As a longtime resident of Central Oregon one of the first questions newcomers ask me: What plants are deer- and rabbit-proof?
The answer: None.
There are some plants that exhibit rabbit and deer resistance. The best plan for adding to your gardening experience is establishing a landscape designed to be lean pickings for critters.
In September I wrote an article based on a garden featured on the Oregon State University Extension Office’s Annual Garden Tour that was as close to being deer proof/resistant as you could ever imagine. The challenge of making changes in my own landscape led to a winterlong study of “Creating a Deer & Rabbit Proof Garden,” by Peter Derano, and creating a list.
The 159-page, full-color book runs the gamut of perennials, annuals, grasses, ferns, bulbs, vines, evergreen trees and shrubs, plus suggestions for sun and shade. The information listed is complete with an icon identifying rabbit (proof), deer (proof), or both; the climate zone, plus all the cultural information needed for planting the “right plant in the right place.”
Who’s eating my plants?
Derano explains that “deer damage will show jagged or torn edges on the stems left behind. It will not be a neat cut by any means.” Derano goes on to explain that rabbit damage is a “very neat, precise cut leaving no rough edges and it is usually on a 45-degree angle. Another clue would be the height of the damage. Rabbits can only browse on plantings 2 1⁄2 feet high.”
The combined list of rabbit and deer plant resistance that I have amassed might seem a little prohibitive, especially if you have a large area. I would encourage the gardener to add to the lists by doing additional research. I limited the plant selection to the U.S. Department of Agriculture growing zones 3 to 5. The listings are not intended to be exclusively water-wise or drought-tolerant plants.
As a general guideline, Derano states that rabbits and deer will avoid plants with the following characteristics: fuzzy leaves, waxy leaves, rough leaves, thorny foliage, strong scent and plants that ooze milky sap.
Plants that thrive in public plantings are often a good hint as to plants that deer might slightly browse or pass up entirely. I can’t help but shake my head that thorns and briars pose no problem to deer, but fuzzy foliage plants are on their “no, thank you” list. I have read that fuzzy plants seem difficult for deer to swallow. Silver and gray leaves are often furry and pungent, making them good choices for gardens.
Bad tasting to deer means lemony, minty, sagey, spicy or bitter, which makes pungent herbs good garden choices. Plants that people consider medicinal and poisonous are unappetizing to deer. Two examples would be foxglove and lily of the valley.
I often think we create more problems than we can solve by our diligent fertilizing and irrigating schedules — thus creating a luscious smorgasbord for the four-legged neighbors. Maybe we should be putting more thought into investigating native plants that have developed a natural defense.
— Reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org
Plants least likely to be eaten by deer or rabbits
Bulbs, corms, tubers
Allium species, bluebell, daffodil, hyacinthus, siberian squill scilla
Basil, floss flower-ageratum, geranium, marigolds, spider flower cleome, wax begonia
Barrenwort, bishops hat epimedium, bugleweed ajuga, lily of the valley
Bee balm monarda, Bethlehem sage pulmonaria, bugbane, catmint, catnip nepeta, columbine, common bleeding heart, coral bells heuchera, coreopsis, false indigo baptisia, fernleaf yarrow, globe thistle, goatsbeard, heartleaf bergenia, hellebores, iris, lamb’s ear stachys, lungwort, pasque flower, peony, perennial salvia, purple coneflower, russian sage-perovskia, shasta daisy, silver mound, wormwood artemisia, yucca