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Keeping deer at bay

Just as most of us have certain likes and dislikes when it comes to food, so do the deer. Planting perennials deer don't like to eat is one solution if you have this kind of damage. Many repellents are currently available to prevent deer from feeding on prized landscape plants. However, gardeners who use these products find varying degrees of success. Fences to keep deer out are the most effective deterrents but also may be the most unsightly and most expensive. So what plants do deer prefer, or dislike? We all know that even though we may not like certain foods, we may eat them if hungry enough. The same is true with deer and our landscape plants. If deer populations aren't very high, however, or the deer haven't had a bleak winter hunting for food, they will avoid certain plants. A good example is my lilacs. Although there are dozens of cultivars on the "deer banquet table" at my home, they took a nibble of one twig of each cultivar the first winter and, finding none to their taste, they've since left them alone. But then again, I also "offer" many perennials for them, as well as hundreds of acres of adjacent woods. I have learned that deer like thick, succulent stems of perennials such as of Autumn Joy Sedum, New England Asters, and garden phlox. In fact, I learned a trick from the deer. They fed on these plants until mid-June, pruning them back to about a foot high. Left alone the rest of the summer, these plants ended up blooming a month later. Since then, I have read of such cutting back in books, and I prune some perennials back in early summer (if the deer don't first) in order to extend their bloom season. Low animal "pruning" early in the season may be from groundhogs. If you have pesky deer, you might want to plant these perennials, as they will likely leave them alone early in the season: False Indigo (Baptisia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and Primrose (Primula). Spring bulbs deer tend to avoid include Crown Imperial (Fritillaria), Daffodils (Narcissus), and Squills (Scilla). Deer are fussy about many summer-blooming perennials, and unless starving, tend to leave these alone. Early summer bloomers include Yarrow (Achillea), Peony (Paeonia), Oriental Poppy (Papaver), Plume Flower (Astilbe), Evening Primrose (Oenothera), and Irises. For flowers later in the summer, consider planting Meadowsweet (Filipendula), Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium), Tickseed (Coreopsis), Coneflower (Echinacea), Bee Balms (Monarda), and Speedwells (Veronica). For fall, plant Windflower (Anemone) and some of the many cultivars of Goldenrod (Solidago). Herbs deer avoid include the very fragrant ones such as Mints (Mentha), Rosemary (Rosmarinus), Catmint (Nepeta), Oregano (Origanum), and Lavender (Lavandula). Another idea that works for some is to interplant such fragrant herbs with your desirable but tasty (to deer) perennials. The herbal scents may just be enough to keep them away as they have a very sensitive sense of smell. This is the reason for hanging bars of smelly soap in the garden (which Ive found only marginally effective, if raccoons dont eat the soap first). There are many more perennials you can choose for a deer-resistant perennial garden. Check out the list online (perrysperennials.info/consumer.html). Articles on Perrys Perennial Pages (perrysperennials.info/articleA.htm) cover other ideas and tips on keeping deer away. Dr. Leonard Perry is an Extension Professor for the University of Vermont.

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