The Critters Ate Up The Whole Yard!
There might not be anything that drives you wild more than planting a beautiful new plant in the garden only to wake up the next day and find it munched down to a nub. The damage to most plants is so significant that you may have no choice but to throw the skeleton onto the compost pile. It’s hard to imagine that those animals that you barely ever even see can do so much damage in one night! You can’t blame them, though. They are simply trying to survive as best as they can, and you just gave them a dessert they couldn’t resist!
Deer and rabbits are often a beautiful addition to our everyday lives. In a natural environment they provide pruning, weed control, fertilizer, pathways, and food for other animals. This does not always benefit the intentions of having a beautiful garden, though. If having an attractive garden in critter country is the goal, you essentially have four options. You can build a high fence or wall (minimum of 8 feet), use repellents regularly, use some kind of scare tactic, or plant things that are not favorable to them. Although repellents can be very effective it is necessary to apply them regularly because you are essentially training the critters to think your yard does not taste good. Because they are browsers, they will eventually return to your yard without regular treatments. If you want those one or two plants that you absolutely have to have (but deer and rabbits are equally fond of), repellents are the best option. Generally, the best option is to plant a landscape that is largely resistant to plant eating animals.
The following are a few good options of plants that are typically herbivore resistant. Notice that I refer to them as resistant, not proof! Browsers will often taste before they decide if it is something they want to keep eating. Additionally, unless it is actually poisonous, some animals like things that others don’t. It is similar to some people enjoying brussel sprouts while others don’t. Even regionally I have seen that deer will eat a plant on one side of town but will not touch that same plant on the other side of town.
Native plants are always a safer bet. If the plant occurs where the deer have always been, it is nothing special for them and they know that it tastes bad. Yaupon holly varieties are a good example of a native that will discourage feeding. The best part of this holly is that it comes in almost any size and shape desirable. From the columnar variety ‘Scarlet Peak,’ to the super dwarf ‘Micron,’ to the weeping ‘Pendula,’ there is one that will work for you. There are even varieties that have either yellow or red berries that add winter interest and beauty. Some other good choices are Butterfly Bush, Nandina, Viburnums, Yew, Oleander (very toxic), Mahonias, Abelia, Yucca, Loropetalum, and Boxwood.
Annual color can really be difficult, especially with rabbits. Again, natives like Bluebonnets are an obvious choice, but Nasturtiums, Sunflowers, Larkspur, Cyclamen, Dianthus, and Snap Dragons are usually safe.
Most herbs are good choices too. Most herbs have a strong scent, and that can overload the sensitive sensory organs of deer. Some herbs are so strong they can even disguise other desirable plants if planted in close proximity. Rosemary, Lavender, Chives, Garlic, Mint, Thyme, and Dill are a few that are unsavory to deer, but Basil is often a delicacy for the woodland creatures, so not all herbs will work!.
Trees are often resistant, particularly if they are larger specimens (live oaks, sycamores, magnolia, etc.). If the rabbit or deer can’t reach it, they can’t eat it! Young trees are vulnerable to not only being eaten, but can be scraped by male deer after their annual antler growth (They scrub the velvet off of their new antlers by thrashing them against