Deer Resistant Shrub Basics


By Tony Catanzaro


The deer population in New Jersey has reached epidemic proportions. Most of our rural suburban and even urban communities have some level of deer pressure. Beyond damaging millions of dollars in landscape plantings they are also damaging agricultural crops, horticultural crops, and our natural woodlands. While our politicians wrestle with how to handle this issue we are left to fend for ourselves with our landscapes and gardens.


The first lesson in deer resistant plant selections is that nothing is deer proof! What was resistant last year may be browsed this year or what works in one area may not in another. However there are some pretty reliable plants that consistently stand up well to heavy deer pressure. The problem is that from a design standpoint we are limited to a much less diverse selection of materials. This makes the design even more important as to keep the design interesting through the use of texture, color, etc.

Boxwood (Buxus) is probably the best know deer resistant plant. Most gardeners are aware of this. Of course they make great hedges and formal plantings when using varieties such as Buxus sempervirens (American Boxwood). These garden staples don’t always need to be tightly sheered into “meatballs” but often look better in some settings loosely hand pruned for a more natural shape. ‘Compacta’or ‘Kingsville Dwarf’ is a very low-growing (1 foot); wide-spreading shrub with dense green foliage and ‘Aureo-variegata’ has green leaves variegated with yellow. These are just two examples of other uses for the boxwood.

Japanese Andromeda (Pieris Japonica) is another useful and common plant that can be used for heavy dear pressure. Again varieties like the straight cultivar and ‘Mountain Fire’ are used often. They grow to be quite a large shrub and not appropriate for a smaller space. In this case I recommend ‘Purity’ a dwarf variety. Lace bug can be a problem (especially in a sunny location) ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ has shown excellent resistance over the other Pieris Japonica I have used.

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is again a staple in deer resistant gardens. You commonly see ‘Crimson Pygmy’ – A slow-growing, red leaf form with a mounding, dense habit. One of the older dwarfs, red foliage cultivars. The red color is best in full sun. It can get 1′ to 2′ tall and 2′ to 3′ wide under most circumstances, but can be larger. For other color you can use ‘Bogozam’ (Bonanza Gold) – A dwarf, golden pygmy barberry with a dense mounding habit that grows 1.5′ to 2′ tall and 2′ to 2.5′ wide. Still another barberry is ‘Sparkle’, an improved green barberry with a compact habit, 3′ to 4′ tall and slightly wider. The foliage is dark green, leathery and heavy in substance and the fall color is fluorescent orange-red. Yes barberry is an example of invasive species. It is however still a widely used plant that is very deer resistant and offers a lot color in the landscape.

The Golden Cinquefoil (Potentilla) is a great choice for summer flowers in full sun. The Abbotswood Potentilla, Fruticosa Abbotswood, is a beautiful small mounded shrub that is ideal for foundation plantings. They are virtually pest free. The Abbotswood variety has profuse, large, white flowers. ‘Goldfinger’ is common in the trade; this 3′ mound bears large 1.5″ yellow blooms over an extended period. A newer one called ‘Sunset’ gets about 16″ tall. Its spreading form bears yellow blooms suffused with orange-reddish hues.

Using these plants can give you a basic “skeleton” to your design. By incorporating some deer resistant trees, perennials, and bulbs you can still achieve an interesting and diverse garden. When trying to create deer resistant gardens you will be bound to have some set backs. The trick is to use all the tools you have available including deer resistant plants, fencing, sprays, etc. Success can be had even in some of the heavy deer pressure areas of our state.

Regency Landscape has been successfully designing and installing deer resistant gardens for almost 3 decades! Call us today!

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