I'm always excited to see new plants come on the market that offer a new color, shape or size from existing varieties. Yet so often I am faced with the reality that I can't grow them here because of the deer. (And yes those darn rabbits too).

Feel the same way? Well I've got some good news for us both as I've recently received some shipments of wonderful, colorful shrubs and perennials that are also reputedly deer-resistant to trial in my garden! A few have been on the market for a little while already but I haven't tested them personally. Others are brand new introductions.

In this post I'm focusing on the shrubs. Consider this your initial introduction as I explain what I'm excited about, what I'm going to be looking for, and how I'm using them in design applications. Then watch for a follow up post in late summer/early fall as I share my thoughts on their performance.

Evergreen Shrubs

Montana Moss juniper

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Come back! Yes I KNOW it's a juniper, but relax, This isn't the unruly thug of your grandparents day! I'm personally a huge fan of Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star') for example with its compact habit and beautiful steel-blue foliage. Knowing that, Proven Winners are sending me some small samples of Montana Moss juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Montana Moss'). Like all junipers this needs full sun.

Here's what I'm excited about:

  • Softer texture
  • Seafoam green color (ooh….)
  • Spreading habit 2-4 feet tall and 3-6 feet wide
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer resistant
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Will it keep a nice shape without pruning?
  • Will this softer texture still be deer resistant?
  • Will the rabbits eat it?
  • Does the softer texture mean I won't get prickle rash?!?

How I'm using it:

Since these will just be quart sized samples it will take some time to fully assess the criteria above but I'm going to add a few to containers and see how they perform. (I do that with lots of small shrubs).

Tortuga juniper

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Another new introduction from Proven Winners, this native conifer is said to be one of the toughest evergreens they offer. Trust me – I can test that!! This low mounding groundcover is said to thrive in full sun and well drained soil.

Here's what's else has been said about it:

  • Cold (zones 2-7), sun, and drought  tolerant
  • Resistant to rabbits and deer
  • Can even be grown under black walnut trees
  • No pruning needed
  • Salt tolerant
  • Grows 3-4 feet tall and wide

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Will it maintain a nice shape or start to look scruffy after a few years?
  • Is it ornamental enough to justify a spot in my landscape?
  • Would this be better suited for a predominantly native planting style?

How I'm using it:

I'm going to use this as a filler in one of my toughest perimeter borders that receives minimal care and maximum deer pressure. Ha! THAT will test it….

Deciduous, Flowering Shrubs

Love Child Virginia sweetspire

Photo courtesy: First Editions

I'm a huge fan of Little Henry Virginia sweetspire for its semi-evergreen foliage, gorgeous fall color and sweetly scented spring flowers that resemble little lambs tails! Its suckering habit is fine where I have it but not always suitable for a design that needs more restraint and this is where Love Child fills a niche. This new introduction from First Editions stays put.

Here's why it's special:

  • Compact growth habit (no suckering)
  • Maintains a nice mounding habit 3-4' tall and wide
  • Heavy bloomer
  • Burgundy-red foliage in fall
  • Tolerant of winter wet soils yet also somewhat drought tolerant
  • Does well in full sun-part shade
  • Deer resistant

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Does it really not sucker????
  • Will it maintain its shape?
  • How well will it bloom in partial shade?
  • How good is the fall color in partial shade?
  • Will the deer eat the blooms occasionally as they do Little Henry?

How I'm using it:

I have an awkward spot in front of the cabin porch that needs a simple foundation planting. Stylistically whatever is here needs to blend with the more naturalistic plantings in that area so I think this shrub should be perfect as it is ornamental but not ostentatious. The cabin shades the plants in the morning but it will receive direct sun for several hours around midday and again mid-afternoon. As it happens I have two of these shrubs but they are slightly different sizes/ages. I'm going to plant them together and hope it doesn't look too odd and they quickly equal out somehow.

Cobalt-n-Gold hypericum

Perfect little cushions of loveliness: Cobalt-n-Gold hypericum. Photo courtesy First Editions

Now then THIS one has me excited! If you like feathery foliage, bright sunny-yellow flowers, stunning fall color, and attractive bark – read on! First Editions have introduced us to several first rate hypericum over the years and Cobalt-n-Gold looks set to be another winner. A colleague tested this in Des Moines, Iowa last year and raved about it – but my 'success' criteria are different to his so I'm thrilled to assess it for myself. But let's clear something up. You're probably familiar with the perennial St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) which may become invasive and is toxic to livestock. This is a different species; Hypericum kalmianum, a shrub, not a perennial.

Here's why I'm excited:

  • Finely textured, silver-green foliage that turns fiery colors in fall
  • Just 2-3 feet tall yet 4-5 feet wide, this makes a low mounding cushion
  • Deer resistant and drought tolerant

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Will the rabbits eat it??? (Looks mighty tempting)
  • Will it be susceptible to the fungal disease called rust?
  • Will the "attractive exfoliating bark" mentioned by the grower be significant on such a small shrub? (Yes, I'm a tough sell)
  • Will I feel its good attributes outweigh its lack of fall berries of other hypericum species? (OK – a REALLY tough sell!)

How I'm using it:

Truthfully I've planted them too close together for the long term but I want to see how they look edging a path in my island border in front of  a tall stand of red-blooming Lucifer crocosmia. (I can transplant/re-space as they mature). I thought the contrast in leaf textures would be pretty as would the contrast in flower colors if they happen to bloom at the same time. Also since the crocosmia die to the ground in winter, the twiggy structure of the hypericum would add interest to that area during the colder months.

Mandarin Tango potentilla

If you have deer you SHOULD learn to love these shrubs. Forget your plant snobbery. These are hard-working, easy care shrubs that the deer seem unfazed by, and this new introduction by First Editions looks amazing in my garden already.

Here's what's to love about it:

  • Gorgeous orange flowers with a hint of red cover the compact, rounded shrub
  • Hardy in zones 2-6
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Fresh green foliage looks lovely

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Will it really stay 2-3 feet tall and wide as the grower says? All the other Potentilla I have grown reach 4 feet unless I prune them.
  • Will it stay a nice tight mound or become leggy?
  • Will it bloom again – even sporadically – or is this a one season thing?

How I'm using it:

Backed by a variegated holly and surrounded by orange Californian poppies. Looks gorgeous right now! (See the image at the start of this blog post for my landscape setting).

Sapphire Surf bluebeard

Photo courtesy First Editions

I love bluebeard (Caryopteris) yet struggle to overwinter them in my winter-wet soils. Really hoping I do better with Sapphire Surf, a new introduction by First Editions. Think of those rippling blue Mediterranean waters….and that's what this compact variety brings to mind.

Here's why I'm excited:

  • Shorter than most varieties at just 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide
  • Smothered in frothy blue flowers in late summer
  • Bees and butterflies will love it!
  • Deer resistant and drought tolerant
  • Foliage is fragrant when rubbed
  • Hardy in zones 5-9 (needs full sun)
  • Could be great for edging a hot sunny border

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Will the rabbits leave it alone?
  • Will it be winter hardy for me?

How I'm using it:

I've added this to my front garden which is a tapestry of flower and foliage in shades of blue, white, and silver with pink and burgundy accents. This area is the best well-drained soil I have and gets full afternoon sun.

Tianshan seven-son flower

Photo courtesy: First Editions

I've always wanted to grow Heptacodium miconioides– have you? The fragrant flowers are gorgeous as are the unusual fruit that follows, but the species grows 15-20 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide – and that's if you can find it at a nursery! Well you'll be thrilled to hear that First Editions has got a new introduction called Tianshan, named after the mountain range in China where the species is native. Growing to just 8-12 feet tall and 5-7 feet wide it is much better suited to smaller landscapes.

Here's what I'm excited about:

  • Glossy green leaves look gorgeous and really stand out in a mixed border
  • Nice upright mounded shape with branching to the ground
  • Clusters of creamy white flowers that smell divine
  • Intriguing purple-red fruits in fall
  • Yellow fall foliage
  • Exfoliating bark for winter interest
  • Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds
  • Suitable for full sun-partial shade
  • Hardy in zones 5-9

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Is it deer resistant? Some sources say yes but there doesn't seem to be a lot of information
  • Will it be drought tolerant in moisture retentive soil with mulch? (I'll water it regularly this first year though)
  • Will it suffer winter dieback?
  • Will it be as gorgeous as I hope?!

How I'm using it:

I've planted it on the outer margin of my island border where it will get full sun from early morning until at least midday then filtered sun after that. It is surrounded by shrubs with smaller leaves in shade of green, burgundy and yellow. This is a main deer thoroughfare so I think I'm going to spray it this first year to give it a chance to get established and also protect it from rutting in fall. Next year I'll try without deer repellent to better assess that aspect.

Deciduous, Foliage Interest Shrubs

Matcha Ball ash-leaf spirea (Sorbaria)

Photo courtesy; First Editions

I'm really quite intrigued by this. The better known variety Sem is notorious for running amok if let loose out of a container, yet this new introduction by First Editions blooms sparsely which is said to help it maintain its tight ball form.

Here's what they say:

  • Fern-like foliage emerges fresh green with a hint of peachy pink in spring
  • Grows 2-3 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide
  • Needs full sun
  • Hardy in zones 3-7

Here's what I'm looking for:

  • Level of deer and rabbit resistance
  • Is it really going to stay a nice shape?
  • Will I still like it after that spring pink flush has gone? Will the green fern-like foliage still be Karen-worthy?

How I'm using it:

I've added it to my 'trial' border to make sure I assess it regularly. It is flanked by Ginger Wine and Panther ninebarks  (which I have to spray with deer repellent) so the color contrast is lovely.

Which shrubs are you most excited about?

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3 Comments

  1. Cathi Lamoreux on June 9, 2020 at 6:03 am

    You are right, I run the other way very fast when I hear the word Juniper! But, both Junipers are intriguing as I am adding more evergreen shrubs to my perennial beds. And, I will be watching the growth habit of the Caryopteris 'Sapphire Surf'. I love Caryopteris, but lost one years ago and never added another to the garden.



  2. Donnie on June 18, 2020 at 2:07 am

    This is an interesting situation. I never knew that there would be any plants that would resist deer or rabbits. It is good to know, though. My garden has a mix of floral and shrubs that withstand all seasons. They are colorful and make the gardener in me really proud.



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