Deer behind greenhouse

Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants

In Blog, Feature, Gardening, Perennials, Summerby Megan Nichols

There is never a shortage of big, bad garden varmints such as deer, rabbits, and other nuisance (albeit cute and fuzzy) creatures whose sole ambition (so it seems) is to find your favorite plants and chomp them to bits. What’s a gardener to do?

Luckily, just like us, deer and rabbits have their favorite foods. One way to deter them from damaging your valuable plants is to plants things they don’t generally like to eat. A word about “resistant” plants, however – garden pests will eat anything if they get a mind to or if they’re hungry enough, but these varieties aren’t their first choice.

In general, deer and rabbits often do not like to eat things that are fuzzy or textured, or that have a strong flavor. That does not mean they won’t eat nicely scented blossoms, though, as anyone who has lost all the flowers on their rose bushes to greedy deer can attest.

Deer and Rabbit Resistant Perennials

Yarrow
Monkshood
Lady’s Mantle
Allium
Anemone
Artemisia
Wild Ginger
Astilbe
Snakeroot
Epimedium
Ferns
Geranium
Catmint
Lungwort
Salvia
Stachys
Russian Sage
Daylily
Bee Balm
Ornamental grasses

Shrubs

Viburnum
Cotoneaster
Redbud
Gingko
Magnolia

Groundcovers

Lily of the Valley
Ajuga

Other Solutions

What if you really want that beautiful rose, phlox, tiger eye sumac, or anything else they really love to eat? Go for it! Here are a few things that can help keep warm-blooded pests away.

Identify the Problem

So, who’s eating in the garden, anyway? If you see the culprit, then identification is, well, fairly easy. If, however, you do not see them (which is often the case) it’s still possible to identify who is responsible. Identification allows you to determine how to handle the situation and save your garden.

Rabbits

If rabbits have visited the garden, you’ll know it. They have very sharp teeth and leave a clean, angled cut on the stem.

Rabbits love tender, new growth, so protecting new shoots in early spring, until they are at a less appetizing stage, can be helpful.

Deer

Deer teeth are blunt and tear plants rather than cut them, so the damaged plant will have rough, rather than clean-cut, edges.

Repellents

Repellex Systemic Granular and Tablets – this one is awesome for deterring pretty much every warm-blooded pest that wants to munch on your plants!

The active ingredient in Repellex is capsaicin, the compound that makes hot chili peppers hot. Plants take up the capsaicin, and most animals do not enjoy the smell or flavor of hot peppers (including dogs). Because capsaicin is taken up by the plant, rather than sprayed or sprinkled, it doesn’t wash off in the rain. Apply the tablet when planting a new tree, shrub or plant, or tuck into the soil as new growth appears on established plantings. Apply the granular to established plantings when new growth appears, but do not apply if the ground is soggy or the plant is dormant.

Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent: Scent keeps deer and rabbits away.
Hot Pepper Wax Animal Repellent: This one can be used on edibles!

To repel deer, try Shake Away Coyote Urine Granules. Deer smell a predator and stay away. Deer do get used to scents and after awhile any product you try may stop working. The trick is to vary the repellent you use, and to do it before they get used to it. Switch back and forth and they may never become comfortable and will be more likely to stay away.

To repel rabbits, try Shake Away Fox Urine Granules: Rabbits smell a predator and stay away.

Physical Barriers

For rabbits, little fences work well. They can hop, but not very high.

Unfortunately, deer require very large fences because they can jump very high. If lieu of a large fence, deer must believe they don’t want to enter an area. Electric fences work because, once zapped, deer remember the sensation, and if they believe they cannot cross that barrier by jumping, or that if they do get in they won’t be able to get out, then it will work fine.

Another option is to tightly string fishing line between rebar stakes around the area you’d like them to avoid. Deer are skittish, and because they feed mostly early in the morning or at dusk it will be harder for them to see the fishing line, but they will feel uneasy about being touched by something they can’t see as they try to enter the area. They’ll simply leave and find somewhere else to forage.

For best results, identify the problem as early as possible and take action before pests settle in and make your yard and gardens a part of their patterns.

Overall, gardening can be as intensive or leisurely as best fits your lifestyle and desire, but it should always be enjoyed (even if not all parts are enjoyable). If you want to plant things pests might eat, just do your best to keep them safe. When it’s not going according to plan, take a deep breath and enjoy what’s left…surely they didn’t eat everything?