonous. Suitable for all soil consistencies, but prefers acidic, damp, and well-draining soil conditions. 

Uses: Border, Screen/hedge, Specimen, Woodland garden.

Deer Resistance Potential: Rated as quite high as deer tend to stay away from them unless absolutely pushed. 

Propagation: Easily propagated by seed. Surface sow in the spring and when large enough prick out and pot on and grow them on before planting out into their permanent positions.

Here is a list of deer-resistant plants we have available in the nursery this year. Click on the plant names for plant profiles.

Here is a list of some (reportedly) deer-tolerant trees and shrubs

Deer Tolerant Trees, Shrubs and Herbs
Latin NameCommon NameHardiness USDATolerance Rating
Acer palmatumJapanese Maple6 - 82
Acer rubrumRed Maple4 - 102
Achillea filipendulinaYarrow
Achillea millefoliumYarrow3 - 91
Aconitum sp.Monkshood
Ageratum houstonianumAgeratum
Albizia julibrissinSilk Tree6 - 92
Allium sp.Onion
Amelanchier laevisAllegheny Serviceberry4 - 91
Amelanchier laevisAllegheny Serviceberry
Antirrhinum majusSnapdragon
Arisaema triphylumJack-in-the-pulpit
Armoracia rusticanaHorseradish
Artemisia dracunculusTarragon
Artemisia sp.Silver Mound
Asarum canadenseWild Ginger
Asimina trilobaPapaw5 - 81
Asparagus officinalisAsparagus
Aster sp.Aster
Astilbe sp.Astilbe
Berberis sp.Barberry
Betula nigraRiver Birch3 - 92
Borage officinalisBorage
Buddleia davidiiButterfly Bush4 - 82
Buddleia sp.Butterfly Bush
Buxus sempervirensCommon Boxwood
Cactaceae sp.Cactus
Calendula sp.Pot Marigold
Caryopteris clandonensisBlue Mist Shrub
Centaurea cinerariaDusty Miller
Centaurea cyanusBachelor’s Buttons
Cleome sp.Spider Flower
Colchicum sp.Autumn Crocus
Consolida ambiguaLarkspur
Convallaris majalisLily of the Valley
Coreopsis verticillataThreadleaf Coreopsis
Cornus masCornelian Cherry4 - 83
Corydalis sp.Corydalis
Cytisus scopariusBroom5 - 81
Cytisus sp.Broom
Daphne sp.Daphne
Dicentra spectabilisBleeding Heart
Digitalis purpureaCommon Foxglove
Diospyros virginianaAmerican Persimmon4 - 82
Dryopteris marginalisWood Fern
Echinacea purpureaPurple Coneflower
Echinops ritroSmall Globe Thistle
Elaeagnus angustifoliaRussian Olive2 - 71
Endymion sp.Bluebell
Eranthus hyemalisWiner Aconite
Euphorbia marginataSnow-on-the-Mountain
Euphorbia sp. (except ‘Chameleon’)Spurge
Fagus grandifoliaAmerican Beech4 - 82
Fagus sylvaticaEuropean beech4 - 72
Festuca glaucaBlue Fescue
Ficus caricaCommon Fig6 - 111
Fritilaria imperialisCrown Imperial, Fritilia
Galanthus nivalisSnowdrops
Ginkgo bilobaMaidenhair Tree3 - 81
Gypsophila sp.Baby’s Breath
Heliorope arborescensHeliotrope
Helleborus sp.Lenten or Christmas Rose
Hyssopus officinalisHyssop
Ilex opacaAmerican Holly
Ilex verticillataWinterberry Holly
Iris sp.Iris
Koelreuteria paniculataGolden Rain Tree5 - 82
Lantana sp.Lantana
Lavandula angustifoliaLavender5 - 92
Lavandula sp.Lavender
Limonium latifoliumStatice
Lobularia maritimaSweet Alyssum
Marrubium vulgareHorehound
Melissa officinalisLemon Balm
Mentha sp.Mint
Monarda didymaBee Balm
Myosotis sp.Forget-Me-Not
Myrica pensylvanicaBayberry
Narcissus sp.Daffodil
Nepeta sp.Catmint
Ocimum basilicumBasil
Pachysandra terminalisPachysandra
Paeonia sp.Peony
Perovskia atriplicifoliaRussian sage4 - 92
Perovskio atriplicifoliaRussian Sage
Picea glaucaWhite Spruce2 - 62
Picea glauca ‘Conica’Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Pieris japonicaJapanese Pieris4 - 71
Pimpinalla anisumAnise
Pinus nigraAustrian Pine3 -71
Pinus resinosaRed Pine3 - 71
Pinus thunbergianaJapanese Black Pine6 - 91
Pseudotsuga menziesiiDouglas Fir3 - 62
Ranunculus sp.Buttercup
Rhus aromaticaFragrant Sumac
Rosmarinus officinalisRosemary
Rudbeckia sp.Black-Eyed Susan3 - 9
Ruta sp.Rue
Salvia officinalisGarden Sage
Sambucus racemosaAmerican Red Elder4 - 82
Stachys byzantinaLamb’s Ear
Syringa vulgarisCommon Lilac
Tanacetum vulgareTansy3 - 92
Tanacetum vulgareCommon Tansy
Teucrium chamaedrysGermander
Thumus sp.Thyme
Viburnum dentatumArrowwood Viburnum
Yucca spp.Yucca5 - 61

 To be clear, no plants are 100% deer-proof. When close to starvation deer have been known to eat almost anything. Deer resistance means that these plants are less likely to attract deer and if deer are in the vicinity and there are other plants around available, these plants will likely be left alone. 

You will likely find there are also great variations in terms of people's experiences with which plants are affected. For example, an apple tree may fall victim to deer predation in one garden, but be largely ignored in another, if there is a tastier and more accessible option nearby for the deer.  As with most things garden-related, there are many influencing variables. The heaviest browsing by deer in our area will occur during difficult winter months but generally speaking deer are most active from October through February.

That's all for this post. If you know of some deer-resistant plants not in the lists above please let us know in the comment section below. 

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