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Garden Q&A: Deer-proof plants hard to find

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 8:36 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
Flowering tobacco (nicotiana)

Question: Last summer, I planted geraniums around the house and on graves at a nearby cemetery only to find that deer would come in frequently and eat off the flowers, leaving only empty stems standing above the leaves even after I had sprayed the plants periodically with commercial deer repellents. I would like to know what flowering annual(s) you can recommend to plant in areas like this where deer and other animals are a problem.

Answer: No plant is totally deer-proof, especially because each herd has its own feeding preferences and habits. And, depending on how hungry they are, they are often willing to try almost anything once.

There are, however, some annuals that the deer seldom feed on, no matter where you live.

Look for annuals with fuzzy or hairy foliage. Rub the plant's foliage between your finger and thumb. If you feel small bristly or soft hairs there, it's a good bet the deer won't eat it. Annuals that fit into this category include tuberous begonias, heliotrope, ageratum, dusty Miller, flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), and licorice plant.

Next, look for annuals that have heavily fragranced foliage. Deer, like people, eat with their noses first. A very aromatic plant is often a turn-off for deer. Most members of the herb family fit into this category. Annual flowering herbs that would be suitable for deer territory include the salvias, calendula, dill and lantana.

Deer also tend to avoid plants with thick, fibrous foliage. Wax and angelwing begonias fit into this category and are good choices for shade or partial-shade areas, as are caladiums. Snow-on-the-mountain is a good choice for sun.

Deer dislike grasses because they are difficult to digest and their sharp edges make for tough eating. Annual grasses, such as red fountain grass, pink Muhly grass and hare's tail grass, would work in areas that receive full to partial sun.

There are a handful of other annuals that are consistently deer-resistant in my own garden. They include love-in-a-mist (nigella), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), larkspur, snapdragons and celosia.

Most of these plants should be available at many local garden centers over the coming weeks.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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