deer

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

What does deer-RESISTANT mean?

If you share your garden with deer, you’ll be familiar with the term, and when shopping for plants have undoubtedly asked nursery staff for assistance in choosing things that are deer-resistant. Yet what does that really mean?

Let’s be clear: it does NOT mean deer-PROOF.

With that out of the way let’s dive a bit deeper so you can make informed choices when choosing plants and strategic decisions when siting them.

Start here:

My go-to reference for whether or not a plant is deer-resistant is the Rutger’s website. The great thing about this site is that it is backed by considerable professional experience and observations and lists a plants LEVEL of resistance (more about that in a moment). The downside is that they are based in New Jersey, so there is some significant variation in their observations and mine here in Washington state. It is, however, an excellent place to start.

Understanding levels of deer-resistance.

It isn’t black or white – there are levels of resistance that it is helpful to understand. The Rutger’s website site uses the following grading system:

A = Rarely Damaged
B = Seldom Severely Damaged
C = Occasionally Severely Damaged
D = Frequently Severely Damaged

They recommend selecting plants that fall into categories A or B if you share your garden with deer, unless you are willing to protect plants with fences or sprays.

But what does “seldom severely damaged” look like?

Let me share a few case studies from my own garden to give you an idea.

New Guinea impatiens (annual)

Although this species (Impatiens hawkeri) is not listed on the website, both Impatiens balsimina and Impatiens walleriana are listed as level C, so one could assume a similar rating for New Guinea impatiens.

I have one New Guinea impatiens in a container design along the primary deer route. It has been there for 8 weeks without any damage whatsoever.

How it USED to look!

Two nights ago this happened…

So, yes the damage is occasional, and yes it was severe – but they haven’t destroyed the whole plant, just taken off about 90% of the flowers! One squirt with the deer repellent spray would have avoided even that but it has never been eaten before this year and I’ve grown them for at least three years in containers exposed to the deer… (i.e. ” VERY occasional damage”….). The good news is that everything else in the pot was untouched! Knowing (and seeing) that, will you include these and spray them – or avoid them entirely?

Sekkan-sugi Japanese cedar (conifer)

We began to develop a large privacy screen about 7 years ago. It includes conifers, deciduous trees, broadleaf evergreen shrubs,  and grasses.

The privacy screen acts as a buffer between ourselves and the neighboring property

In the center of the photo above you can see a beautiful golden Japanese cedar, (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’). When it was still quite young the deer did one of their nightly stealth raids and this was the result:

Rutting damage

They didn’t eat the tree – but they did damage it by rutting against it. Thankfully the conifer coped with the damage and seemed to grow out of it over the next year, so I’d agree with the rating of B. I would advise also fencing the tree when young to get it established.

Corkscrew hazel (deciduous shrub)

I love the twisted foliage, stems, and catkins on the Red Majestic corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’)

Nibbled stems on my corkscrew hazel

If you only saw the above image, you’d be tempted to think the entire shrub was a loss, but that isn’t the case. See it in the broader context:

Bigger picture – NOW can you see the damage?

The shrub is at a turning point in the path – and on the major deer-highway. It was easy to taste a few convenient leaves but they clearly didn’t deem it tasty enough to devour more.

That being the case, I’d agree with the Rutger’s rating of B (“seldom severely damaged”). Plus the shrub has been here for three years and I think this is only the second time I’ve noticed any damage at all. So will you choose to grow it?

Now what?

Now you can make informed choices about the plants you select, assess your level of tolerance for damage, and decide where to place these plants in the landscape. For example, I’d suggest any major focal points and specimen plants are always selected from A or B. If you really want to try something listed as C or D then at least set it farther back into the border so damage is less noticeable and don’t use that plant for an entire hedge!

Footnote 1 – Rutgers vs. Karen

Where I differ from Rutgers:

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica cvs..) are totally decimated by deer in my garden (D+!). Rutgers lists it as C – which I think is a change as I swear they used to list it as B! (In Texas and North Carolina it is actually considered at least B)

Gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) – in WA they are C or even D. Rutgers lists it as B.

Footnote 2 – What Rutgers misses

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) is not on the Rutgers list – I would rate it as A, never having had any damage whatsoever in 7 years. It is also my favorite perennial of all time!

Telekia (Telekia speciosa) is a large, shade-loving perennial with steroidal foliage and yellow daisies. It takes a few years to outwit the slugs here in the PNW but mine now reliably grows to 5-6′ tall each year despite deer, rabbits and our over-abundance of molluscs. I’d confidently rate it as A since the deer walk past it every day. (Not listed on Rutger’s)

Gaura (Gaura sp.) is also conspicuous by its absence from the Rutgers list. Most definitely A++ here.

A special gift for you!

if you’d like to spice up your deer-resistant plant selection, you’ll enjoy this  list of 15 FUN Deer-Resistant plants that I’ve created. It is  FREE for my newsletter subscribers. Just sign up here:

Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

Deer-Resistant Containers: Before & After

I thought you might like to see how some of my summer container designs have grown in. All three designs are planted in full sun, are deer resistant, and low maintenance.

The “After” images are approximately 6-7 weeks after planting. They all had Osmocote added as a slow release fertilizer when first planted but have not had additional fertilizer since then. Nothing has been deadheaded or cut back except where noted.

Contemporary and Monochromatic

May 19th 2018 – just planted

You may recall helping me design this container! It has looked good from day one, although the ornamental oregano I originally planted did not do well for some reason and has since been replaced with a similar variety called Kent Beauty.

August 1st 2018

I’m really enjoying this! I love how the colors continue to work with the surrounding landscape and how full and luscious the design now looks. Notice though the discrepancy between  the size of the two silver leaved plants (Senecio ‘Angel Wings’). That is because they were purchased from two different vendors and is a reflection of their varying fertilizer and growing regimes. Both plants are gorgeous and healthy, but one is much bigger. Lesson learned….

Plant list:

Platinum Beauty lomandra

Angel Wings senecio

Kent Beauty oregano

Quicksilver hebe

Red Threads alternanthera, Joseph’s coat (hidden in this image but you’ll see where I added it in the original post)

Quick, Easy and Colorful

June 1st 2018 – just planted

The Orange Rocket barberry has been in this pot for several years – I just prune it a little for shape as needed. Truthfully there was zero effort or thought put into this design – I just grabbed three each of three different annuals, focusing on foliage and reliable performance.

July 31st 2018- on a hazy summer day!

I didn’t use any long trailers in the design but I like the ruffle of white euphorbia blooms and that blue fan flower is a rock star! Non-stop color and zero maintenance. (I ought to trim away (or move) the barberry at the base of the container as it is visually interfering with the design). In the photo at the head of this blog post you can see how it looks in the context with the cabin and surrounding landscape.

Plant list:

Orange Rocket barberry

Glitz euphorbia

Fairy Blue fan flower

Walkabout Sunset lysimachia

Demonstration pot

This was the container I planted in the demonstration video for my online course Designing Abundant Containers . It has evolved beautifully as the perennials have changed personality and the annuals have grown. Initially the false indigo and Ascot Rainbow spurge had blooms, but the annual verbena was just waking up. Colorful foliage helped to bridge the gap.

May 14th 2018 – just planted

Just over four weeks later and the Ascot Rainbow spurge is still flowering but the false indigo  blooms are now small seed pods – and look at that verbena!

June 19th 2018

By the beginning of August I had trimmed off the spent Ascot Rainbow blooms and was surprised to find another flowering stalk already emerging. The verbena took a two week break from full bloom, although it was never without color. As flowers finished I cut off the developing seed heads…. and then this happened! I struggled to photograph it in the same location as it is now so much wider!

August 1st 2018

I was pleased that although the silver Angel Wings senecio has got taller it hasn’t become “leggy” and that there is still a wonderful density to the abundant, felted foliage. I also like the the way the lemon thyme fills in the front and the verbena mingles unapologetically through it all yet never overwhelms.

Plant list:

Cherries Jubilee false indigo

Ascot Rainbow spurge

Tequila Sunrise mirror plant

Mexican feather grass

Diamond Frost spurge

Purple Queen

Angel Wings senecio

Lemon thyme

Royal Romance verbena

 

I’m about to head out of town so won’t see these again for a while. My daughter is in charge of watering while I’m away…..I wonder if they’ll look past their best when I get home again or still be photo-worthy?

I hope this series of images helps you see the value of designing with foliage first (I do believe there is a book about that!), and encouraging you that a deer-resistant design can still look both colorful and interesting.

If you’d like more help designing with deer in mind, stay in touch via my newsletter. I’ve been busy creating a special online course Designing a Deer-Resistant Garden that you won’t want to miss, as well as my new book Deer-Resistant Design; both will roll out in June 2019. And as a thank you for signing up for my newsletter I’ve written this FREE guide just for you. Enjoy!

 

If you’d like to receive these blog posts in your inbox, just sign up below.

Last Needle Hanging

Last Needle Hanging

Seen above in better days….

The conifer is failing

…but sadly a key plant in this scene has now become an embarrassing eyesore.  Time to take action!

Out with the Old

My Feelin’ Blue deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue), carefully placed to the left of the cabin, started to feel a bit “off” last year – and turned a dull olive green. This year she is decidedly brown. I could wait  until the last needle drops or just face the inevitable and dig her out. This is a prime location, visible from the home, the patio and even when driving onto the property so it’s not place for a Charlie Brown. I also painted the door of the cabin to match the conifer….. Geez, did she not understand that before she started with her chameleon attitude?

Not the look I was going for!

But what to replace her with? I like the idea of a conifer still, it needs to be low and spreading (so the cabin and orange container behind it are not obscured, it needs to be deer resistant, tolerate full sun, be drought tolerant once established – and be BLUE. The soil isn’t great in that spot. The native soil is clay and while it has been amended I suspect the water table is quite high which may mean soggy winter soil and be the reason for the demise of the deodar cedar whose sensitivities were upset by the short-term foot bath.

In with the New

Love the visible white stomata on the needles of the Spreading Star Pacific fir

I’ve chosen a selection of a native fir – the Spreading Star Pacific fir (Abies amabilis ‘Spreading Star’). I love the deep blue-green needles that radiate around the stems and the distinctive silver-white undersides which add a shimmer effect. It will grow to 6′ wide x 3′ tall; about the same size as the failed cedar that is being removed.

Regarding deer resistance, I’ve been fortunate with deer and fir interactions so far, the only casualty being rutting against a Korean fir, so I’m fairly optimistic on that front but may spray the first couple of winters to give it a chance to get established.

I’m not sure how it will fare in my soil, except that I have two other fir in the same border that are doing well so again am cautiously optimistic.

Temporary Design Assistance!

Silver Falls dichondra is often used as a trailing silver-leaved annual

 

The only problem is that while it will eventually grow to fill the space, right now it’s tiny! It would be easy to fill up the space with a wild assortment of bits and bobs but I want this to be a distinct focal point to anchor this bed and not get lost in a cacophony of botanical treasures. I’m therefore going to surround it with a temporary silver carpet of Silver Falls dichondra.

I like the silver color echo between the fir and the groundcover, and also the difference in leaf shape and texture

The small, metallic silver leaves will accentuate the color of the conifer and act like a series of floodlights lighting up the star. I know this is only an annual for me, but it’s a fairly cheap, short-term solution that won’t spoil my overall design.

Early results

The new look – day 1

Yes it IS small, especially when I’m used to seeing the larger conifer, but I like the direction this is going in now. Framing the fir with the silver groundcover really sets it off as I’d hoped. And I love it with the door!

Resources

If you love conifers, you might like this book. My copy is VERY well thumbed!

This post contains affiliate links

 

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Renovation of a Mature Border – Part 1

Is your whole garden a place of beauty where butterflies sip, birds sing and you love to linger?

Or do you have an area of your garden that is “just what it is“. You neither love it, nor hate it – you just haven’t got around to thinking about it? I do.

June 2018 – drab and overgrown. Time to THINK about this space!

This is the only remaining part of the original garden installed by the previous homeowner, using by her own admission “leftovers’ from her landscaping business. In many ways it’s a good design: an arc of evergreen conifers is fronted by broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons) and a single golden leafed spirea. Boulders to one side and a clump or rhubarb (a great ornamental plant that is also edible) to the other gives this border year round interest that looks especially lovely in spring. For a few weeks.

In May 2011 it looked lovely but the red leaf maple died that same year and the golden spirea has long since been swallowed by the Rhodies

The Problem

And therein lies the problem. The dark green rhodie leaves against the dark green conifers become a visual black hole for most of the year. The single, golden spirea does help although it is now getting buried behind the rhodies as they have got so large. About 6 years ago I added two Coppertina ninebark into the mix, the bronze foliage adding some more color – which helped. But it’s still pretty blah, especially compared to the rest of the garden.

May 2013 – still acceptable in spring and the addition of two bronze ninebarks  behind the rhodies helped a little.

May 2013 – the ninebarks flank the still visible spirea and the rhodies look healthy. This was before we had several hot summers in a row though.

Other Challenges

Lack of irrigation and increasingly dry summers have added another issue. The shallow rooted rhodies really struggle by mid-August and there is just no way to get a hose to them. So drought stress, combined with lacebug stippling and vine weevil-notched leaves have left these “evergreen’ shrubs looking unsightly and unhealthy.

Vine weevil damage is unsightly and not easy to control organically

Plan A

We thought we had a solution, however. We discovered an old well head right in the midst of this border and surprisingly it still has water and is fairly shallow, so Andy has installed a sump pump and I have a professional quality 3/4″ soaker hose ready to wrap around those poor shrubs.

The well head can easily be disguised by plants yet accessed from behind

The plan was to hard prune the rhodies, fertilize , then allow them to re-grow lush and healthy over the next couple of years, with help from this newly discovered water source.

But then I stood back, both literally and figuratively and asked if that was what I really wanted. Did I love those rhodies enough to do all that and continue the battle with various insects? And the lack of foliage contrast wouldn’t really be resolved.

Did they meet my “low maintenance-high value” criteria?

In short – NO.

June 2018 – Past its prime and pretty ugly with badly disfigured shrubs

May 2018 – even in bloom this year it lacked the sparkle of its youth

Plan B

Those big, old rhodies are coming out, the smaller white-flowering azalea will be hard pruned/fertilized, I’ll amend the soil and then introduce a mix of low maintenance evergreen and deciduous shrubs for better foliage interest and greater unity with the rest of the garden. Shrubs here need to be deer resistant and cope with afternoon sun as well as root competition from the adjacent conifers.

My plant short list includes:

Gilt Edge silverberry will add some much needed color contrast and sparkle

  • Gilt Edge silverberry (Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’) – gold and green variegated foliage that is evergreen. Will eventually grow to 12′ x 12′ or I can prune as desired.
  • Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ ) – still debating this inclusion but I think it will tolerate the afternoon sun with watering. I will need to visually separate the glossy holly-like leaves from the conifers though – perhaps layer it in front of the silverberry. The hummingbirds will love it.
  • Exbury azaleas – taller varieties. Love these for the fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color. Not sure of flower colors yet – it will probably come down to availability although I do love the orange -red of Gibralter
  • Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – for the front edge if there’s room, or perhaps just add to the yellow Japanese forest grass already there

 

I’ll leave the two ninebark in place but will prune them for shape in winter and will have to spray them with Deer-Out until the plants in front are large enough to create a barrier from the deer. I’ll also leave – or move if possible, the mature golden leaved spirea and the rhubarb which will be much happier with more room.

The new design should better integrate with the rest of that border which features a greater variety of foliage color and textures

First things first

I’ve got a plane to catch. In fact when this post publishes I’ll be in New Jersey as part of a 10 day trip to photograph the last 3 gardens for my new book on deer resistant gardens, after which I’ll be in full-time writing mode for several weeks! Maybe the garden fairies will dig out those rhodies while I’m gone???? Or they/he may be too busy looking after our puppy! I’ll take some photos of the process to share with you though.

Bear in Mind

It’s not easy to renovate a mature border because whatever you do the new plants will look insubstantial compared to what was you’ve taken out and what has been left behind. But it’s worth it if you have time to invest in your garden (we don’t plan to move again) and are tired of just making do with something you never really loved in the first place. Plus I’m all about creating a garden that is lower maintenance.

A resource you may be interested in

Has this got you re-thinking part of your garden? Do you need help to assess which plants are worth the work – and which are just free-loaders? You might be interested in my short online course

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants.

You can find out more and register using this link.

 

 

Plus the coupon code 15off will give you 15% off the price (valid until 6/30/18 only) - put the savings towards something that deserves to be in your garden!

This post contains some affiliate links

Plants for Procrastinators

Plants for Procrastinators
  • Have you been caught with areas of your garden not quite summer-ready?
  • Not ready to commit to what you really want in that empty spot?
  • Do you have shrubs that will eventually fill the space – but are still rather small?
  • Don’t have the budget yet for that specimen tree you’ve got your eye on?
  • Just too busy to figure out what you want in an area right now – but you don’t want to leave it empty either?

I can totally relate! For me it was finally deciding that a mature Black Lace elderberry had to go. I love this shrub and have another in a different area that is fine, but I was fighting cane borers every year on this one and the amount of effort and maintenance involved didn’t make sense for this low-maintenance gardener. But we are already having days in the high 70’s and I don’t have an irrigation system so adding a long-term replacement of some sort is going to be tricky, especially as I’ll be traveling a lot this summer. Plus I need time to consider what I want!

The solution is a short term fix – a fast growing annual that will grow vigorously to fill the gap but be easy care. There are many to choose from depending on your needs. Here are some of my favorites. Bear in mind, some of these may be perennial for you – bonus!

Cardoon

At Joy Creek Nursery in Oregon, a huge clump of silver cardoon is truly perennial.  Plant-envy!!

Similar in appearance to an artichoke, this dramatic, architectural plant makes quite the statement with its huge, serrated silver leaves and edible flowers. I buy it every year, envious of my Seattle neighbors who enjoy this as a perennial in their sandy soils, but accepting that in my sticky clay soil they always rot over the winter.

Cardoon blooms attract bees, butterflies and photographers!

I’ve added two of these where my elderberry was, knowing that it will be deer resistant and drought tolerant and quickly fill the space behind a bench. Cardoon will grow to 6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide in a single season.

Tobacco plant

Nicotiana langsdorfii has tubular lime green flowers that look wonderful set against dark foliage of a smoke bush.

There are several species of tobacco plant (Nicotiana) I use for this purpose: Nicotiana langsdorfii and the flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). Both often set seed in my garden so I have free plants the following year which can be transplanted to more suitable spots  when still small.

The large basal rosettes of soft green leaves are excellent weed-smotherers, yet the tall, slender stems of blooms are airy and mingle easily with other garden companions. N. langsdorfii has tubular lime green flowers while the night-scented flowering tobacco has white flowers clustered around a stem. Both grow 5-6 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide and are deer resistant. They have also proven drought tolerant in my garden but will struggle in hotter climates without supplemental water.

The first image in this post shows them as part of a summer vignette helping to amplify my young island border plantings.

Golden Delicious sage

If you don’t need something quite that tall but would love to introduce golden foliage and attract hummingbirds, consider the new variety of pineapple sage called Golden Delicious from Proven Winners. This caught my eye at CAST recently so I was thrilled when I received a couple to try here!

Golden Delicious sage makes a stunning border specimen. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Vivid red-flowers will ensure your garden is party central for all the neighborhood hummingbirds! Give this some elbow room as that little 4″ plant will grow 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide over the summer. I’ve added two, together with Kudos Gold hyssop and orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) close to the porch of our little garden cabin so I can enjoy the sunset colors and bird activity from the comfort of my chair.

Rockin’Fuchsia sage

Rockin’ Fuchsia sage with gaura and shasta daisies, as seen at the Proven Winners display at the California Spring Trials

Another sage that caught my eye at CAST was Rockin’ Fuchsia – and again I am thrilled that it has been included in my “trials” selection from Proven Winners so I can let you know how it really performs in my garden! Just look at those deep magenta flowers – really eye catching. This won’t be available until 2019 so stay tuned. I’m testing it with the burgundy foliage of a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel as a backdrop, replacing Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’ that didn’t make it through our winter (no surprise there).

In the meantime you may want to experiment with Love and Wishes sage from Sunset and Southern Living Plants collections. Or if you prefer blue over magenta, look for Amistad. All are annuals for me but perennial in warmer areas and grow to 3 feet tall and wide or so. All are drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Experience of this species makes me suggest you place them where a few fallen flowers don’t matter i.e. NOT front and central on your main patio! They bloom so prolifically, and self-clean (i.e. drop their spent flowers) that fastidious gardeners may not like having to keep a broom handy. In the border it isn’t an issue.

Senorita spider flowers

Senorita Rosalita spider flower – gorgeous color

Another staple in my summer garden are the compact spider flowers by Proven Winners; the white flowering Senorita Blanca and the rose colored Senorita Rosalita. I’m a huge fan of these floriferous, sterile, multi-branched annuals and always find an excuse to add several groups of them. At 3-4 feet tall and 2 feet wide they are perfect for filling in between young shrubs and look especially pretty with grasses in a meadow-inspired design. Deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Quicksilver wormwood

Use Quicksilver wormwood to fill in between young plants

I had to call Proven Winners about this fast growing annual groundcover when it was first being introduced. It proved to be far more vigorous than they had originally anticipated, quickly spreading to 4 feet in diameter but just a few inches tall. That’s great value from one little 4″ plant!

I love Quicksilver as a filler between taller plants, and unlike evergreen groundcovers that cover the ground permanently, since this annual is removed at summer’s end I can still plant bulbs and amend the soil in fall. I also prefer it over the perennial Silver Brocade that looks similar but insists on blooming with scruffy yellow flowers that I have to spend time removing. To me this groundcover is all about the felted silver foliage. It is also drought tolerant and deer resistant – yay!

Coleus

Coleus Main Street Ocean Drive is a new introduction by Dummen Orange

With so many colorful varieties of coleus available that are both sun and shade tolerant, you are sure to find one to fill those summertime gaps in your garden. Check the tags to get an idea of size. Friends in North Carolina have reported these to be deer resistant but in my slug-infested Seattle garden I haven’t tried them except in containers. Do tell me your experience with coleus and deer!

Or add a container!

Adding a container into the border creates instant impact and a focal point

Tucking a container into the border adds instant color, height and a focal point – the ideal solution if you’re still deliberating which specimen tree or shrub to purchase.

And if you’re struggling for ideas on what to plant in them I can help! Registration for my online workshop

Designing Abundant Containers

is about to CLOSE but if you act TODAY you can sign up and take advantage of the coupon code “earlybird” to get 25% off.

Be warned – the coupon expires this Thursday (May 31st). This is NOT the time to procrastinate 🙂

 

Click on the image for details and to register!

 

All right – time for action! Have fun and tell me what YOU do to fill those “oops” gaps in your garden this year.