Volume 27 Issue 2, Spring 2022
by Julie Borneman, Loudoun Wildlife President
The one question I get most often at Watermark Woods is, “What do the deer not eat?” So many people ask this question that I cringe every time I hear it.
I have searched Google, asked experts and customers, and my conclusion is that the only plant that deer will never touch is an artificial plastic one. Different deer will prefer different plants, and the fawns will try anything and everything. Hopefully you will have some luck with our suggestions below.
There are many lists of deer-resistant plants, and a simple internet search can make your head spin. Audubon at Home Ambassador Kerry Bzdyk notes, “The natives they seem to leave alone are the more aromatic ones. Mountain Mint, Anise Hyssop, etc. So I employ a strategy of planting aromatics near the more tasty things for protection. It works pretty well. Deer use their sense of smell to determine what is safe and desirable to eat.” Use a wide variety of strong-smelling plants strategically dispersed around your entire landscape to confuse the deer and send them away to more familiar smells. Here are a few favorites from our experience.
Golden Groundsel (Golden Ragwort, Packera spp.) — This low-growing, aggressive native is a favorite. It is easy to pull, so it is fairly simple to manage the aggressiveness of this plant. Golden Groundsel is an evergreen, spring-flowering plant. It does well in full sun to full shade and enjoys average to moist soil.
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum spp.) — This favorite recommended by past Audubon at Home leader Anne Owen has many varieties to choose from, and the fragrant leaves are almost never browsed by deer. Mountain Mint is often planted near more palatable plants to deter deer from sampling. There are varieties of all heights and flowering times. Most prefer full sun and average soil.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) — With many colors and sizes and even some unique cultivars, these textured and fragrant leaves send deer away. Flowers range from white to red and all the colors in between.
Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) — A purple flower for full sun. Audubon at Home Ambassador Ling Lay loves this one because “you can prune it to any height and shape.”
Sumac (Rhus spp.) — While all species of Rhus are unappealing to deer, Rhus aromatica is especially so. Ling also notes, “The straight species can be used as a large hedge for folks with a lot of land. The ‘Gro-Low’ cultivar is good for smaller properties. They are great for stabilizing eroded hills. This plant is so tough, I have seen them used often by VDOT.”
A few more plants worth considering for your deer-resistant landscape: