The Mountain Gardener: Deer-resistant plants are stars of the mountain garden
by Jan Nelson
Aug 19, 2010 | 1817 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Recently, I stood just inside my screen door watching a young doe and her fawn browse on plants that are supposed to be deer-resistant.

They were only about 5 feet from me and hadn’t done much damage yet. I see deer all the time, but I confess, I was mesmerized. The fawn was so cute and still covered with spots. Then the doe reached up and took a bite from my variegated hanging fuchsia. I had been meaning to spray it with deer repellent but just hadn’t gotten around to it.

I quietly said, “Don’t eat that,” from behind the screen door. She looked all around — up, down, sideways — but couldn’t figure out where the voice was coming from. Deciding she wanted no more of the talking fuchsia, she rambled on, followed by her little one.

It’s frustrating living in deer country. Fencing is expensive, and deer-repellent sprays need to be applied on a regular basis to be effective. What is safe from browsing in one yard is breakfast in another.

Don’t be discouraged. Plants like lavender, sage, canna and calla lilies, erysimum, euryops, lysimachia and grasses are top performers around deer. But if you’re itching to add something new to your garden, try one of these:

n Agastache is a long-blooming perennial with leaves that smell like licorice, spearmint or lemon, depending on the species. Also called Orange Hummingbird Mint or Anise or Lemon Hyssop, the leaves can be used in teas, and the flowers are a hummingbird favorite. Their strong scent and flavor repel deer. Most grow 2 to 3 feet tall in sun or partial shade, and they are drought-tolerant, long-lived, insect- and disease-resistant, noninvasive and need no staking. They also thrive with little deadheading or dividing. What’s not to love about agastache?

n Need a vigorous groundcover that can compete with tree roots? Ceratostigma plumbagiodes, sometimes called Dwarf Plumbago, grows in sun or shade. Being drought-tolerant, it’s a good choice under native oaks. Electric blue flowers are showy in summer and fall and are set off by rich scarlet autumn foliage as the weather cools. They look great in front of golden-foliage plants like coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’. A light pruning in spring makes them look their best. Easy to grow, spreading but not invasive, and resistant to deer, pests and diseases, they are true workhorses in the garden.

My last suggestion for a high-impact, low-care, deer-resistant plant is ‘Brilliance’ autumn fern. This is no ordinary-looking fern. Striking as a specimen either on its own or massed as a groundcover to create a glowing display, the fronds of this classy fern start out a shiny red-orange and hold the color long into the season before maturing to a glossy green. Combine these coppery new fronds with hellebore and ligularia to add zest to a container or shady garden. Another plus — they are pest free and not troubled by thrips that may infest other ferns, such as the western sword fern.

Add one of these new plants to your garden and welcome Bambi. We can all get along.

Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at

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