Deer-Resistant Plants for Virginia

The deer are a persistant problem for landscape contractors and designers in Virginia. As development reduces their habitat more and more, we see the effects of population pressures in our neighborhoods. Some days, it feels like my homeowners are locked in battle with the deer, to see who gets claim to the garden. So what can you plant that the deer won’t wipe out?

First of all, there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant. If they get hungry enough, deer will eat nearly anything. However, there are a few plants that, in my experience, are pretty deer-safe.June 23 2009 (30)

Shrubs:

  • Aucuba japonica   nope. Learned this one the hard way
  • Nandina domestica
  • Mahonia bealei
  • Pieris japonica
  • Daphne odora
  • Buxus (var.)
  • Cephalotaxus
  • Sarcococca

Perennials:

  • Ferns
  • Liriope
  • Pachysandra
  • Astilbe
  • Tiarella
  • Paeonia
  • Miscanthus spp
  • Pennisetum spp.

Obviously, there are plenty more deer-resistant plants, but this list will get you started. This is where consulting a local pro can save you dollars and heartache, because we see what plants the deer have historically left alone, and what they eat. Someone at the big box store may have no industry background, and at best they’re going off a list, written by an extension agent in another state.

That said, I’m finding this year that all bets are off. I just finished a project in Clifton where the deer have decimated Rhododendrons and Aucuba, two plants that we’ve always considered darn near impervious to deer (yeah, we were wrong). So remember, you’re dealing with wild critters- they won’t get the memo that they’re not supposed to eat your plants. The farther you go from the house, the more you should use plants that deer don’t like or you don’t care about. If your heart is set on tender perennials or herbs and veggies in a deer-heavy area, consider fencing from Benner’s Gardens. It’s a great product, relatively inexpensive, and if you install it in the right place, it’ll be nearly invisible. The deer have adapted to us; if we want to keep our plants, we need to adapt to them.

*Updated January 11 2015

Dave Marciniak is a landscape designer and speaker. He lives in Culpeper, Virginia and can be found via his website and on Twitter.

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