Question: This past winter the deer ate several of my shrubs that I was told they wouldn't touch, including hollies and some low roses. Can you recommend some truly deer-resistant shrubs?
Answer: Oh deer. Looking around the yard, it seems that some deer were never told, "You don't like that plant!"
In truth, there are certain plants that deer prefer over others, but several factors play into what they will munch.
- the severity of the winter
- the availability of other food
- the size of the local deer population (how many are competing for food)
In short, if they're hungry enough, they'll eat (fill in the blank). That doesn't mean it's a waste of time to seek out and plant "deer-proof" plants; on the contrary it's a good idea if you live in deer country. Just bear in mind that when and if the deer exhaust their other options, they may sample your shrubs.
Shrubs regarded as highly deer resistant:
Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica)
Boxwoods (Buxus spp.)
Butterfly bush (Buddleja spp.)
Daphne spp. (shown above,Daphne odora)
Elderberries (Sambucus spp.)
Hollies (Ilex spp.)
A fabulous source is "Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance," a web page created by Rutgers University. It rates a wide range of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and ornamental grasses for how susceptible to deer damage they typically are.
My own parents live in the middle of a deer run, and this past winter most of their trees and shrubs were devoured (as high as the deer can reach, that is)—including a blue spruce. Can you imagine chewing blue spruce needles? The only things that weren't touched were a hedge of boxwood and some hydrangea (H. macrophylla and H. paniculata). So from personal observation I can recommend you plant those. For reference, my parents live in New England.
Readers, where do you garden and if you deal with deer, what plants have you found they avoid?