Looking for native plants? Worried about Bambi sneaking into your garden and destroying your hostas? A problem for many gardeners, deer seem to feed on just about everything, aside from maybe those inflatable palm trees you see at the pool. But battle-weary gardeners, take heed (and maybe sit down), because believe it or not there are more than a few native plants that will resist deer and also enhance the beauty of your landscape.


Looking for native plants? Worried about Bambi sneaking into your garden and destroying your hostas? A problem for many gardeners, deer seem to feed on just about everything, aside from maybe those inflatable palm trees you see at the pool. But battle-weary gardeners, take heed (and maybe sit down), because believe it or not there are more than a few native plants that will resist deer and also enhance the beauty of your landscape.



Why native plants?



It seems these days that I get more and more questions about native plants for home landscapes. And what’s the appeal? For the wildlife-friendly folks it may be to establish habitat for our native beneficial wildlife species that are losing a foothold as urban areas continue to expand. It could also be that native plants are low-maintenance once they are established. For the newcomer, this has great appeal. But what about deer? A hungry deer can wreak havoc in the garden. Add a whole family of 20 and you might as well cement your yard. But there are a lot of native tree, shrub, grass, and flowering plants that resist deer, and the side effect of that is that with native plants, you have the ability to support native wildlife species.



Start from the top.



When planning your landscape, first take into account the large trees you want, which should be relative in size to your landscape. A small yard for example might only have one, or maybe even zero, large trees. Large trees like red maple, river birch, sycamore, and white oaks are great selections for a deer resistant landscape. Coming in at 60-80 feet at maturity, American beech is an excellent specimen tree for your yard. Papery leaves and smooth gray bark enhance woodland edges, and the nuts produced in the fall provide a food source for a myriad of bird and mammal species.



If you are looking for smaller trees that are deer-resistant, consider Carolina cherry laurel, eastern redbud, or red buckeye, a small native whose bright red flowers are favorites of hummingbirds. At about 15-20 feet in height, Fringe tree is also an excellent early spring specimen for your yard. Witch hazel is also great, as the bright yellow flowers show themselves in late winter.



Focus on the middle.



Highbush blueberry, inkberry, and arrowood are shrubs with deer-resistant qualities. Buttonbush is a deciduous shrub that tolerates a variety of conditions, and is a host plant for many species of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Coastal doghobble is a great choice for shady areas with well-drained soils and the evergreen leaves provide interest and cover for wildlife in the winter months. Ferns are excellent choices for landscapes. Cinnamon fern is a good choice if you have wet soils, and is also one of the few native ferns that will tolerate full sun. Lady fern is also good in wet soils, but needs some shade in the afternoon. Christmas fern is evergreen and prefers shady areas with well-drained soils.



Perennials like goldenrod, joe-pye weed, black-eyed susan, or asters also are resistant to deer feeding and add seasonal interest throughout the year. Coreopsis is attractive to many beneficial butterfly, moth, and predatory hoverflies whose larvae also feed on the nectar, pollen, and leaves of these plants.



Though no plant is deer proof and they will often continue to challenge our conventional knowledge of what they will feed on, there are more than a few tree, shrub, and groundcover plants you can use in your yard. And do not totally abandon the hope of a deer-free tulip bed. A diverse landscape with deer-resistant plants will make more palatable selections less noticeable to deer.



Where can you find the natives?



A few local nurseries such as Pender Pines in Hampstead carry many native plant species, as well as “My Garden Plants” in Castle Hayne, and Grizz’s Plant Nursery and Shelton Herb Farm, both in the Leland area. Check also with Tinga Nursery and Johnson’s Plant Nursery in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties respectively, as they also carry native, deer-resistant plant selections.



Learn more!



For more about native, deer-resistant plants, or where to buy them, visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.



 



Sam Marshall is the horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Brunswick County. Contact him at wsmarsh2@ncsu.edu.