Monday, January 27, 2020

Gardening With Deer

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


It’s a dark and quiet morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It has been cold for a couple days and the way the birds are feeding serves as confirmation of the weather report of incoming rain in inches, possible freezing rain and then snow.  There are so many blue jays coming out of the woods to feed this morning that they have displaced a flock of 26 evening grosbeaks to eating sand and white birch seeds in the road.

During the past couple weeks I have received ever so many requests for suggestions on dealing with deer and rabbits. Fact is we live in Vermont in or close to a rural environment and as a result the critters of the forests have become our daily companions. We have a friend who moved back to Vermont from Long Island and she lives in Northfield across Route 12 from Norwich University. In the past couple years she has had deer, coyotes, fisher and a bobcat by her back door and a sow bear and cubs repeatedly walking down the road in front of her home. No longer is this uncommon.

Deer bother gardeners most followed by rabbits and woodchucks. The trouble with deer is they eat a lot and once they find a place with good things to eat, they revisit until the food is gone. Often this involves your favorite shrubs, trees and flowers. The deer population continues to grow as interest in deer herd management through hunting seems to decrease each year. My suggestions are twofold. 1.) Don’t ever intentionally feed the deer because if they like what you offer, they will return forever. Even if the temperatures are below zero and the snow is deep, don’t feel sorry and buy bagged deer food. It’s very bad for the deer and the deer are bad for your gardens. 2.) Research plants that are less favored by deer and stick with them in your gardens.  Don’t allow yourself to think “I know what they say but maybe the deer won’t touch this.” They will.

Here are some examples from our experience. The notion that plants are “deer proof” is a poor one. If deer are hungry they will seek out any plant that doesn’t smell noxious to them.

Achillea/Yarrow. Lots of colors
Aconitum/Monkshood. Poisonous, late blooming.
Allium. Onion family. Lots of colors & heights.
Anemone. Late bloomer. Good cut flower.
Aruncus and Astilbes. 9”-5 feet tall.
Brunnera. Many varieties, beautiful leaves. Love shade.
Catmint/Nepeta. 8-30”. Silver foliage.
Chelone/Turtlehead. We sell ‘Hot Lips.’ Late.
Cimicifuga. Now named Actaea. 3-9 feet.
Delphinium. 3-8 feet. Blue, white, lavender, rose.
Digitalis. Biennials & Perennials. Camelot is best!
Epimediums. Can use as groundcover or specimen.
Ferns. Hardy. Try Lady in Red.
Hardy Geraniums. Many colors. Some are invasive.
Helleborus: Blooms when there may still be spring snow.
Hibiscus: Very hardy perennial in right place.
Pulmonarias. Accept shade. Wonderful foliage.
Siberian Iris. Plant throughout your gardens.
Stacys Humello. Remember Lambs Ears?

Check with fellow gardeners, local Master Gardeners, garden club members, the Extension Service, nurseries or garden centers for more ideas. Notice I didn’t mention Fish and Wildlife? That was intentional.  As much as you might like rhododendrons and arborvitaes, the deer like them too and once they have been browsed heavily, then will not grow back.

Still have questions? Drop us an email at We reopen for 2020 on Mothers Day but until then we’re happy to work with you on garden designs and finding the right colors. Need a boost of color during the white days of winter? We post lots of pictures and gardening advice on Instagram, and our Facebook pages including Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and my personal George Africa FB page. Read on!

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