Deer Resistant Plants

Robert Bishop 
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Fall is the ideal season for planting. If deer browsing damage has occurred on your property in the past consider selecting plants that are less enticing to the deer.

White tail deer damage to ornamental plants has increased over the years. Deer selectively feed on both crops and landscape plants. The rise in browsing damage is due to four factors, the deer population has increased; real estate development has reduced deer habitat; human population has shifted from cities to suburban living moving people closer to the animals; and social pressure to prevent hunting. Expect this problem to continue and most likely get worse. There are things you can do to protect your investment in ornamental landscape plants.

Browsing damage is most severe in winters that are very cold and/or have snow cover for long periods. Food becomes difficult to reach and the deer turn to more easily attainable food sources. Deer particularly like the new succulent growth that occurs on many plants in the early spring. This flush of growth often begins before farm crops and other non-ornamental plant food sources become available.

Controlling browsing damage is best done through a combination of fencing, repellents, population control and plant selection. Deer are creatures of habit and will return to forage at the same site each year. Fences can be expensive and are often aesthetically unappealing. Repellents are used with varying success and have to be reapplied. Population control is not always an option in residential areas due to firearm restrictions and social pressure.

Selecting deer resistant landscape plants is another option, although this method of control has its limitations too. Deer will seek foods that taste the best first, then go to lesser appetizing sources. The Maryland Cooperative Extension has developed a list of landscape plants categorized by their palatability to deer.

The categories range from the least tasty, "Rarely Damaged" plants, to the "Seldom Damaged", to the "Occasionally Damaged", ending with the deer favorites of the "Frequently Damaged" plants category. Each category if further divided into three groupings of plants, Trees; Shrubs and Climbers; Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs. The list is very helpful when selecting plants for a site that has had previous deer damage. Although the list is continually being updated it is only meant to be used as a guide, not a guarantee.

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